“This was conceived of and organized by Latinos,” explains Vibiana Pizano, the co-founder and president of the Flamenco Arts Festival Santa Barbara. “I’m proud we were able to do that and to bring this unique art to our beloved city.”
Coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month, this year’s Flamenco Arts Festival, which runs from September 26 to 29, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Upon its founding in 2000, Vibiana explains, “We were the first Flamenco Festival in California.” The annual international exchange experience brings prominent flamenco artists from Spain to Santa Barbara to perform, teach, lecture, and interact with participants. There are live concerts, lectures, dance and music workshops, and community celebrations. See www.flamencoarts.org for a full schedule.
For Vibiana, this year’s milestone is bittersweet, for her father, Alberto Paul Pizano, is no longer with us, having passed away in 2015. “We did this together,” she says. “I miss him for all the things he did for the festival. At first, what we wanted to do was diversify the performing arts calendar for Latino programming.”
Alberto also co-founded the Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival, and was El Presidente of Old Spanish Days in 1987. “I take after him,” Vibiana confides. “I’m always busy, involved in our community.”
Vibiana and her dad knew that Santa Barbara was very familiar flamenco because of Old Spanish Days, which has long been the showcase event for so many flamenco dance schools in town. “Children are exposed to this dance,” she emphasizes. “We knew it would be embraced by Santa Barbara. We filled a niche, with world-class artists and a strong educational component to increase the knowledge with workshops and lectures. We design our programs for aficionados and practitioners of the art form.”
Over our breakfast at Joe’s Cafe, Vibiana explains, “My parents grew up in a poor environment where there was a lot of discrimination. They encouraged us to speak English and speak it well, but they did always embrace their Latino culture.”
Born in East Los Angeles, she first visited a Mexican folklorico dance studio with her grandmother when she was three or four years old. “When I turned 16, I started to be interested in flamenco,” she recalls. “Flamenco took over, but Mexican folklorico was a good training. It taught me the castanets. I still have my costumes.”
In the late 1970s, her parents moved to Santa Barbara, and Vibiana followed soon after with her husband. She danced at many Fiestas and sent both of her children to study dance in Spain. Her son, Pablo, was a professional dancer for a while, and he now serves on the festival’s board of directors.
Vibiana remains passionate about flamenco. “At first, I didn’t know I was going to like flamenco,” she admits. “It’s hard to learn. You have to communicate with the guitarist and the singer. Everybody has to be on the same page and be speaking the same language. That comes in handy when you’re improvising. Flamenco is three elements: the dance, the singing, the music. It can take years to feel comfortable.”
When I ask her what she loves most about flamenco, she responds, without hesitation, “It’s an art form that allows you be so expressive!”
Excited for the 20th annual Flamenco Arts Festival at the end of September, Vibiana Pizano answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your most treasured possession?
A manton [shawl] that belonged to my great, great grandmother.
What do you like most about your job?
That it is the arts.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I get the job done.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Retirement and when my children are happy and in good health.
What is your greatest fear?
Who do you most admire?
My father, Alberto Pizano. He passed away in 2015, but he was a smart man and an avid reader, worked hard to support his family, had a great sense of humor, never lost his temper, and was an artist.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Makeup. I always have makeup on, never without it.
What is your current state of mind?
Crazy. We are six weeks out from the festival.
What is the quality you most like in people?
I can’t think of just one. Kindness, fearlessness, loyalty, good sense of humor, brave.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
People who are not sincere.
What do you most value in friends?
Loyalty, caring, good listeners.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I need coffee” or “where is my coffee?”
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would like to be a singer.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I have a hard time resting or relaxing. I need to be busy all the time. So, I would like to relax more.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children, of course.
Where would you most like to live?
Anywhere near water.
Who makes you laugh the most?
What is your motto?
Upward and onward.
On what occasion do you lie?
On my birthday.