Luisa Triana

Flamenco Dancer - Artist



Las Vegas Artist Randy Soard and Spanish Flamenco Dancer & Artist Luisa Triana

Las Vegas, Nevada August 2006


June, 2001
Candela Olivo

Flamenco was also on the train of exiles from the Spanish Civil War. Fleeing from the bombs, more than from political convictions, the dancer Antonio Triana jumped from Madrid to Paris, where as fate would have it, he ran into other flamenco artists. It was also by chance that Argentinita was also there, and that Solomon Hurok would catapult them to the American continent. Antonio Triana had Luisa in tow, his first-born, who despite exile, was never deprived of the artistic heritage of the land of her birth.

But distance betrays awareness, for few know that Luisa Triana (Sevilla, 1933), niece of the musician Manuel García Matos, started out in New York at the age of eight under the supervision of Argentinita, that during the forties and fifties she shared the bill with the team formed by her father and Carmen Amaya, that she worked with Luis Buñuel in Hollywood, that she toured the most prestigious stages of North America with her own company, that she collaborated with the Symphonic Orchestra of Las Vegas, a state which eventually named her artist of the year, that she holds the first professorship of flamenco dance which was set up by the University of Nevada... And that she returned from the long exile one decade ago, having traded in her dance shoes for paintbrushes, and realized her dream of living on the banks of the Guadalquivir.

Luisa Triana dancing with her father, in New York (1942)

Where does flamenco come from on the other side of the ocean?

Flamenco comes from the earth. But even though I was out of Spain, I was in a very flamenco environment. In any case, I've been returning periodically to renew myself ever since the age of eighteen, because if you stay in America your dancing becomes stilted. When I didn't feel right inside my body, I said, that's it, time to return. It's enough just to see the expression on people's faces in a tablao, in a restaurant, or just the general ambience. I'm convinced it comes from the earth. And although it's true that everyone puts their grain of sand, flamenco has come to be what it is without the influence of other kinds of music. I didn't realize it until I began my own journey, alongside my father. I didn't begin to feel flamenco as it really is until I was thirty years old. A few little trips here gave me the impetus I needed. But over there I had a lot of work, and since I got married, you know how it is...

What is the basis?

It's a combination of Argentinita's delicacy and Carmen Amaya's strength. My father wanted me to dance like La Argentinita. I like the classic pieces, but flamenco interested me more... Carmen Amaya's influence, and her footwork were determining factors. But what Carmen had wasn't just lots of footwork, but also great musicality. Few people in Spain know the best of Carmen, she was already ill when she made the movie Los Tarantos. She was at her best in America. Over there she had her ambience because she wouldn't go anywhere without her family. There were about twenty people in her family, all gypsies, living in their own fashion. It was just as if she were over here. Besides being a good person, she was very sure of her art. Since she was not envious, she gave everything. She met me when I was a little girl and when I came back from New York she received me with open arms. Other people didn't... and they weren't Carmen Amaya.

What was Luisa Triana's dance like?

I now realize that it took a long time before I danced in a personal way. I'm interested in analyzing myself. At first I did what my father told me to do until I broke out of the shell: I did my own experimenting, some of it was alright, and some a bit mediocre. A person has to try things. It pleases me to see that the young people are experimenting, but they have to realize where their strength lies. I started out working with the finest musicians like Miguel Gálvez and Pepe Segundo. Thanks to their quality, I began to evolve more and more. And also my trips to Spain which nourished me, I came back renewed. My choreographic work between the ages of thirty and fifty corresponds to my best epoch (and I retired at 58). I wanted to leave flamenco in 1977 when I went from California to Las Vegas. There was no flamenco ambience there, as opposed to California where there was beginning to be some, because originally it was only New York. I thought I was going to retire, but the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra started giving concerts of de Falla, I began to remember old pieces, and it was so well-received that I was putting numbers together for fifteen years. There were very good dancers to fill out the group, but I always looked for Spanish artists who went there to work. People came and went all the time in the company.

Luisa Triana during a performance in New York (1955)

Hollywood and Buñuel came into your life...

That was in the forties. I went by streetcar to the Columbia studios (she's setting the table as she tries to recall details..."I warned you I was a vegetarian"). All things Spanish were fashionable at that time. They called my father to make some movies and we moved from New York to Hollywood. Someone told Luis Buñuel there was a little girl who danced and that she had an Andalusian accent. They summoned me to Columbia studies, he interviewed me and I danced... he really got excited. He directed me a bit, but his job at that time was getting people for the movies. That was before he became important, he was studying and getting ideas, but he was already very respected. He stood out because he looked very Spanish, just like my father, always wearing a cap. Since I was so small - I was nine - I didn't know he was somebody important. In the beginning, I dubbed different children's voices, until later on when I had dancing parts. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I dubbed American actresses, but from a distance, dancing. It was kind of Spanishy corn, but it's what was popular back then. And it paid very well.

The Hollywood era continued until they went to Mexico in 1949. From there, they would occasionally go out to work in countries like Cuba, Italy or the United States. "You couldn't stay in the same place". They were settled in the land of the Aztecs for five years, a time during which Antonio Triana was with Sarita Montiel, and they made a movie with Lola Flores, La Faraona, for whom they choreographed Ravel's Bolero: "They were crazy about her in Mexico. She wasn't a dancer, but she was such an artist... she made the most of everything".

Is flamenco perceived differently now?

Audiences today are much more prepared, more knowledgeable than before. Outside of Spain there's always been a little nucleus. America is full of Spaniards. Not all of them maintain an interest in flamenco but the majority, whenever there's something that has to do with Spain, they react. Backstage there was always someone, no matter where you went. Some of them demand more than you expect. Since I understand English, I would listen to them in the tablaos. Three out of a table of twenty might be in the know and aren't criticizing, but rather analyzing. You can't just give them any old thing nowadays.

