We had a great opportunity to interview Manuel Gutierrez, one of the top flamenco dancers in U.S. while he was vacationing in Hawaii.  The interview took place on April 16, 2017 at Aulani Resort.  Manel was born in Montpellier, France after his parents moved from Córdoba, Spain.  You can visit his website for more info - bio, shows, classes and videos.  www.manuelgutierrez.net

#1. Why do you like flamenco so much? What is particular about flamenco for you?

It’s complexity. Flamenco is the most difficult music to learn, understand, feel and transmit. Once you have all that, once you learn everything and you go on the stage you are feeling to share with everybody what it is. It’s from another world. You are connected to something else. It’s really strong.

#2 How did you start dancing flamenco? Where did you learn flamenco?

I started flamenco really really young. My sister danced flamenco, and I just followed her. When I was a kid, I never studied it. I was just watching steps and choreographies of my sister. I just learned it. There used to be shows every weekend. One day I jumped to dance on the stage, and since then I became part of the show. My father had a peña just to concentrate Spanish immigrants in Montpellier1, France. All the Spanish peñas united a big reunion every year. All my life, I was surrounded with Spanish and flamenco communities.

First, I learned watching my sister. Later I started watching all the videos because I was so in love with flamenco. For example, I watched Antonio Gades2’s Carmen a lot. That’s the movie I watched most. I used to dance in front of videos.

My first flamenco class was with José Galván3 at 11 years old. I just arrived and I was at advance level. I started taking more classes with him. Also, I took classes with Risa Kairo (sp?) who lived in Montpellier. She was an amazing teacher to begin with. I was already feeling flamenco but I just did not know palos and structures.

#3. How was flamenco in France?

Flamenco in France for me was amazing because that's where I learned basically everything. I learned part of it studying in Spain but in France all of my friends were flamencos and gypsies. And everything was flamenco there -- wedding of friends, baptism, birthdays -- all the parties were celebrated with flamenco. Flamenco in South of France, like Marseille4, flamenco was a part of culture. I was living flamenco everyday 100%, although we were living out of Spain. That’s why when artists from Spain came to France for shows and after we had get together with us, they enjoyed so much and were so surprised. Wow! How you can feel flamenco that way being out of Spain. It was just because we love flamenco and we feel flamenco and we live flamenco. We had good artists in France - really good guitarists, singers and dancers. For example, Juan Carmona5 was the one who brought me to Hawaii 10 years ago. We toured a lot around the world. Right now there is a good new guitarist called Pepe Fernandez6. The dancer Fanny Ara7 is also from France. Also, in France we have one of the best flamenco festivals in the world like festival de Mont de Marsan8 and that of Nimes9. Flamenco community in France was/is really strong.

#4. Who has been your great influence?

My great influence in dancing is Antonio Canales10. He brought new style and new vibe to flamenco. Because it was at the time when he was the top, and when I saw him and his company for the first time, I was very young and I wanted to be one of them and wanted to work with him. He is still one of my dreams. I haven't worked with him yet. I want to work with him, maybe soon in the future. There is Farruco11, of course, but he was from another generation. I try to get inspired by everybody. I always like something from each dancer. After all you can see it in my own style. Also, I love from opposite styles. Farruquito12 for me is my maestro, the best one. And I like the opposite - I love Israel Galvan13. Imagine I like opposite styles and all between. I love everyone. That's all my Influences.


#5. How did you develop your style?

It's interesting to see how you can develop your own feelings and career at the same time. For me I just followed my way. Just because I was grown up in France, living in Paris, I had a chance to work with so many different artists from different cultures. So, I created my own style. I love now to fusion different kind of style, music, cultures and dance styles. Just because when you start enjoying other styles, not only flamenco, so when you come back to the tablao, for example, you dance solea you enjoy it but you miss all these things you just live. So, you have the necessity to take a little of everything and mix it. That's what I like. Now I live in LA, I get inspired by so many things in LA -- hip hop, tap dancing etc. All these things inspire me everyday; I have to add these little things to my own style. Each day I feel more me - myself, just because of that.

#6. You traveled across the world performing and teaching. What made you to decide to live in LA?

Because I found my wife there. It wasn't because of flamenco. It wasn't because of war. It wasn’t because of Hollywood. It wasn't because I wanted a big career here. It was just because of love. I fell in love with Alina Peralta, now my wife. That's it! I decided to move where she is from. Now I'm in love with this city Los Angeles. (I love Hawaii too.) My job is just to bring a little bit of my chispa (spark) and flamenco in this huge city. My wife is not a flamenca, but she likes flamenco. At home we don't talk about flamenco. I don't make my sons to dance flamenco but our home is always surrounded with flamenco artists, and they ask my kids to dance or sing. They dance but not because of me.

#7. What does performing give you?

Performing gives me everything. Because I think that when I'm on stage that when I feel the best. Imagine, if I had a really bad day or something; if I'm on stage, I end up feeling good. I love to have a presence but I love to give presence. For me on stage is just to give them energy or give what I am, just share it with somebody. That makes me feel good. When I finish the show I feel thankful just to give.

#8. What does teaching give you?

In teaching you examine more yourself to be in front of the mirror. You have to analyze every move slowly to explain to students. At the same time, you use it for yourself. And again it is about to give what I am. I'm sharing it with others. I love teaching.


#9. How do you get inspiration for your art?

Being far away from flamenco, it's not easy to get an inspiration. When I was living in France, it was easier because we have flamenco-flamenco culture there. You live flamenco everyday. Living in Los Angeles, you are not living in the flamenco everyday. I miss that. But the technology today makes us flamenco closer. When I get up I watch videos of parties from the night before, fiesta in Sevilla or Jerez. Never lose this connection. It's important to get connected with this art and compañeros (counterparts/friends) who live there. They progresses so fast everyday. I try to get inspired by all these people.

