Torcuato Zamora is a legend in the world of flamenco. A flamenco connoisseur, world-renowned classical guitarist, poet and lyricist, he is credited with bringing the art of flamenco to the Washington, D.C., metro region. He, along with Estela Velez, founder and director of the dynamic flamenco dance troupe Furia Flamenca, are about to turn the village of Sperryville into a corner of Andalucia, Spain.
Emilio Fontan’s El Quijote restaurant will provide the stage for a Zamora and Velez showcase each Friday and Saturday evening this month, with two performances nightly at 7 and 9 p.m. Torcuato and Estela will be accompanied by dancer Daniel Paredez, Estela’s husband, and Hector Bayrez, nicknamed “Coco,” playing the cajón, a percussion instrument used to accompany the acoustic guitar in modern flamenco.
Flamenco is a tripartite art form, involving singing, dancing and the guitar. The guitar, says Torcuato, provides “the axis.” Flamenco integrates a passionate, seductive rhythmic movement with song. Primarily of Gypsy origin, it is a traditional dance that bespeaks a history of persecuted ethnicities dating back to the Spanish Inquisition, and reflects the spirit of desperation, and of hope. It is argued that the word flamenco is synonymous with “Gypsy.”
Flamenco is primarily a solo form of dance with improvisation. It is, according to Estela, a very personal dance, and it started, she says, as a “people’s” dance “born in people’s homes, in celebrations and gatherings.”
“Most people have been exposed to the paso doble in ballroom, and that is what they think of when you mention flamenco,” she says. “However, while the paso doble is influenced by flamenco, flamenco is not related to ballroom dance.” The paso doble is an intense dance, where the performers eyes are firmly locked on each other, constantly and aggressively building off one another in what becomes “a competition of passion, sexual tension, and emotion.”
Torcuato Zamora is as passionate and charismatic as the art form he celebrates. In a deep, resonant Grenadian-accented voice, he tells me he is not a man of modern-day technology: “I do not own a mobile phone. I have no computer or Internet. Rather, I choose to write poetry and lyrics and play my guitar,” he says with a modest laugh.
Torcuato grew up in a family of singers and musicians. His mom, he says with a smile, loved to sing, and his older brother introduced him to the guitar. He began playing classical guitar at age 5; by 15 he was giving concerts, and now he’s performing all over the world, and for notable dignitaries, including for the king and queen of Spain and at the White House.
He laughs, as he tells me of his most recent presidential visit. Apparently upon arrival, his outfit replete with traditional cordobés hat, he had the dogs going wild, necessitating the “special forces” to arrive. He says, with great humor, “I looked to them, I think, like a camello.” (“Camello” is Spanish for camel, but it’s also what some call a small-time drug dealer.)
Estela has trained intensively with maestro Antonio Santaella and other Spanish flamenco figures. She is recognized for her dancing style, which combines the traditional flamenco gypsy with a modern touch. The Washington Post described her as “a stunning performer with a gaze that enraptured.”
She founded Furia in 2003 and has performed in venues throughout D.C., including the Kennedy Center, the Spanish Embassy and countless festivals, and has made numerous television appearances. She is passionate about bringing the dance to youth and, in this vein, is often invited by the Fairfax County School system to perform.
“The educational aspect is the most important aspect of our presentation,” Estela says. “It is the reason we go to the schools. Yes, we provide entertainment and the children are mesmerized by all the colors, sounds and rhythms that accompany our performances. But it is important to know why it is that we do what we do. Flamenco is an entire culture, not just music, singing and dance. Its creation provides insight into the world’s history. It is a great example of how many cultures come together harmoniously.”
Savor traditional Spanish fine cuisine accompanied by the sights and fiery, heart-stopping sounds of flamenco at El Quijote this month, at 3 River Lane in the River District Arts building. For reservations, which are recommended, call 540-987-8187.