World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Melissa Cruz

Melissa Cruz
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Flamenco’s origins are vague, though its lamenting lyrics and melancholic melodies are usually traced to sixteenth century Andalucian communities, from a people impoverished and marginalized by the Inquisition. The origins are indigenous Andalucian or Iberian traditions, the music of Sephardic Jews in Andalucia, Moorish forms, and music developed in the Spanish new world and modified by the Romani. Flamenco songs have distinctive rhythms, called palos. Most palos—there are at least sixtyfive—have roots in several sources, but they can be categorized by their most prominent cultural origin and related rhythms. Palos from one of the earliest flamenco forms are Romani-Andalucian, with a rhythmic signature of twelve beats. These include soleares, alegrías, bulerías, and peteneras.

Melissa Cruz created the piece in 2010. Ms. Cruz began studying flamenco and classical Spanish dance in San Francisco with Rosa Montoya in 1993 and performed with Ms. Montoya’s professional company, Bailes Flamencos, from 1996 to 2000. From 2001 to 2004, she studied in Spain with Pastora Galvan, Manuela Rios, and Yolanda Heredia. Ms. Cruz’s Spanish studies collectively inspired this performance of La Petenera.


Melissa CruzTITLE: La Petenera
SOLOIST: Melissa Cruz


Soloist Melissa Cruz performs one of the oldest styles of flamenco forms in La Petenera, a dance of slow intensity. Her fluid movements are broken by dynamic footwork and sharp poses, as cante singing evokes flamenco’s majestic sadness.

One verse suggests La Petenera is a song of Spanish origin. The words refer to the sorrowful Spanish singer La Petenera, from Paterna de la Rivera, Cadíz, so cruelly seductive she was called “the damnation of men”. (Even today, some flamenco singers believe the song brings bad luck.) Another verse places the song’s origins with the Sephardic Jews of Andalucia. The lyrics begin: ¿Dónde vas, bella judía . . . Where are you going, beautiful Jewess, so dressed up and running late? A more recent theory gives the song Mexican or Guatemalan origins, based on evidence of a “Peteneras” sung in Veracruz.


Title: Martinete
: Melissa Cruz 
Musicians: Felix de Lola (vocals/anvil and hammer),
Jason "El Rubio" McGuire (percussion) 

In flamenco's deep song, cante jondo, we hear the echoes of human suffering. This piece, Martinete is one of the oldest forms of flamenco song, said to have originated in the forges of blacksmiths of Andalusia's persecuted Roma people. The name derives from the Spanish martillo (hammer), and the songs are traditionally sung a capella, to the beat of palmas, stamping, and the ring of a hammer striking an anvil. These are monotonous songs and bleak, with words drawn out for a slow and wailing lament. The poetic coplas are sometimes only fragmented phrases—the songs of a people lacking a homeland—and the singer improvises lines that express his passions of the moment. The written lyrics for this martinete are:

In the neighborhood of Triana, there is no ink and plume with which I can write my mother. It has been three years since I have seen her.
Woman, come here and convince yourself of the truth:
That there is no man in this world that is as reliable as a clock.

The martinete was adapted for dance in the 1950s by Antonio El Bailarin. For this performance, Melissa Cruz reflects the original choreography with quick turns, rapid footwork, and dynamic tension and release. Martinete is usually a masculine form, and although it is danced by women, it is more often danced by men. Melissa wears masculine costuming to evoke the aesthetic of El Bailarin. The choreography also includes elements from Melissa's original piece, Siguiriya, and it is partly improvised in engagement with the singer.

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