Raquel Peña Award 2010

The Capital Theatre is situated in Rojales; a typically sleepy Spanish town engagingly close to Orihuela Costa and Torrevieja. That this 700 seat venue should be packed says much for the performance due to be staged by the celebrated Raquel Peña and her Flamenco Company.

Glowing with anticipation the audience’s passion for flamenco was likely to be satiated by a troupe whose mesmerising choreography inherits the dreamlike spectacle of a dance form that endures across millennia.

There have been similar performances by Raquel Peña at La Scala de Milan, El Albeñiz de Madrid, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and Metropolitan Opera House. When performing at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC every performance was sold out and the gathering crowds stopped the traffic. She has performed throughout the Americas and Europe.

Among those fortunate enough to experience her choreography are former U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson.  She and her husband also performed for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

The enigmatic dancer is seemingly destined to carry the flamenco flame from generation to generation. Dutch born to an Andalusian movie producer and Rosa, daughter of Russian émigré parents, Raquel Peña beginnings bear remarkable similarities to Greek singing legend Nana Mouskouri. Her father too was in the movie business and like Nana; Raquel’s ability also played second fiddle to an older sibling thought mistakenly to have more promise.

Raquel was just two-years old when the family returned to the Spanish capital city. It was soon apparent that her mother’s unfulfilled passion for dance was genetically transferred to her youngest daughter.

Her love of dance was nurtured in Madrid where young Raquel practised endlessly to perfect her routine: Flamenco’s la pasionaria’s stage presence soon endeared her to audiences. Her career went a stage or two further when her father, having taken up a post in New York, led to Raquel’s enrolment in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Ballet School where she was to study for seven years. Mentored by a dazzling array of dance superstars such as Carmen Amaya, La Meri and Mariquita Flores she learned first hand from the masters of the flamenco dance genre; Jose Greco, Vicente Escudero and similar.

Raquel’s late husband, flamenco guitarist Fernando Sirvent (1925 – 1996), whom she married when she was seventeen years of age, was a very close friend of Carmen Amaya. Her marriage brought her home to Spain where she continued her studies.

In 1971 she founded her own dance company in Pilar de la Horadada, Alicante. There she founded the Association Cultural Ballet Flamenco de Raquel Peña, a dance company and flamenco arts centre dedicated to the art form.

Today, surrounded by family and aficionados near to her school this original dancing queen teaches to perfection not only tomorrow’s great performers but has created an adult amateur group called the Sevillanas Club Flamenco Dancers. These are made up of mostly but not exclusively British devotees of the flamenco-related dance forms.

Raquel Peña now dedicates her time as teacher, choreographer, consultant, lecturer and director. As a choreographer, she is much in demand, has set choreography for many dance companies and is a specialist in operas that have a Spanish theme to them; among them Carmen and La Traviata. In addition, she has created more than fifty works for her own companies

The enduring appeal of the flamenco crosses the centuries as easily as a guitarist plucks the chords of his ancient instrument: “She now stamps on the ground, and placing her hands on her hips, she moves quickly to the right and left, advancing and retreating in a sidelong direction.

“Her glances become now more fierce and fiery…she commences clapping her hands…uttering words of an unknown tongue, to a strange and uncouth tune…she springs, she bounds, and at every bound she is a yard above the ground.”

This was the flamenco described by George Borrow in his book, The Zincali, The Gypsy Dance in 1843. Nothing much changes except interpretation as in all music forms: The wedding between tradition and improvisation is solemnized by the immortal Raquel Peña.

Photo credits: Ken Taylor.