Santa Barbara’s 9th Annual Flamenco Arts Festival

Featuring Rafael Amargo's "Tiempo Muerto"

In their free time, some families like to play Monopoly together, or go skiing, or have barbeques. The Pizano family may enjoy these things too, but their main family pastime is also a serious artistic endeavor. This weekend, the Pizanos are producing their 9th annual Flamenco Arts Festival (FAF).

“It’s been really challenging, but a lot of fun,” said Vibiana, the festival’s artistic director and daughter of Alberto Pizano, FAF’s president and founder. The family connection spans three generations: Vibiana’s son is a professional flamenco dancer, and her daughter serves on the festival’s board of directors.

Each year since 2000, the Pizanos have brought a major flamenco artist, generally from Spain, to perform in Santa Barbara. This weekend, they host Rafael Amargo, one of the leading flamenco stars in Spain. During the group’s stay, Compa±-a Rafael Amargo will offer a series of public dance workshops. On Saturday night, it will perform Tiempo Muerto (Time Out) at the Lobero Theatre.

Closing the festival on Sunday afternoon, 26-year-old Spanish guitarist Pedro Navarro will make his U.S. debut at Victoria Hall Theater with a concert incorporating classical, flamenco, and fusion guitar music.

It is important to the Pizanos that the festival is timed to coincide with Hispanic Heritage Month. “One of our many goals,” said Vibiana, “is to highlight the artistic achievements of Hispanics in the performing arts.”

Spain's Rafael Amargo headlines Santa Barbara's 9th annual Flamenco Arts Festival.

Amargo certainly fits the bill. Born in Granada, Spain, he began studying flamenco at age nine after seeing a male dancer in a film. He performed in his first concert at 13 and at 16 moved to Madrid, the world center of flamenco, to study more. He is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his company with a month-long tour of the U.S. and Mexico, with Santa Barbara as the last stop.

“I think flamenco is inside the heart of everyone,” he said by phone, preparing for a show in Northern California. “If you feel it in your heart, you should just do it and enjoy.”

Amargo is known for blending flamenco with modern dance. “I love traditional flamenco, but sometimes a piece just feels more contemporary, more futuristic,” he explained. “I like to try new things because I am very restless. I want to try it all.”

“Sometimes festivals will just bring a certain type of artist,” Vibiana said. “But there are so many talented dancers out there, interpreting flamenco in their own way. I want people to see that.”

When asked what knowledge of flamenco audiences should have before coming to see his show, Amargo replied, “You don’t need to know anything. You just sit down in the audience, and :” he let out a long, arcing whistle. “I practice my art. That’s it. I would actually prefer that they don’t know anything about flamenco when they come to my show. They will be more impressed that way.”

On Friday evening, Amargo will teach a beginners’ class for those who have at least a year’s experience with flamenco, and an advanced class for experienced or professional dancers. Sunday’s workshop-an introduction to Sevillanas-is open to everyone.

“It’s a traditional dance, more like a folk dance,” Vibiana said of Sevillanas. “At almost every occasion in Spain-at weddings, parties-Sevillanas is performed. So this is open to the whole family.”

“Our goal,” Alberto said, “is not just to bring world-class flamenco companies to Santa Barbara, which in itself is great. But the other important thing is to provide an opportunity for local flamenco artists to work with these masters from Spain.”

For the second year, FAF offers Flamenco para los Ni±os, a program in which Santa Barbara flamenco studios are granted five scholarships each to award to students ages 9-12. Scholarship recipients participate in a one-hour class with the visiting guest artist and are also given a ticket to Saturday night’s show.

“In addition to this festival and the outreach we do,” Alberto said, “the ultimate dream is to institutionalize the Flamenco Arts Festival, eventually having a building that would be a center for flamenco-not only for us, but that the studios in town could use; an academy, as it were. The flamenco community in the U.S. is relatively small, but especially in Santa Barbara, it is fiercely enthusiastic.”

“Another one of our goals is to open up flamenco to everyone,” he continued. “Right now, all of the major performers are Latino, but there’s no reason it has to be that way. In Spain, the gypsies like to say they’re the only ones who can dance flamenco, and the Spaniards say no one else can. But I say, unless they have an extra bone that the rest of the people in the world don’t have, I don’t see why anyone with enough dedication and talent couldn’t be just as good.”


Compa±-a Rafael Amargo will perform “Tiempo Muerto” on Saturday, September 27, at 8 p.m. at the Lobero Theatre (33 E. Canon Perdido St.), with a celebration to follow at Matador Restaurant (714 State St.). Dance workshops will be held Friday, September 26, at 6 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, September 28, at noon at the Santa Barbara Ballet Center (1019 Chapala St., Ste. B). The Pedro Navarro guitar concert will be Sunday, September 28, at 3 p.m. at Victoria Hall Theater (33 W. Victoria St.). For more information and tickets, call 967-4164 or visit


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