By Helson Hernandez
HAVANA TIMES, May 12 — Ana Rosa Meneses is a member of Ecos, one of the most applauded companies that cultivates Flamenco dance in Cuba. However, according to our interviewee, even with so many years of stable and continuous work, the company still doesn’t have its own facility for training, development and upgrading.
HT: Do you feel more like a dancer or a ballerina?
Ana Rosa Meneses: A little bit of each…
HT: Then, would you prefer a club or the theater more, and why?
ARM: That’s a difficult choice because I enjoy both a great deal, each has its own magic and charm. In the tablao (a Flamenco club) people laugh, cry, joke, sing, improvise, try out new soniquetes and movements. You feel and see the real reaction of the public, and of course you can see more of the errors. It’s a wonderful school for flamenco…the tablao is a tradition and it’s spontaneity. I think that its character shouldn’t be lost or distorted.
The theater is different. You’re more distant from of the public. One needs to project a little more, but I like that isolation that’s produced. You don’t see anybody. The lights are also wonderful; with them you can achieve different images and sensations, you feel the music more. It’s as if you were alone…
HT: Over the recent period in Cuba, a strong presence of Flamenco promoters has emerged, and those involved are no longer simple fans of the genre but have become, like in your case, first rate artists. What can you add in this respect?
ARM: Years ago, the first thing that moved me about flamenco was its singing. It’s very deep and impressive. Later I was captured by its manner of expression in dance, its movements that were strong but at the same time sensual. It’s a dance full of nuances. Emotionally, it can be very painful but equally joyful… Later, with no intention of reaching any status of making a name for myself, I became devoted along with other colleagues in investigating, studying and developing this genre that was born in Andalusia, but fortunately expanded all over the world, mainly in the Americas. Thanks to that study I understand flamenco, but I don’t believe that I’m a first rate figure. You never stop learning. I even learn lots of very good things from the aficionados.
HT: You are one of the most beautiful dancers in terms of your presence and projection within the flamenco that’s currently danced on the island, and even more so when one appreciates your delivery. Exactly how do you define yourself being seen in the dance world?
ARM: Like I said at the beginning, I fell a little bit of a dancer and a little bit of a ballerina. I plan to always study, I would like to uncover more details about our culture and incorporate them more into my manner of dancing flamenco.
With regard to beauty, one must always take care of their presence, but I would love to become old dancing. Taking advantage of the weight of years and even body weight one can display a beautiful image; in fact, I’ve seen that in many flamenco artists. What I care about is transmitting the feeling, the enjoyment and of course a message.
HT: Before you made it into Ecos along with the other first dancer, Danny Villalonga, what caught our attention was that the majority of those who danced flamenco here in on the island in recognized places came from — before creating their own companies— the Spanish Ballet of Cuba the company. This was where you in particular could perform leading roles in big productions, so why did you decide to give all that up.
ARM: I learned a lot with the Spanish Ballet, it was a very important education in my career. I learned how to dance different styles of Spanish dance, but flamenco was always unique and special to me. As time passed I was developing technically in flamenco and a small group of us begin to hold tablaos; that was what started everything. Then came the desire to try out and take a risk on a project that we didn’t know how would turn out. But we were full of hopes, with flamenco being the principal incentive. I didn’t feel bad, because I was trying to continue improving myself and upgrade my abilities.
HT: It’s said that flamenco in Cuba is still a manifestation that doesn’t emerge from a non-prosperous space for it to be cultivated.
ARM: That’s true. Flamenco is liked a lot, but it continues being an art of minorities, here and in other countries I imagine too. Flamenco is attractive but it’s necessary to know it, to adapt ones ears to that music, to educate oneself. It’s not a catchy music, it’s a painful music, on occasions lacking in melody, sad. Flamenco singing is harrowing. Not everybody can assimilate it. For that reason it’s always limited to certain places that have now become typical for this art. This makes it very difficult make it known in new places.
But we are working at it, because there are places where we’ve seen audiences totally unaccustomed to this form but who surprised us with the emotion they displayed. It’s necessary to struggle and work to gradually extend it to other spaces.
HT: And with Ecos, the company in which you’re the first dancer, you don’t only hold the position of dancer. Tell us about your role as a creator with the troupe.
ARM: I carry creativity with me all the time. I love to dance, but equally I like to create and come up with work that can be appreciated and enjoyed, and that I can also improve with time. There’s more to be done, and in creation I lack a great deal. It’s a job that never ceases and that must constantly evolve, just as how flamenco itself has evolved.
HT: What are your principal displeasures as an exponent of flamenco in Cuba?
ARM: My principal dissatisfaction is that even with so many years of stable and continuous work, the company doesn’t have its own facility for training, development and upgrading. We don’t have a headquarters for the continuity of the work or for something that’s also very important: teaching.
HT: Many applaud and celebrate the staging in the shows presented by your company, but behind that image there are many experiences that can sometimes lead to discouragement. Do you have something to say in this respect?
ARM: The basic disappointment I suffer, and I’m also saying this on behalf of all my comrades, is what I commented about previously: the total absence of a facility where we can pursue our work. A great part of those shows that the public applauds are done under tremendous stress and with great effort… we hope it’s not like this eternally.
HT: You’ve had valuable experiences with recognized artists from the flamenco world. Tell us about these.
ARM: I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many fabulous artists, among them the maestro Manolo Marin, Eva la Yerbabuena and Israel Galvan; and musicians as well, from whom I’ve also learned a great deal. Some of the teachers teach more than steps, for example with Eva we learned a lot on how to look at dance. She’s a teacher who instills in you qualities that are natural, spontaneous. She spoke to us the whole time about how it’s necessary to know our bodies. It was very beneficial to meet her.
With regard to the music, I’ve also had magnificent and distinct teachers. The teaching that I’ve filed away from these wonderful teachers is that in flamenco it doesn’t matter much to exhibit super fast movement or wasted technique, what’s really important is to display more with less, to enjoy, to feel, to nuance, to dominate the space, the body and the moment. These are things exceedingly difficult to achieve.
HT: How many years in flamenco and how many in life are now possessed by Ana Rosa Meneses?
ARM: I’ve only dedicated 12 years to flamenco; the years that I’ve been with my company, but for many years earlier I exclusively liked that art form. And in life, I’m 33.
HT: And what are your greatest desires to continue filling your career with satisfaction?
ARM: There are many desires that I would have to organize into my inner being and struggle to achieve them, though I don’t know if I’ll achieve all of them. The most important desire is to always want to do something; that can never become exhausted. I am terrified of one day not feeling the desire to dance, to create, to teach. That is the first one, not to stop working, because flamenco is a part of my life. It’s already too late to do without of it.
I also desire a long life for my company, Ecos. I hope that our efforts are not in vain and that we persist in what we’re doing in the work of younger generation.