In Theatre Flamenco of San Francisco’s dance studio at 670 South Van Ness Ave, between 17th and 18th, costumes, props and posters advertising old shows decorate the walls. They are relics of the company’s past – racks of long, heavy dresses used in performances since Adela Clara, fresh from studying in New York, Madrid and Sevilla, founded the company in 1966.
Despite being one of the oldest flamenco companies in the country, it has been anything but stable. Carola Zertuche, who has directed the company for the past ten years, said she has had to move five times during that period.
“It was super bad,” Zertuche said.
Up until December, Zertuche taught classes in the basement of the Burger King at Market and Grove streets. The space had no windows and for a year and a half, students walked through the fast food restaurant to access the studio. So did random, confused people, Zertuche said. Some of them stumbled into the basement by accident, interrupting class.
Other times, she saw cockroaches. Worst of all the ventilation system sometimes failed, filling the basement with the fumes of burgers.
Although the space had problems, Zertuche only managed to get a two-year lease.
Then, last summer, one of her students told her another dance company, Fat Chance Belly Dance, had recently moved out of its South Van Ness space, and Zertuche tracked down the landlord to explain her situation.
Yes, he said, the location was available, but he worried about the noise of Flamenco. She worried about tech money out-bidding her.
One evening, Zertuche said, the landlord dropped by her Burger King studio.
“In the moment he came to Burger King, he was like, ‘No, no, no, no. It’s yours.’ Because he saw the situation that I was dealing with,” Zertuche said.
“He doesn’t even stay for the class. He just said, “No, no, no, I feel so bad for you. What is this? This is not right. Come tomorrow, I bring you the lease.'”
Zertuche has taught classes in the Mission since December. Many of her old students have been loyal — they followed her to the basement of Burger King, after all — but the new location has drawn some new faces.
“I have a lot of new students here,” she said.
She has also been using the space to host small, cabaret-style performances, without the lighting and choreography of the company’s larger shows. She’ll often bring in visiting artists. Recently she invited the Spanish dancer Manuela Ríos. On July 22, she will host a show in the studio, featuring herself, Jose Cortes and Bill Burgess.
“In the theater,” she said, “you can hide a lot. With the lights. Because you put kind of the spotlight, and you already shine, even if you don’t dance good.”
Dancing in the studio, she said, “You can’t hide. You have to be good.”
Summer Pop-Up Flamenco Show with Carola Zertuche, Jose Cortes and Bill Burgess: Saturday, July 22 at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7 p.m. $20 advance and $25 at the door. 670 South Van Ness Ave. https://www.theatreflamenco.org.