Lensic Performing Arts Center, June 9
Flamenco audiences in Santa Fe have witnessed firsthand the changing fortunes of dancer and choreographer Juan Siddi for the last 15 years. Siddi, who won the Mayor’s Award in 2011, was first recruited by María Benítez in 2002 to perform with her company on tour and in Santa Fe. It was Benítez who encouraged Siddi to form a company and take over her long-running summer gig at The Lodge at Santa Fe, which he did from 2008 to 2012. In 2013, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet took over the management of Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe. ASFB moved the group from the tiny venue at The Lodge to the relatively vast space at the Lensic Performing Arts Center and sent the troupe on tour around the US, including engagements at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts, and the Joyce Theatre in New York. That relationship ended earlier this year.
What Siddi brought back to the Lensic stage on June 9 was a little depressing. Instead of five female dancers, lavish costumes, a piano jazz-influenced musical take on flamenco, and polished production elements, the inaugural program for his new group, Juan Siddi Arte Flamenco Society, was a bare-bones, underrehearsed affair with a plodding pace, student dancers taking the place of professionals, and a lot of musical filler.
Appearing with Siddi were Spanish flamenco musicians new to the Santa Fe stage — guitarist José Luis de la Paz and singers Manuela Montoya Cortes and José Antonio Bersabé Romero — along with company veterans, singer José Cortés and cellist Michael Kott. The more traditionally styled music for this production was strong. Unfortunately, the musicians spread out their chairs in a semicircle on the wide Lensic stage, and a sense of intimacy was lost, even in partial darkness, with a smoke machine blasting away in the wings and spotlights aimed down unflatteringly onto the musicians.
Estefanía Narvaez, who has danced with Siddi’s company since 2009, and is now based in Seville, was the sole professional female dancer. Her promotion from the chorus to a leading role offered her a chance to shine, and early in the evening she seemed to have more attack with her arms, shoulders, and back than Siddi did. The opening duet with Narvaez and Siddi was a rechoreographed solo, a soleá, one of the most haunting of flamenco forms. For whatever reason, Siddi chose to turn this into a dance for two, and the emotional power of the form seemed diminished by his choreography, with the performers taking turns watching each other instead of dancing as a true joining of souls. Narvaez also choreographed her own solo, Canastera, which may have been inspired by María la Canastera, a dancer from Granada who entertained tourists for decades in one of that city’s most famous caves.
For Siddi’s big solo, the cast brought out a wooden table, and he climbed up to give the evening’s only truly dynamic performance — a glimpse of the Siddi of years past. His footwork was crisp, rapid-fire, and audible on the tabletop, and the shine of his shoes and sequins on his pant seams and shirt brought a touch of Bob Fosse to his performance of a Soleá por Bulería. After seven numbers, which contributed little to the energy in the theater, Siddi finally seemed to awaken something in the audience through his display of sweat and passion. Having all the singers and musicians suddenly pulled in tightly around him was reminiscent of the spacing at the postage-stamp-sized stage where Siddi and his company first performed in Santa Fe. It was a reminder that while Siddi’s time with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet offered an opportunity to widen his scope as an artist, flamenco usually lives in a crowded bar.