The husband and wife team of Jose Valle Fajardo (“Chuscales”) and Mina Fajardo have been sharing their love for flamenco, an art form based on the folkloric music traditions of southern Spain, with the Santa Fe community for close to two decades.
Chuscales, who grew up in Antequera, Spain in a traditional gypsy family well-known for its professional musicians and dancers, is a master guitarist who started taking guitar lessons at a young age and was professionally performing by the time he was in his early teens.
His childhood was filled with music and dancing. Family members and friends would gather in caves to sing and dance for hours at a time.
While he danced quite a bit in his youth and attributes his hands-on experience with dance as helping him deeply understand flamenco’s rhythmic nuances, his passion is the guitar. “The guitar is my escape, my way of talking and expressing the way I feel,” he explains.
Fajardo, in contrast, grew up in Japan and studied nursing at Hokkaido University Medical Technology. Although she was keenly interested in dance and studied classical ballet, modern dance and tap, she didn’t know anything about flamenco until one of her colon cancer patients in Japan introduced her to the art form.
“I saw her perform shortly after her surgery,” Fajardo recalls. “It was my first time seeing flamenco. I was so touched because this woman was dancing with a colostomy bag. It made me cry. I started taking private lessons with her.”
By the time Chuscales and Fajardo met in 1998 in New York City, both were immersed in the world of flamenco. Fajardo was dancing in a cabaret/restaurant when Chuscales, who was performing with Maria Benitez’s company at the Joyce Theater in New York and knew the owner of the establishment, came in one night and saw her dance. Chuscales and Fajardo started working together in New York and married there in 1999.
The couple came to Santa Fe in 2001 for what they thought would be a one-year stay. They never left.
“Chuscales occasionally travels around the country to perform, but I primarily work here in New Mexico,” Fajardo says. “We have four children at home.”
Chuscales, who has won awards for sound design/composition, arranging and direction and has appeared in a number of films through the years, collaborates with flamenco musicians and dancers from around the world. His music can be heard every Tuesday night at La Boca in Santa Fe.
While Fajardo appears with Chuscales and other dancers and musicians in performances throughout the state, she spends a great deal of time teaching in northern New Mexico public schools and at Santa Fe Community College.
The couple’s newest collaboration-in-the-works is a project about the French impressionist painter Claude Monet that aims to bring audience members, through flamenco, inside his art. Teatro Paraguas hosts the production in September.
“While it’s a very difficult art form, the beauty of flamenco is that it’s a personal interpretation,” Chuscales says. Fajardo adds, “although I am a better dancer now than I was 20 years ago, I still have so much to learn.”