Flamenco is also of interest to people who don't understand it, who are just curious. But it's always going to be from the foreign audience, never like here where they go to see flamenco because they like it. I think the reason that so many people like flamenco is that it's always been a very sincere form of expression, and belonging very much to Spain, something you didn't see in other places.

Have you ever felt the rejection of the flamenco community for having been away for such a long time?

I've seen it, but I haven't felt rejected. What I've realized is that they don't know who I am, they don't know what I've done. I don't like to brag, and my father didn't like to at all, but I did achieve some very important things through thirty years of dancing. But no one is to blame, I chose to come here. I wasn't involved in this world of flamenco, only briefly between 1969 and 1970. My husband gave me 'permission' and I made a little group for which I contracted José Antonio who was only 19 and he danced... He danced a little farruca and did a few deep turns from the waist... That's how I like technique, in compas, but with ability and a flamenco flavor... We were scheduled three times in Pasapoga in Madrid, but I had to go back. To tell the truth, I've felt sad at times not being able to be here. Little by little people are starting to know who I am. Cristina Hoyos saw me in America, Matilde Coral also remembers me. But they didn't see my work and don't know how to judge it.

When I came, my idea was to paint. I had given up dancing for many personal as well as physical reasons, I've had three operations on my knee, and since I didn't continue with my exercises, it never quite healed. Until finally I had to use a cane. Some day, when some girl is interested, I'll show her my repertoire so that she can bring it up to date. If there's no opportunity, the truth is I've already set my mind on painting.

Luisa Triana painting, recently, at her studio in Seville.

How did you trade in the footlights for canvasses?

I always painted, from the age of ten. My father gave me a lot of encouragement in painting, for him it was a great dream. Every time he saw the opportunity, he would send me to maestros. I was in contact with artists from whom I learned more than if I had studied fine art. My maestros were Will Foster, Nicolai Fechin, and Carlos Ruano Llopis. Because of the operations, I rediscovered painting. At a party, after a performance of the Symphony Orchestra in Las Vegas, a lady encouraged me to give my first exposition at the end of the eighties: Moments of Flamenco. I went to work painting flamenco themes, because that's what I feel most confident with. I don't feel like a real painter. Since I know a little about paint and composition, I held my own.

Is it possible to be flamenco without dancing, playing guitar, or singing?

I use the word flamenco related to paintings to identify what I'm painting, but I don't know if you could actually say it has anything to do with flamenco. For portraits I like to produce an impression, not a faithful representation. Most of the time, if I look for the likeness, it doesn't happen. I capture the impression that that person produces in me. I think you can be flamenco without being a professional. The audiences are clued in, half of them are capable of singing, playing, or dancing a little, the other half wouldn't be able to, but they understand a great deal.

For me, flamenco is singing, dancing and playing. It's what I look for when I need something flamenco. When I was in Jerez, I saw a lot of grass-roots flamenco, the flamenco of the families and the peñas (clubs). It's something that in the States I didn't quite have clear. I distinguish between that kind of flamenco, that a shoemaker might get up and do his little dance, from the kind of flamenco you see at a tablao or in a dance school, which is also very important, because you have to protect the authenticity of schools such as the Seville style. That's where the preparation comes from, and from there comes tablao flamenco. After the seventies, when the heyday of the tablaos was over, dancers only performed for tourists... the presentation suffered, as well as the artists, because they weren't striving for anything, but rather just going over the same thing. And there is the flamenco of the theaters, where I like to see there are no glitches with curtains and such, where technical advances such as lighting help to see things in flamenco that in a peña you can't see, those dramatic effects. Flamenco is effective wherever you put it, as long as you respect these things.

What does painting take from flamenco?

As far as I'm concerned, everything. When I'm going to paint I have to go and see something, even if it's to a dance school. Since everything is repeated, I'm able to capture details, at the same time I maintain the spontaneity of the movement. It's not the same when they pose for you. Live flamenco is fundamental in order to paint. I catch the whole picture of the movement, not its beginning or its end, which are static moments.

I tend to use oils, chalk, and charcoal. I like to paint on wood in order to allow the grain to form part of the picture. And I limit the palette of colors because flamenco, if you were to reflect all its color, turns into a picture postcard and becomes commercial. I've got work started of Cristina Hoyos, Matilde Coral, several of Pepa Montes.

In painting you assume the role of spectator...

But I really enjoy being a spectator over here... not in America.

Luisa Triana is full of plans. She is awaiting her dream house in Triana in order to concentrate on an exposition in Paris where she has already made contact with three galleries. And in the meantime she continues sending paintings to the United States and "enjoying myself and getting adjusted, because there have been some very radical changes that you don't notice when you just come to visit". In her mind, always inspired by the triumvirate of Sorolla, Sargent, and Velázquez, there is an idea coming together of representing "the different moments of each dance". Time is what's in short supply to prepare "a show of the caliber of the one I prepared for Jerez", Embrujo de Danza, which was awarded the National Flamenco Prize for Fine Art by the Cátedra de Flamencología of Jerez.

What do you miss most of the flamenco you have experienced?

Flamenco used to make you feel, it shouldn't just surprise. When it's good, when it's in its place, it makes you feel. To advance the technique is a positive thing, but keeping it in its place. Flamenco reaches all the emotions of the soul, to the most sophisticated of our sentiments. And young artists have forgotten the difficulty of flamenco. They think it's easy, they don't appreciate that what they've got is a gift that must be cared for.