Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe

Heading off to the big-time

Written by:
Michael Wade Simpson
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Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe is stepping into the national spotlight this spring and summer with several important engagements. After concerts in California and Hawaii opening its touring season, some intensive rehearsal time in Santa Fe, and a sneak-peak performance this weekend at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, the group is heading East for company debuts at the Joyce Theater in New York and at Jacobs Pillow Dance festival in the Berkshires — both high-profile, high-stakes engagements.

Three years ago, Siddi was running the show all by himself, with a pick-up company of dancers and musicians from different countries and backgrounds, and a summer gig at a bar-restaurant in Santa Fe. They performed six nights a week at the María Benítez Cabaret Theater at The Lodge in town, in a Benítez -sanctioned passing of the guard. Then Aspen Santa Fe Ballet came knocking with an unusual proposition. Now, as the first flamenco company to be “acquired” by a ballet company in America, the ensemble is being looked at differently — by aficionados and other flamenco groups, no doubt, but especially by programmers.

The Joyce Theater, a 472-seat house, is a dance-only venue dedicated to showing the variety that exists in the art form. In March it is hosting engagements with the Stephen Petronio Company, a modern dance group, the Hong Kong Ballet, the Pennsylvania Ballet, and from March 22 to March 27, Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe.

Martin Wechsler has the dance lover’s dream job — he’s the director of programming at the Joyce. He remembers seeing Siddi dancing on the Joyce stage, partnering Maria Benítez, at her farewell performance years ago. “Maria performed at the Joyce for many, many years,” he said. “I liked the idea of bringing someone here who was a continuation of our long relationship with her. She was an amazing performer. Her company was great. Flamenco is often broken into subcategories, and María Benítez was flamenco ‘puro’ — emotional, theatrical. I went to see Juan Siddi’s group perform in Santa Fe, and it had that same quality of theatricality. It was a terrific show. I also liked the choice of music. He used unusual instrumentation — a cello, a piano, and flutes as accompaniment. It was unique and very wonderful.”

It probably also didn’t hurt Siddi’s chances of getting a booking at the Joyce that Wechsler has been presenting Aspen Santa Fe Ballet since 2003 and knows the directors well. “I was intrigued when I heard they had taken on the management of a flamenco company,” he said. “Nonprofit arts groups are always looking for ways to innovate. I thought it was a very clever idea for them to take on more management. The fact they have the resources to take on the added responsibility for another company is impressive. Both Juan Siddi’s group and Aspen Santa Fe are high-quality chamber-sized groups. Their scales are similar, but they have very different styles.”
Jacob’s Pillow, in Beckett, Massachusetts, is the rural dance haven founded by Ted Shawn in 1930, not far from Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. From June to August, a diverse cast of dancers takes to the two stages at the Pillow: The season includes a group specializing in the percussive sounds and footwork of the South American gaucho; a contemporary company from Germany; Brooklyn street dancers; and several ballet companies. However, from June 22 to June 26, it’s all about Santa Fe. During that week, Juan Siddi and company will perform in the smaller venue, the Doris Duke Theatre, while Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs in the Ted Shawn Theatre, also known as the Barn.

Speaking to him from Maui, where the company was performing, Siddi was modest and grounded about the upcoming challenges. “A lot of us have been working together for six or seven years,” he said. “We’re ready for the big time. We’re getting used to big venues. Hilo, Hawaii had a 1,200-seat theater. It was sold out.

We use lighting effects to make it more intimate, like The Lodge. We move the musicians forward and don’t use the whole stage. The lighting effects create intimacy. We have a sound designer who travels with us to make sure that they can hear our footwork, no matter how big the theater.
“We’re getting pretty organized. Each individual dancer has seven costumes. That’s a lot to carry around. We keep getting stronger. I’m thinking about a new group piece.” Siddi said he wants to bend and play with the tradition of the “Solea”, usually a dramatic, emotional solo, and turn it into a group piece. “Like the ballet company, I want to keep adding new pieces to the repertory. I want to bring in guest dancers — big, renowned Spanish dancers. I want to take them on tour.’

“I’ve known Juan since I was 15 years old,” said “Radha Garcia, one of the group’s dancers, who picks up her violin during certain pieces, joining the musicians. “I’ve performed with the company for five seasons. It’s incredible for us to have this opportunity. We’re ready to take the next step. Just to have the lighting designer from the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is incredible,” she said. “The whole performance is more theatrical. We don’t rehearse throughout the year like the ballet company. A lot of us study in Spain. I just got back from Sevilla and Madrid. I love going back to the cradle of flamenco.

“My friends in New York are excited to come and see how the company has grown. We’re a family now. Getting picked up by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has allowed Juan to portray his artistic vision like never before. It’s a huge opportunity.”

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