As Jerez de la Frontera prepares for its annual Fiesta de la Buleria – one of the most prestigious events in the flamenco calendar – Stephanie Brown catches up with one of its protagonists, Maria Bermudez.
This year, the 52nd edition of the Fiesta de la Buleria is dedicated to women and showcases talent from all flamenco disciplines – song, dance and music -including a special international evening focussing on California’s contribution to flamenco.
Maria Bermudez is a hugely talented dancer who has made Jerez de la Frontera – the City of Flamenco – her home for the last 30 years. She may have Californian and Mexican blood coursing through her veins, but she is as near to “homegrown” talent as one can describe someone, not from Jerez.
It seems fitting that Bermudez – flamenco artist, dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director – has the reins to direct this year’s international evening, in a city to whom she has dedicated most of her life and who now recognises her as the talent she is.
What first drew you into the world of flamenco?
I grew up with flamenco. My elder brother, Alfonso, was a flamenco dancer. I grew up watching and listening; it was part of my childhood. He was only 29 when he passed away, but he inspired me to continue his dream of being a flamenco dancer.
Could you please tell me a little about your career path so far?
Once I had made the decision to become a professional flamenco dancer, I went to the renowned flamenco school, Amor de Dios, in Madrid.
Then, I became obsessed and went in search of the flamenco roots. I moved to Seville and eventually, Jerez…I have been there for the last 30 years. Once I discovered for myself, that it was the birthplace of flamenco, that’s where I hung my hat.
I have performed with my company Sonidos Gitanos (Gypsy Sounds) worldwide. Some of my career highlights have been both sides of the Atlantic and beyond: here at the Festival Flamenco de Jerez and Teatro Lope de Vega in Seville, but, also in The States – John Anson Ford Theatre in LA, The Hollywood Bowl, Lincoln Centre – as well as Australia and most of Europe.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
Because of the cultural nature of the place where I decided to study, the greatest challenge was integrating. In a place that was, at that time, not accustomed to foreigners.
Has that now changed?
Yes. And thanks to the annual Festival de Flamenco de Jerez, foreigners are now welcomed as part of the equation here.
Tell me about your participation in the Fiesta de la Buleria?
Historically, the Fiesta de la Buleria is recognised as one of the most important flamenco festivals in Spain. And in Jerez particularly, it has always been one of the most important and eagerly awaited flamenco events of the year.
It has evolved over the years, from a one-evening event, to 3 nights. The Fiesta de la Buleria now has one night dedicated to young, up and coming artists and another, dedicated to a country recognised for its flamenco contribution. This year, it is California.
This year gives homage to flamenco women, who, of course, have always been strongly present, but whose talents have not always been acknowledged. Along with the original concept of the Fiesta de la Buleria – headliners and local performers – I am directing and showcasing 5 generations of Californian dancers – all women. Of which, I am one.
Would you say you have been accepted as a foreign dancer? What does acceptance mean to you?
Yes. It is a general human desire; to feel part of the community. Acceptance for me includes being invited to participate in important flamenco events such as these.
What would you say are qualities in a person which make a good flamenco dancer?
To truly and honestly feel an emotional connection to the music, the singing and rhythms. And, then, obsession! And a little insanity (she laughs.)
Tell me about your programme at the Fiesta de la Buleria. Why have you chosen the artists you have and what can flamenco newcomers expect?
The public can expect the whole gamut of flamenco shades and colours and history of flamenco, via the generational range and experience of the dancers and their styles. Local Jerez popular-style, young Californian up and coming and the more mature, well-established dancers.
But, let’s not forget that flamenco is not all about dance and the festivals are largely made up of singers. The evening directed by me will also be showcasing Remedios Amaya and Esperanza Fernandez, highly-acclaimed, award-winning and Latin Grammy-nominated singers.
The audience can expect deep, heartfelt emotionality as well as more “festera” (party-like) dancing and singing.
I know there is a lot more we could talk about, but one final question. As someone who is multi-faceted both culturally – with your Mexican-American heritage and the strong Jerez connection – and someone multi-talented (choreographer, dancer, director, and let’s not forget you also sing!), which Maria Bermudez will we see on stage?
The person they are going to see up there is a dancer and singer, pouring out her heart and soul, celebrating an artistic landmark and sharing the stage with flamenco “royalty”. One who has encountered many challenges, but because of immense love and admiration for the art form, I find myself in this place of recognition and gratitude.
I will relish every second.
My hope is that I serve as an inspiration for others who want to fulfil a dream.
My journey continues…
If you want to see Maria Bermudez and immerse yourself in some truly authentic flamenco-filled nights, check out the Fiesta de la Buleria 2019. It runs from Thursday, August 22nd until Saturday, August 24th. Flights to Jerez de la Frontera or Seville.
For more info, go to: https://www.tickentradas.com/fest/fiesta-de-la-buleria-2019