Roni Benise at the Craterian Theater
A farm boy from Nebraska, Roni Benise tried to make his way as a budding guitarist in the rock 'n' roll culture of California, but discovered the lifestyle wasn't to his liking. Then one day he heard the sound of flamenco guitar, and it changed everything for him.
"I thought it was just beautiful. I couldn't wait to get out and play again," Benise says in a phone interview. "I bought a classical guitar that same day and put all of my electric guitars in the closet."
Benise turned his newfound love into a high-energy dance and fiery Spanish flamenco show that will open the 2009-10 season of Craterian Performances.
Benise (pronounced Buh-nes-say) will present his "Nights of Fire!" show at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford.
Benise will perform original compositions backed up by a five-piece band, including American violinist Karen Briggs (who toured and recorded with Yanni for 13 years) and the Gatanas, a troupe of five flamenco, tango, salsa and samba dancers.
"It's a family show," Benise says. "It's suitable for all ages. If you love dance and Spanish guitar, you will love the show."
"Nights of Fire!" is the title of Benise's PBS special that was filmed in 2007 at the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, Calif. The show was videotaped in front of a live audience and was directed by Amy Pinkham and choreographed by Alex Magno.
"Nights of Fire!" and a second PBS special are, so far, the culmination of Benise's success story.
"I grew up in a Czech community. My mother is part Polish," Benise says. "My dad, grandfather and great-grandfather were all farmers. I grew up on a tractor, but I chose the guitar over farming."
Benise says he loved to play classic rock, emulating bands such as Led Zeppelin and Soundgarden — but that was before his introduction to flamenco.
Benise and a couple of other musicians began playing flamenco on the streets. Soon people were asking for CDs. The small group turned into a larger group, and Benise began inviting cirque performers and dancers to join them at venues around the L.A. area.
"That's when we caught the attention of PBS," Benise says.
Benise and his friends finished a second PBS special last week, titled "The Spanish Guitar." It was filmed at the Los Angeles Theatre, built in 1931, in the heart of the city's Broadway Historic Theatre District. The elaborate theater was designed in the Baroque style by architect S. Charles Lee, and on its opening night hosted the premiere screening of Charles Chaplin's "City Lights."
"The big difference between the two specials is that the new one will include film vignettes of places that I've visited the last couple of years while touring around the world," Benise says, "such as inside a bull ring in Spain."
Benise will present a bit of a preview of the new PBS special during his show at the Craterian, along with highlights from "Nights of Fire!"
Tickets are $32-$38, $23-$29 for ages 18 and younger, and are available at the Craterian box office. For more information, visit www.craterian.org or call 779-3000.