Flamenco master Teo Morca returns to share wisdom of 60-year career
In the airy front studio at Washington Contemporary Ballet, there’s a rather odd scene. About a dozen lithe young women in flowing skirts and heeled shoes are flouncing, stamping and twirling their way through an advanced flamenco class led by a 77-year-old man with wispy gray hair and a bald crown. Yet when he starts dancing with lightning-fast feet and sultry hips, you can see why Teo Morca, who began the Northwest’s first flamenco school in Bellingham 35 years ago, is still a legend in the international flamenco world.
Morca is back in town this month, along with singer Vicento Griego and guitarist Gerardo Alcala, for a Tacoma Flamenco Festival that includes workshops and performances throughout April, plus a video lecture Saturday night at Madera Gallery.
“He’s such an accessible, sweet person with huge experience and very clear explanations,” said Marisela Fleites, a Tacoma flamenco teacher and performer and the catalyst for the festival. She was part of last weekend’s flamenco workshop at the ballet studio, and was concentrating just as intently on Morca’s instructions as the less experienced students. “As a dancer, you’re always a beginner, I think. Flamenco is not set in stone in books like ballet. It’s an oral tradition passed from master to master.”
That is what has brought Morca back to the Puget Sound region: the desire to share the wisdom of his 60-year dancing career.
Born in Los Angeles to a Hungarian gypsy mother, Morca was trained in both classical and flamenco dance. His career has included world tours with the likes of Pilar Lopez and Luis Rivera, teaching at various universities and winning the St. Denis choreographic award in New York. He has danced at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Albuquerque Flamenco Festival and with companies such as Pacific Northwest Ballet, as well as flamenco dance legend La Chunga at the Café de Chinitas in Madrid, Spain. He also has authored a book and many articles on flamenco.
But what Morca is perhaps most remembered for in the Northwest is founding the region’s first flamenco school. Begun in Bellingham in 1975 after a residency at Western Washington University, the Morca Academy effectively brought flamenco to the Northwest, where it now flourishes in Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle. Since he closed the school in 2000, Morca has been based in New Mexico, where Fleites met him at one of his weeklong flamenco courses last year.
“I had known about him for many years, the students raved about him,” Fleites said. She went to the course, calling it “a week in flamenco paradise.”
Fleites decided to bring the paradise back home. Thanks to hosting help from WCB and the University of Puget Sound, as well as other venues, Fleites has created a Tacoma Flamenco Festival that’s attracting dancers like bees to honey.
Tacoma flamenco student Juel Lugo is one of those. With only three years of study under her belt, she feels like she’s one of the beginners, yet she’s getting a lot out of Morca’s disciplined, technique-oriented class.
“He’s really slowing a lot of parts down, so you learn to do it correctly. When it’s fast, it can get better,” Lugo said.
At the class, it’s clear why Morca is such a sought-after teacher. Patiently, with a lot of humor (“Only look down with your eyes. Otherwise, the audience sees the top of your head, and mine isn’t that exciting to look at”), he guides dancers bit by bit. He offers useful hints on how to prevent your back from arching in high heels, how to relax your upper body while hammering out a gunfire foot pattern, how to be tense rather than stiff and how to sustain those complicated hand-claps without getting tired.
“When I first went to Spain in 1964, you learned flamenco like folk dancing. There were no technique classes,” Morca said. Now, “it’s more structured. The forms of flamenco are structured and you have to know them.”
When he demonstrates a series of steps to the swirling live guitar accompaniment, it’s clear why he’s still a master dancer. As his arms flutter gracefully, his feet move almost too fast to focus (he once broke the Guiness world record for fast footwork) and his gaze demands attention.
At the upcoming performances at Green River Community College and UPS, Morca will present a traditional program, sharing the stage with Fleites. There will be solos, plus a flirtatious comedy duo where Morca pretends to be a guy left hanging on a date. He also will do a number where he starts out singing – a total contrast to his real singer, Vicente Griego, who along with guitarist Gerardo Alcala is a flamenco master in his own right. (The two will offer workshops at WCB.)
“I love comedy, and I try to make flamenco something different from the heavy drama that it often is. I like to have fun,” Morca said.
Rosemary Ponnekanti 253-597-8568 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/arts