Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana fills a very important role in Manhattan: It is not only one of the few flamenco schools and companies in the city, but it also provides studios for those who tend to make a lot of noise and roughen up the floors while dancing. In 2007, Flamenco Vivo moved to its current space in a building reserved strictly for non-profits (including many other arts organizations). As Hanaah Frechette, the Managing Director, quipped, “We are a non-profit in the middle of Midtown madness.” She explained that before 2007, many flamenco groups would meet at what she called “the Mecca of flamenco” down the street. When that building was demolished, Flamenco Vivo realized that they had to step up to the plate and find another place where flamenco dancers could exuberantly stomp and stamp. “We are catering to the percussive crowd,” Hanaah said with a smile.
Flamenco Vivo started out solely as a dance company. It was founded in 1983 by Carlota Santana and Roberto Lorca. Though Roberto passed away in the late eighties, Carlota still acts as the Artistic Director for the company, spending most of the year in North Carolina, where she teaches at Duke University and runs a second location of Flamenco Vivo in Durham. Carlota has been honored by the Government of Spain with "La Cruz de la Orden al Merito Civil" for promoting, teaching, and performing flamenco throughout the world, and she has been called “The Keeper of Flamenco” by Dance Magazine. Hanaah proudly told us, “As a founder, she’s very involved. She’s spearheaded everything from the beginning.”
The company is composed of both local artists and guest artists from Spain, and the dancers train both in the United States and Europe. In addition to touring, they do a lot of work here in New York, thanks to the Flamenco in the Boros program, which has been offering free shows in libraries, schools, and museums. “We offer high quality performances in unusual spaces.” Hanaah went on to emphasize that the company also does arts education outreach, which includes a lot of work with English as a Second Language students, to help them feel more engaged in their communities. In addition, they have a choreographic residency each year in conjunction with a competition in Madrid. Hanaah was excited to tell us that it is her turn, this year, to travel to Madrid and present the prize to the winner. The residency allows Flamenco Vivo to support a new generation of dancers and choreographers. The studio recently started hosting a New York State Choreography Competition, hoping to foster the same growth and spirit.
Offering classes is a more recent development. Most of Flamenco Vivo’s classes are geared towards beginners, but the studios are also rented out to other programs and independent teachers. I met Juana Cala who, in addition to being an instructor for Flamenco Vivo, also holds her own classes here. I witnessed one composed of a diverse group of women. “Flamenco lends itself to all abilities,” Hanaah pointed out. She added that dancers do not need to have a specific body type in order to become a master of the form, and that participants often range in age from eighteen to seventy-five. Flamenco Vivo’s other programs reach an even broader age range: For example, Hanaah told me about the studio’s fun family-friendly holiday program, Navidad Flamenca, which explores the traditions of the Spanish-speaking world. “I love how robust and accessible our programming is,” Hanaah gushed.
The breadth and openness of Flamenco Vivo’s work echoes the art form itself. Hanaah admitted that before she came in contact with flamenco, she thought the dance form was “a complex mysterious being.” It was not until she started coming in contact with flamenco that she realized “there are lots of points of entry.” Not only does flamenco rely on many different types of artists (singers, dancer, musicians, etc.), but it also relies on many different cultures, including Sephardic Jewish, Islamic, and, of course, Spanish. Hanaah stated, “It’s an art form born of the people.”
There are intriguing spaces sprinkled throughout the city that invite corporations to utilize their facilities, but stepping inside Offsite is a unique experience designed specifically for the business meeting clientele. The brainchild of Patrick Everett and Shawn Kessler, they have created a stunning turnkey facility where all day conferences can be held. Companies are invited to bring their employees together for a productive 9am-5pm meeting in the three levels of fully equipped space, which can then be flipped effortlessly into an appropriate venue for an evening event. The rooms are configured so that some forty people are able to sit around one gigantic table or be rearranged into smaller units. Attendees never have to feel confined to one space, as they can move around freely on each floor, dividing up into smaller breakout sessions, when necessary. The rooms are versatile and technology oriented, fully outfitted with AV equipment - as Patrick referred to it, "plug and play. " Endless pens and pads, drinks and snacks, including large jars of enticing candy, are provided throughout the day. The partners have paid attention to every detail, taking into consideration exactly what they believe their clients will require, including a small executive office that allows for a private phone conversation and a myriad of white walls that are actually whiteboards. Offsite works with some of the terrific catering facilities in the area to provide top lunches and dinners for groups, and everything is served on their attractive dishes. While being given a tour, Patrick told me that he had been an event planner. When he discovered that there was something important missing in the corporate world, he found his niche. As he began to imagine the possibilities, he worked diligently on his concept with Shawn. Basically all one has to do is book the space, and the rock star team at Offsite will handle the rest.
Guarded throughout the day and evening by friendly gentlemen, who were kind enough to allow me entry one afternoon (no photos allowed), I was in total awe of what was once upon a time the headquarters of the Bowery Savings Bank. Built across the way from Grand Central (and not to be confused with the Cipriani Dolci restaurant inside the terminal) in 1921, the Italian Romanesque Revival structure is considered one of the most spectacular in Manhattan with its chandeliers, marble columns, inlaid floors and incredibly high ceilings. Today, the lavish lobby is used to host private events.
“If you’re going to the theater, you go to Tony’s, ” said Dreni Kyqykaliu, the restaurant’s general manager. Those en route to a Broadway show are a good portion of their clientele, nearby office workers make up the lunch rush, and tourists pop in during breaks between sightseeing. “The blessing of being in Times Square is having all these groups come in. ”Anyone who has visited Tony’s will be familiar with their signature, massive portions of food that are meant to be shared family-style. This adherence to simple but hearty cooking is a trademark of the people that started Tony’s: the Wetansons. (They founded the now-dissolved 1950s burger chain, Wetson’s, which later merged with iconic hot dog vendor, Nathan’s Famous. ) Four generations of Wetansons have run this network of casual dining establishments that also includes Dallas BBQ. Unlike other large companies, however, Greg Wetanson, his father, Herb, and his son, Stuart, remain closely involved in the day-to-day operations and run things as a family business. Thanks to this amiable atmosphere, “Most of the management and the chefs have been here for twenty plus years, ” said Dreni, who joined Tony’s shortly after it opened in the 1990s.
When the City of New York acquired this lot to house Engine 65 in 1895, clubs and residents around the area feared it would disturb the peace. Having calls since their very first night on the job, and as the first responder to Times Square, it became clear that the service was needed and soon became wildly appreciated. One of the firemen, Chris, told me this was something he had always wanted to do. “I love the camaraderie between the guys, ” he said, a theme that seems to reoccur throughout all Manhattan fire stations.