“Ole!” Flamenco Flourishes in Princeton As Lisa Botalico Leads Eager Spanish Dancers
The Festival Cultural Latino was getting off to a slow start two weekends ago on Hinds Plaza. A handful of patrons browsed through tempting foods and crafts from a variety of Latino cultures, provided by local artisans and restaurants.
Suddenly, everyone’s attention turned toward the north end of the plaza, where a crowd had gathered. What had looked like only a smattering of participants moments before soon became a crowd of 100 or more clapping to the rhythms, punctuated by castanets and rapid-fire clacking of shoes on the pavement. All were enjoying the lively, colorful performance — proud dancers in swirling bright dresses, with sweeping scarves and capes — of Lisa Botalico and her Spanish dance students.
Grabbing the spectators’ attention and exciting her students and audiences, in Princeton, throughout the area and beyond, has been a passionate priority for Ms. Botalico for most of her life.
The busy choreographer-dancer-teacher described some of the sources of her inspiration and success, all based on her “unwavering belief that Spanish Dance, especially flamenco, is a celebration of life, and everyone is welcome to celebrate their lives with me! Since flamenco is traditionally a familial and communal dance, my classes are open. Students get used to being watched and are therefore ready to perform for the public. Flamenco can be performed just about anywhere, so we are able to reach out to the public in many forums such as senior centers, outdoor festivals, and private functions. Flamenco simply delights the public!”
The 20 minute demonstration at Festival Cultural Latino epitomized Ms. Botalico’s dynamic dual roles as performer and teacher. A contingent of five young dancers performed the Tanguillo and a dramatic Paso Doble with capes and fans. Dressed in bright red and black with a red rose atop her head, Ms. Botalico, accompanied by adults and children, performed Sevillanas and then a Rumba Flamenca, with Ms. Botalico providing a dramatic climactic solo.
This dancer-choreographer-teacher’s extensive career on stage includes a nationwide tour as artistic director and principal dancer of La Compania Folklorica Latina under the auspices of the National Theatre for the Performing Arts. She has performed with legendary flamenco stars Maria Alba, Jose Molina, Manolo Rivera, Orlando Romero, Victorio and Carmen Salao.
Variously described on her website, as “the essence of fiery passion” and “a saucy one-woman fiesta,” Ms. Botalico in one performance “had the crowd on its feet, clapping in rhythm because of the audacious display of drama emanating from her being” and, in another, critic and playwright Mario Fratti of Il Progresso described how “she made the stage tremble.”
Ms. Botalico danced with the Alborada Spanish Dance Theatre in 2000 as a guest artist, and joined the company as principal dancer in 2001. As associate artistic director of Alborada, she has choreographed numerous company dances and created and directed El Sueno (a Spanish dance ballet based on the story of the Nutcracker). She has performed critically acclaimed solo pieces with the company at theaters throughout New Jersey and on NJN Images/Imagine, most notably the 2009 Emmy Award-winning documentary The Spanish Guitar. She dances regularly in the tablao at Spain Inn II in Clinton.
“As a solo flamenco artist,” Ms. Botalico reflected, “I am particularly moved by the flamenco music called Solea, which derives from the word soledad, meaning loneliness. Improvising with the guitar and flamenco singer gives me the opportunity to discover spontaneous emotions unique to every performance.”
Ms. Botalico and her husband, Joel Rudin, a violist, have lived in Princeton since 1998. In 1999 she founded the children’s Spanish dance program at the Arts Council, where she currently teaches several levels of children’s classes as well as classes for adults. She also teaches at the Princeton Dance and Theater Studio, the Dance Corner and Drum Dance and Learning Center. As artist-in-residence at the Arts Council last year, she collaborated with musicians, visual artist Libby Ramage, and 23 dancers, ages 10 to 69, to create a unique performance happening based on “a shared journey exploring the themes of passion, aggression, and hope.”
To sustain the highest caliber of professional performance and also the most successful teaching simultaneously is an achievement that can elude even the greatest artists, but Ms. Botalico sees no conflict between her professional career and her teaching.
“Teaching is a complete joy for me,” she declared. “I find it a source of inspiration on so many levels. I know from personal experience how flamenco can be transformational, allowing the artist to explore and discover self-expression.
“Teaching flamenco allows me to celebrate with my students their own unique qualities no matter their age or body type. It is a joy to see a shy student blossom with the power of flamenco and to see overzealous students channel their exuberance.”
Besides her numerous young students, Ms. Botalico also enjoys working with adults in all phases of life. “Flamenco also accepts dancers of all ages, because it does not require the flexibility of other dance forms,” she explained. “Older flamenco dancers bring their life experiences to their dance, channeling the deep emotions of both joy and sadness that are so integral to flamenco.”
Teaching and performance complement each other for Ms. Botalico, and in all her performing and teaching she manifests her beliefs about education and life. “My own performances are enhanced by the enrichment I receive physically and emotionally from teaching. Teachers must look into themselves. I must be sure to follow my own example by demonstrating and dancing with them in class.”
Constantly working on new projects with the Alborada Dance Theatre, Ms. Bortalico is looking forward to a new holiday family production in celebration of Three Kings’ Day, which will be presented at the Jersey Shore Arts Center on December 12 and at Hamilton Stage in Rahway on January 3, 2016. Later next year Ms. Botalico and Alborada have plans to collaborate with dancers from Argentina and Brazil in a new cross-cultural program.
Anyone who thinks that Ms. Botalico, having “done it all” in the world of flamenco and Spanish dance, might be ready to rest on her laurels or at least take a short break, has never encountered this formidable artist in person or performance. “I have now taught a generation of flamenco dancers who have come from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “Therefore, my mission is to establish a Flamenco Youth Ensemble, giving young dancers a forum to create and perform their own performance pieces. I am looking forward to nurturing flamenco’s ambassadors into the future.” Those student “ambassadors” will have Lisa Botalico, the ultimate ambassador of flamenco, as their role model.