Arts Listings

Yaelisa and Friends Bring Flamenco Family Fiesta to Ashkenaz

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Wednesday December 23, 2009 - 09:03:00 AM

The Flamenco Family Fiesta, featuring Yaelisa, founder of Caminos Flamencos, will take the stage at Ashkenaz at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27. 

Yaelisa will perform with students from both her youngest and her adult classes (Las Flamenkitas and Las Chiquitinas), and the show will feature El Rubio (Jason McGuire) on guitar and singer El Moreno, as well as young flamenco guitarist Roberto Granados (who recently performed for President Obama). The DanceVersity Youth Ensemble will perform Middle Eastern dance.  

The show, presented by Flamenco Open Stage, will also feature candy, gifts and Spanish holiday cookies, raffle prizes, and an “if the shoe fits” Cinderella giveaway (“with a real prince!” according to Yaelisa), and a sale of flamenco costumes. 

“I love Askenaz,” said Yaelisa, who has taught there every Saturday for 11 years. She spoke of working with Honorah Forscutt of Flamenco Open Stage, calling her shows—one every month or six weeks—“a labor of love, and an opportunity for teachers to feature their students. It’s an informal and warm environment, truly family-oriented.” 

Yaelisa spoke of her adult students as “well-trained and serious about flamenco. They can handle serious numbers, some of them solos. The range of flamenco we’ll do is huge. It’ll be fun, not too heavy—it’s the holidays! There’s a special feeling for us at Ashkenaz, so we’ll be very inspired. There’s lots of love and warmth there.” She said the youngest students would dance to one live and two recorded numbers, “the way they’re being introduced to flamenco.” 

Yaelisa extolled the virtues of the Family Flamenco Fiesta and Flamenco Open Stage: “Audiences appreciate seeing high quality flamenco so cheap. But Honorah’s one person doing this, no staff. It’s an unknown treasure. Sometimes there’s a problem filling the place.” 

Yaelisa also mentioned the busy holiday season for her company, who just finished three days of Canciones at Cowell Theater in San Francisco’s Fort Mason—“the dancers exhausted themselves!”—and the Flamenca Navidad cabaret-style show tonight at the Cafe Flamenco program of Club Verde in San Francisco’s Mission-Potrero.  

Yaelisa herself is a second-generation Bay Area flamenco dancer, daughter of the late Isa Mura, both dancer and singer. 

“When I was just a kid—4 years old—I danced once or twice at the Casa Madrid on Broadway in North Beach. I couldn’t help it! My mother was a dancer; it was all about Mom being a flamenco! So dancing was pretty much survival! I was around it all the time, living with my mother, going to parties, shows ... but it didn’t really pique my interest until I was 21. I took other dance classes, then studied with Rosa Montoya, just to get away a little from my mom’s view. Rosa put me into her company immediately. I got serious. I did some shows with Mom, had a company in Southern California, where I met my husband-to-be, guitarist Jason McGuire. Then I went to Spain for 10 years. I came back in ’97; my mother was ill with breast cancer. And I was tired of Spain—and of Southern California, where I’d put my company on hold. I started it up again up here and have worked with the local dance community, but I still direct the New World Flamenco Festival in Southern California.”  

Flamenco in the Bay Area started up in earnest when sculptor and wit Richard Whalen, whose grandmother had been a vaudevillian on the RKO Orpheum circuit, became a flamenco entrepreneur. On Pearl Harbor Day, 1958, Las Cuevas, the flamenco club in the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant in North Beach, opened. It saw weekend shows for 26 years, until the closing of the restaurant. 

A few years later, David Jones (who would perform as David Serva), son of a UC Berkeley political science professor, who’d taken up blues guitar, went to study and play flamenco in Moron de la Frontierra in Andalusia, Spain, forging artistic links between the old flamenco community there and the Bay Area. “He is the godfather of the Berkeley flamenco scene,” said East Bay resident Kenny Parker, who performs as Keni El Lebrijano, a veteran of the Spaghetti Factory and its often occasional successors—including Ashkenaz. 

Richard Whalen, entrepreneur of cabaret-style flamenco, died last September. Flamenco itself has undergone great changes since the days in the back room at the Spaghetti Factory—and Yaelisa has been in the forefront, choreographing dances to music as varied as Rosemary Clooney and Led Zeppelin. Yaelisa received an Emmy in 1993 for her choreography of a PBS program, “Desde Cadiz a Sevilla,” and in 1995 was one of 11 choreographers—the only American—invited to present her choreography at the Certamen de Coreografia in Madrid. (For information about Yaelisa and her company, see 



Presented by Flamenco Open Stage at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27 at Ashkkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave. $10. 525-5054.