If you strip flamenco down to its essentials, Carlota Santana says, what you have is this: emotion and rhythm.
And Santana should know: Her Flamenco Vivo troupe is one of the nation's most successful flamenco companies, with a 35-year track record of performance and education into the guitar-and-dance art form.
The troupe's traveling company pulls into Corvallis for a performance at 7:30 p.m. Friday at The LaSells Stewart Center on the Oregon State University. It's the latest performance in the "SAC Presents" series presented by OSU's School of Arts and Communication.
In a phone interview this week with The E, Santana noted that she herself doesn't perform anymore ("I thought it was going to be hard" not to perform, she said, "but you know what? It's OK.") and instead focuses on serving as a sort of ambassador for flamenco, with a mission to promote flamenco as a living art form and a vital part of Hispanic heritage.
But that's been part of the mission of the Flamenco Vivo troupe almost from its beginning.
The troupe was founded by Santana and Roberto Lorco in 1983. After Lorco died in 1987, Santana continued the work — which included an arts education component almost from the start.
"It seemed like this art form was perfect for arts in education," Santana said. "The kids have a way to express themselves in this art form" — and it helps that emotion plays such a big part in flamenco.
That emotion is the primary thing that Santana looks for when she's auditioning new dancers, and she points to one of the dancers in the traveling company, Fanny Ara, as an example: "If I have people like that and you look at them and they're pouring their hearts out, that really calls to me."
One other factor is important as well when considering dancers for the traveling troupe, she said: Is this a person who will be easy to get along with on the road?
Flamenco Vivo will be performing its "Voces del Sur" show when it pulls into Corvallis on Friday night. The show features seven dances — group pieces and solos — that are meant to give audience members a glimpse into Andulucia, the southern region of Spain where flamenco was born.
The region is home to a diverse group of cultures, and flamenco was shaped and influenced by those cultures.
The solo pieces allow the dancers and musicians room for improvisation, Santana said, which can be a challenge for the guitarists — if you pay attention during Friday's show, you'll notice that the musicians always are watching the dancers to pick up their cues.
Like other art forms, flamenco is constantly pulled between a desire to honor the tradition and to push it forward. In some ways, Santana said, the dances featured in "Voces del Sur" are meant to strike a balance between traditional flamenco and some more modern touches.
"I love the traditional," Santana said. "I don't like the very very contemporary" pieces. But she noted that if flamenco doesn't absorb some modern influences, "then the art form is going to die.
One final note about the emotion that's at the heart of flamenco: Santana suggested that it shouldn't be limited just to the performers on stage Friday night.
She said, "Flamenco is not like a classical music concert," where applause between movements of a work is frowned upon. "If it hits you (at the moment) and you want to applaud, do so."