Mario Maya, at 71; renowned interpreter of flamenco dance

By Anna Kisselgoff
New York Times News Service / October 5, 2008
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NEW YORK - Mario Maya, who fused his Gypsy heritage and training in experimental American dance to become one of Spain's most influential flamenco dancers and choreographers, died Sept. 29 at his home in Seville.

He was 71.

The cause was cancer, according to the World Music Institute in New York.

In February, Mr. Maya served as artistic director of a gala program during Flamenco Festival New York, produced annually by the institute and Miguel Marin.

In her review in The New York Times, Jennifer Dunning wrote that the program "offered stunning proof that the old art lives on vitally in committed new interpreters."

A rebel in the 1960s, Mr. Maya consistently passed on to the young dancers in his companies an unwavering belief that flamenco could be radically renewed and yet remain true to its essence.

Among his disciples are the most brilliant experimental flamenco dancers of today, including his daughter Belen and Israel Galvan.

Born in Cordoba into a Gypsy family that moved to Granada when he was 2, Mr. Maya took the conventional route of dancing as a child before the Gypsy caves of the Sacromonte quarter in Granada before turning professional. His "maestra," as he called her, was the distinguished dancer Pilar Lopez, in whose company he performed from 1956 to 1958 after studying in Madrid.

In the early 1960s, however, he suddenly moved to New York and studied modern dance at the Alwin Nikolais and Alvin Ailey schools.

In the opinion of one Spanish critic, Mr. Maya's involvement with "new wave theater" in New York led him to adopt "ideas and concepts that he later applied to flamenco dance."

The fruit of those efforts was already clear in his New York concerts of 1967 and 1968. By 1993, after more than 25 years of touring, the performances of Mario Maya Flamenco Dance Company in New York confirmed that his was not the standard approach to traditional forms.

Looking amazingly like Merce Cunningham and dancing with similar surprises, Mr. Maya offered an impressive journey into abstraction in "Three Flamenco Movements." Emotions seemed to come out of the choreography's patterns rather than literal passion. The structure of the dance was spare, but the dancers moved at great speed; Mr. Maya's own solos were colored by skimming, filigreed footwork.

Although Mr. Maya had started out independently with Carmen Mora and Eduardo Serrano in the Trio Madrid, he later directed large troupes, including the Andalusian Dance Company. In the 1970s he included text in his productions, often inspired by the poet Federico García Lorca. In 1983 he founded a school in Seville that taught flamenco, ballet, and jazz dance.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Maya leaves his wife, Mariana Ovalle Ibarra; another daughter, Mariaostalinda; and a son, Mario Adonay Maya.

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