Vibiana Pizano is a woman who doesn’t worry over a decision. When she speaks, her thoughts flow with the crisp assertion of a person who’s been raised to believe that effecting change begins with a clear delivery — a lesson learned, no doubt, from her late father, Alberto Pizano, an esteemed political activist whose dedication to the Latino community fueled such organizations as Los Angeles’ Plaza de la Raza and the Santa Barbara Hispanic Achievement Council. So when Vibiana Pizano was in Seville to witness the stunning array of performances at the reputable Bienal de Flamenco some 20 years ago and made up her mind to create a festival in Santa Barbara offering the same caliber of international talent, it was only a matter of details.
As a teenager growing up in East L.A., Pizano wiled away her afternoons in the throes of flamenco dance lessons. It was an interest that began at the urging of her parents but quickly escalated into a passion that she carried with her when the family moved to Santa Barbara and eventually took her overseas to study with a roster of legendary Spanish masters. Through the years, Pizano’s love of the art form continued to grow, and in 1999, she and her father joined forces to launch what would be the state’s first international festival dedicated exclusively to the art and history of flamenco.
Part symposium and part celebration, the four-day Flamenco Arts Festival intentionally coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month, underscoring the Pizano family’s lifelong dedication to Latino advocacy work. “My father was passionate about the arts and the role Hispanics have played in enriching the narrative of music and dance throughout the world,” explained Pizano. Through workshops, talk-backs, and performances, the festival aims to expose audiences and participants to a kaleidoscope of cultural offerings while serving as a proactive vessel for thoughtful dialogue about Hispanic identity.
The festivities kick off Thursday, September 28, with a wine reception and Sevillanas flash mob on the Lobero Theatre’s esplanade, highlighting the Spanish region’s traditional song and dance form, followed by a screening of Carlos Saura’s visually striking documentary Flamenco, Flamenco. Cristina Venegas, associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Film and Media Studies, will be on hand to moderate an exclusive discussion and interview with one of the film’s stars and headliner of this year’s festival, guest artist Patricia Guerrero.
On Friday and Sunday, festivalgoers can try their hand (and feet) at any one of the specialized workshops — beginner through advanced levels, for youth and adults — in dance disciplines that include bulerías, flamenco tangos, and alegrías con mantón, as well as musical offerings in flamenco guitar, cajón, and cante y palmas. “We have a long-standing relationship with our local studios,” said Pizano, “and bringing a strong educational component into the festival ensures that the knowledge of the art form will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.”
The festival’s marquee performance and gala takes place on Saturday, September 30, with the U.S. premiere of Upclose, highlighting the work of three Spanish artists in classic trinity form: Patricia Guerrero (baile), Juan José Amador (cante), and Paco Iglesias (toque). “This year we’re giving audiences a more intimate way to experience flamenco,” said Pizano. “Patricia [Guerrero] is a young and vibrant dancer who is traditionally trained and contemporary in approach, so the format felt right.” The evening will also include a formal presentation of the Alberto Pizano Award for the Arts to this year’s recipient, Lobero Theatre’s executive director, David Asbell, whom Pizano described as a “major influence and friend to the Flamenco Arts Festival,” adding that his mentorship has added “immeasurable success to the festival over the past 18 years.”
During our recent phone conversation, Pizano spoke earnestly about the undeniable importance of the arts during times of uncertainty and their ability to invoke greater understanding between traditionally disparate groups. “There can be no better vehicle to promote ethnic diversity than the language of the arts,” she said, “which requires complete freedom of intellectual and emotional expression and recognizes no artificial cultural barriers.”
The Flamenco Arts Festival runs Thursday-Sunday, September 28-October 1. Call 967-4164 or see flamencoarts.org.