Sara Baras is one of the most famous flamenco stars of her generation. She has wonderful precision technique and powerful stage presence, as well as a head for business that has enabled her to run her own company, Ballet Flamenco Sara Baras, to international acclaim.
It will come as a surprise to non-flamenco audiences that Sara is around 40, yet she's regarded as being at the top of her game. If she was dancing in any other genre, she'd be retired by now - but not in flamenco!
That's one thing I love about flamenco: it values maturity. In fact, women in their twenties - who would be headlining in a ballet company - are regarded as having insufficient life experience to perform flamenco. Until you've experienced sorrow, they say, you can't adequately interpret the emotions of the cante (flamenco song).
Sara's last production, Sabores, got rave reviews. Sara was outstanding in that production, of course, but so is everyone else in the company - singers, dancers, guitarists, cajon players. The male dancers were Jose Serrano and Jose Luis Ortega, and there was a corps of eight dancers.
The costumes were also notable, although Sara's shows are always modern flamenco shows - no spotted frilly dresses, red lipstick or hair combs! Although the dresses are plain, they flow well and clever lighting is used to create some lovely unexpected effects.
Sara was born in Cadiz in 1971 or 1972, and learned to dance at her mother's dance studio. At the age of fifteen, she was asked to join the Gitanos de Jerez flamenco company - quite an honour as all the other members were gypsies, who are notoriously dubious about payos' (non-gypsies) ability to dance flamenco!
The Gitanos troupe toured internationally, and Sara went on to study with eminent teachers in Madrid and to gain experience. I recall seeing her in Mike Figgis's movie, Flamenco Women (below), when she was regarded as an upcoming star.
If you're a flamenco student and you've started later in life, I really recommend Figgis's movie to you - it's an inspiration!
In 1998 she took the plunge and started her own company. Her profile was helped by her role as host of a popular TV show in Spain, Algo más que flamenco, and by her appearances in ads for the department store El Corte Ingles and the Tourist Board of Andalusia.
Her company has prospered and she has continued to show what a canny businesswoman she is. Many dancers would find running a company and starring in its productions more than enough - but she continues to endorse products in television ads and appear in films and on television, and has even done some modelling.
The best way to appreciate Sara's dancing is to watch it.
The first video clip is from a Carlos Saura film. The music is based on a piece by Isaac Albéniz.
The second clip is from the production Mariana Pineda, based on a play by Federico Garcia Lorca. It tells the story of a popular heroine of Granada history, who opposed Ferdinand VII in the early 1800's. Jose Serrana is the male dancer. Guitarists are José María Bandera and Mario Montoya.