Juan Siddi Flamenco won a kind of unofficial genius grant this year. After six years dancing six nights a week at a Santa Fe tablao during high season, he and his company were acquired, basically, by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. In practical terms, that means just four, count-em, four appearances at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe this year, replacing their customary grind of daily shows all summer for tourists. Plus a tour. That’s a major coup and a major lifestyle change for this summer pick-up company of Spanish and American artists.
In artistic terms, a cross-pollination between flamenco and ballet has already begun here, if not in technical terms, at least in theatrical ones. ASFB has already been successful in carving out a niche for itself in the world of regional ballet companies by commissioning new work, and by touring . The look and the choreography of their pieces is often edgy. They have world-class dancers. Their use of scenery, lighting and costumes can be striking.
Siddi’s new life on-stage begins with a curtain rising to reveal stark, spotlit figures frozen on a black stage. There is guitar. The dresses begin to move. The color red is as vivid as fresh blood. There is space, there are transitions, there is texture from lighting, and a different sound, as three gypsy singers harmonize, and a band formerly crammed-into the edges of a postage-stamp-sized stage has been allowed to spread-out, to become an orchestra. When five dancers in colas (dresses with long trains) create designs on the vast, black floor, you can appreciate the dance of colors in space. The floor, here, is mic’d in order to pick-up sharpness in the footwork, no longer is the sound a muffled, carpet and curtain-drenched dullness.
Siddi’s presentation on the large stage at the Lensic is a magical transformation. Compared to the show at the old tablao, it’s like Siddi is Dorothy Gale after the tornado. He just stepped through the doorway that is the next phase of his life, into a technicolor Oz. A tiny, dark room with a low ceiling and cocktail service has been replaced by a palace.
A guest star, Carola Zertuche, based in San Francisco, is back for the summer. Siddi the dancer is clearly comfortable sharing the stage with a venerable artist and friend like Zertuche. Clearly it’s not going to be the Juan show. Their new duet, “Re-Encuentro,” a caña, is a dialogue between two dancers, and an interchange with all three singers (Jose Cortes, Coral de los Reyes and Kina Mendez). The dance offers glimpses of Siddi and Zertuche’s individual energies, hers earthy and his leonine, and a partnership that is in touch with emotion, that shows gratitude and guts. For all the pain inherent in the tradition of flamenco, there is also comfort on display here, sweat and joy.
Jose “Chuscales” Valle Fajardo, or “Chusco,” is also back as Siddi’s musical director. Fajardo is a native of Antequera, Spain, but lives year-round in New Mexico. He adds confidence and musical depth to the gathering. His physicality as a player is a partner in the dance. He has a fatherly grounding, sitting cross-legged and conducting with his eyes, and the neck of his guitar. The second guitarist, Alejandro Pais, seems to bring a playful quality to the proceedings, and the two guitarists mesh well together. Pianist Alex Conde brings smooth jazz riffs to his accompaniment. Along with an expressive cellist, Michael Kott, the musical interludes move between traditional guitar and a more swinging, improvisatory sound that may not be for purists. It works at the Lensic because here things are clearly moving away from the classical and heading toward something new. It is the right venue for this kind of experimentation. Along with a couple of ballet directors, Siddi is going to have a chance to play with ideas about form, music and theatricality.
An aspect of AFSB that still hasn’t been adopted by Siddi’s group, is the abolition of distinctions between soloists and chorus members. For all their swirling, stomping and well-honed group dynamics, Stephanie Narvaez, Illeana Gomez, Eliza Llewellyn, Radha Garcia and Emmy Grimm are still the ensemble. They are younger and less experienced than Siddi and Zertuche, but an argument could be made for pieces without the traditional distinctions between the two classes. What would an even playing field look like—where all the dancers were on the level of Zertuche and Siddi and the solos were passed around like the soccer ball on a championship field? What would it be like to have more men dancing in the group?
These are the provocative questions that come up, for this writer anyway, at this point in a provocative collaboration between two exciting and innovative artistic entities. Siddi is a lucky man to be able to focus on dance, costumes, teaching and choreography. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet seems a perfect partner for this unusual teaming. And Santa Fe is the perfect breeding grounds for it.