Author and filmmaker Jaima Chevalier has a bit of a flamenco obsession. A native of Santa Fe, she's focused the bulk of her storytelling efforts on New Mexico history and local issues such as the now-defunct Entrada. Now, with a new book on Santa Fe's still-reigning flamenco queen Maria Benitez titled Fringe: Maria Benitez's Flamenco Enchantment, Chevalier hopes to unearth interesting history, pay homage to an internationally-known legend of dance and, just maybe, show another side of the illustrious Benitez. Find Chevalier reading at Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse (6 pm Friday Sept. 20. Free. 202 Galisteo St., 988-4226) this week, find As to Qs below.
Why are you so fascinated by Maria Benitez?
It's a personal story in one sense, because I've known her since I was a very small child, but I think she's a huge figure in New Mexico culture. She had to overcome almost quadruple discrimination: She was half-Native, half-Latina, a woman and her chosen art form, flamenco, was fringe, not part of mainstream dance. She had to fight to be recognized, fight to dance—she had to be a real warrior to get her art out into the world. Once she did, she became incredibly successful, and she represents so many of the cultural values we have. I always pose the question, 'Where does the frybread end and the sopaipilla begin?' In some cases, we're so merged together we can't tell where one part of our culture begins and the other ends.
What do you think draws people to flamenco?
One of the core things is it makes you feel. It makes you feel emotion. This was an art form of persecuted people—Gypsies, Christians, Muslims, Jews. They were forced to the outskirts of society, they became nomadic to escape oppression and genocide, they had to do their storytelling in secret ways. You didn't have a library, you didn't have a government, you were on the run. A lot of times these really deep, dark stories were being told through dance. To me, it's an extremely powerful art form, and Maria started a whole regional thing here; we're now known as a center for flamenco, worldwide we're known for that. She really worked hard to infiltrate various systems here, and we're seeing the blossom.
What was the most interesting thing you learned that you think others would be excited to hear about?
Well, there's a huge reveal, and that is that dozens of well-known publications have incorrectly reported a key fact about Maria for over six decades, including The New York Times, Vogue Magazine, [local publications]—all these magazines and newspapers. I'll be revealing that fact Friday night at Collected Works. It's in the book, I got her permission, and it's something really key, and it ties into our identity as New Mexicans. I think it'll be a shock to people, though it's nothing bad, but it really plays into our identity as New Mexicans.