Hilit Maniv has danced in Northern
California best venues with flamenco’s premiere artists, including La Tania, Carole Zertuche,
Yaelisa, and Fanny Ara. She formed “Mi Alma Flamenca”with Masako Yura, performing in a tablao setting
with contemporary dancer Anna Halprin. Originally from Israel, Hilit studied in
Spain with leading flamenco artists, including Juana Amaya, Alicia Marquez, and
Manolo Main. In Israel, she formed the “Cinco Palmas Flamenco Ensemble” as lead
dancer and choreographer. Her classes led to the formation of “Solo Flamenco
Dance,” one of the largest dance schools in northern Israel.
Soloist Hilit Maniv presents Petenera, an example of a flamenco cante jondo, an intensely sad song of loss and suffering. Petenera is a beautiful woman who leads men to their deaths, a story so dark that many Roma believe they’ll die from singing it.
Flamenco is a unique form, a hybrid of Andalusia’s rich music and dance history. Some say it was born in protest and hope during Spain’s Inquisition, among the poor and subjugated communities—groups of outlaw Christians; nomadic Roma people (who are said to have brought Indian ragas and dance forms to Spain); Arabic and Spanish dancers and musicians; and Sephardic Jews, with their plaintive religious prayer. Flamenco is also known as a positive, fierce, and strong art form created by artists in the 1800s in Seville’s Cafe Cantantes.
Petenera is especially connected to the Jews of old Spain. In some lyrics, Petenera is a Jewish woman, and the association of danger with Sephardic Jews has been connected to the danger of singing Jewish songs in 1500s Spain. Another connection evidently comes from groups of Sephardic Jews living in the Middle East: they speak Ladino (old Spanish-Hebrew) and sing a Petenera they say was passed on generation to generation for five hundred years.
Hilit Maniv was first drawn to the Petenera by a recording by Carmen Linares. The lyrics told of the Jews in Spain, and Hilit recognized the melody as a Jewish prayer sung at the synagogue and Saturday dinner tables, the well-known piyyut (Jewish liturgical poem) Tsur mishelo.
Hilit says, “I was extremely touched when I first heard this melody, since I’ve been dancing flamenco for many years and here was a real connection to my own culture as an Israeli Jew, a spiritual connection, a prayer I knew when I was a child.”
The flamenco song for this performance is part Jewish Ladino (Ladino refers to Spanish-Jewish culture). The Hebrew lyrics, Hilit’s translation, tell both the story of a seductive and dangerous woman, and the difficulties of Sephardic Jews in Spain:
their faith and the word/Many thousand would suffer. And if God wanted it that
way/Many thousand would suffer. What a cry all over Spain/All over the