At the same time, being far away, for me this is also a chance to get inspired by different cultures. I love to watch jazz music shows; in LA there are good jazz places. I love tap dancing. I love museum and art. I love pictures. I get an inspiration from all these. As a choreographer, I love movies. You see a movie of 1 hour and half, and I create a choreography of 4 minutes. You know, that's a challenge, but sometime I do to myself just to create feelings. As a choreographer I like to be inspired by movies.

#10. What is the challenge of being a solo artist with your own company & production?

Yes, it is a real challenge. I think today artists in this industry have to fight really hard. If you like it as a career, you have to do everything. We have to promote. We have to produce. We have to write. We have to compose. We have to choreograph. We have to manage all the artists. We have to book the flights. We have to do everything. It's hard and challenging. I think at the end we all do these efforts because of the love for flamenco. As an artist, I prefer to be 10 hours in studio, instead of 10 hours in front of computer, trying to find tours, just to book the shows. In the past it was easier. I think there was a person to do this job. Now today every artist, even a huge artist, they do the same. They have to spend basically 9am to 3pm in front of computer just to coordinate all the classes and workshops, touring, all the shows and everything. And after that they can start in the studio just creating or dancing. That's the challenge being a flamenco dancer today. I like this job, too. I like to do it for my own company. I like to be able to control the whole process. When I realize everything at the end I'm grateful. Sometimes it is hard. I just want to focus on one thing - that's dancing. I know if I have more time I can do so much more. It's a challenge.

#11. How do you like the collaboration of flamenco with other genres?

Flamenco was already born from a fusion. It cannot stop growing with fusing from different types of music or dance styles and everything. I really like collaborating. I'm not a purist. I'm the person who likes, appreciates and collaborates different styles. For example, I had a chance to work with Qawwali Flamenco14. It is a fusion between flamenco and Qawwali music. I worked in this project with Duqunede, Miguel Poveda, Chicuelo, and all the qawwalis. It was so powerful to listen another powerful music with flamenco. This marriage between the two music was just beyond. Everyone had goose bumps. Everybody was watching each other, crying.

Another good example, maybe more accessible for everyone, is Cigala & Bebo15. That was a beautiful fusion - flamenco voice with that kind of music. And also we have a different kind of fusion - flamenco music with kathak16, an Indian music.

In my last show called FIVE, the idea is to invite one artist at the end of the show at each town we go touring. We did two shows in LA, and as a guest we had Sara Reich17, an amazing tap dancer. People enjoyed watching flamenco with tap dancing. We share all music. I love collaborations between different genres.

#12. What do you enjoy most of flamenco? What is your flamenco?

What I enjoy most of flamenco is cante because cante is everything. It is the key of everything. I can be around parties and just listen to singers. I love guitar and dance, of course, but the voice from inside you cannot cheat. It's something super powerful. Cante for me is something to make me live flamenco for real. That's most like and I enjoy in flamenco.

My flamenco is flamenco that can be accessible to anybody. Because I was born in France, I know people who save money for workshops and shows. My flamenco is to live everywhere. You don't have to be born in Sevilla to be a flamenco. Just to create international flamenco; we have a chance to have flamenco everywhere in this world. This is my flamenco. I travel around the world and I make so many friends in each part where I was. I want everyone reunited. That's my flamenco - Flamenco of the world, not only flamenco from the crib. I defend; I will always defend flamenco of the world. Because it makes flamenco grow and artists live. It makes the flamenco to live. I always respect this.


Interviewer's footnotes:

  1. Montpelier: a city in southern France https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montpellier
  2. Antonio Gades: greatest flamenco dancer and choreographer of his generation (1936-2004). Collaborated with the film director Carlos Saura in Carmen (1983). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3IDqF27ues
  3. José Galván: respected flamenco dancer and teacher. Father of Israel & Pastora Galván https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM3Tvvr8FIk
  4. Marseille: a city in southern France https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marseille
  5. Juan Carmona: established flamenco guitarist (a distant cousin and namesake Juan Carmona of Ketama) http://www.juancarmona.com/biographie/?lang=en
  6. Pepe Fernandez: emerging flamenco guitarist whose family is from Granada https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z75AYrUzls4
  7. Fanny Ara: beautiful flamenco dancer whose turns are so awesome. https://www.fannyara.com
  8. Mont de Marsan: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont-de-Marsan
  9. Nimes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nîmes
  10. Antonio Canales: one of most internationally well-known flamenco dancers. http://www.antoniocanalesbailaor.com
  11. Farruco: pure & gypsy rooted dancer (1935-1997). founding patriarch of his flamenco dynasty. Grandfather of Farruquito, Farru & Carpeta. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8eplddNv9E
  12. Farruquito: one of greatest flamenco dancers today; representative of flamenco puro. current patriarch of flamenco dynasty los Farruco. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDdkhILq3ok
  13. Israel Galván: most avant-garde & unconventional dancer & choreographer today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTXf01hRr94
  14. Qawwali music: a style of devotional music associated with Sufis in South Asia such Pakistan and Panjab, northern India. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfCenzJjD68
  15. Bebo & Cigala: a collaboration between Bebo Valdés, Cuban pianist and Deigo el Cigala, flamenco singar. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb_TDpOlDEQ
  16. Kthak: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewLZGKloIK0
  17. Five & Sara Reich: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHF9Xiye4Rw

Thank you, Manuel, for sharing your story, love, and vision for flamenco with us. Thank you also for your generosity, kindness and humanity in addition to your greatness as an artist. Mahalo Mitch and Bev for connecting me to Manuel, which made this interview possible. With much aloha & gratitude... Keiko