Dancing the darkness
Oblivion may not fit everyone’s definition of a perfect theme for summer entertainment, but in the world of flamenco, darkness comes with the territory. Juan Siddi, who traveled from Spain to dance with local legend María Benítez and was appointed three years ago by the artist to take over her long-running annual summer engagement at The Lodge at Santa Fe, offers a dance program with abundant spirituality. Flamenco’s Gypsy roots link directly back to India, where the god Shiva is believed to have danced the cosmos first into being, then into oblivion, and then back into being again. And that’s just the opening number.
“Shiva is the lord of creation and destruction,” Siddi said in an interview at Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s studios, where his company was assembling for a rehearsal. The summer season opens Friday, June 25, and runs through Aug. 22. “Life and death, the circle of life and beyond. We all wonder what’s going to happen after we die. We have no answer, just our beliefs,” he said. “And so we dance.” Flamenco is one art form that never says, Have a nice day. “Not everything in life is pink,” Siddi said. “But darkness is not evil, it’s the opposite.”
Siddi grew up in Germany, but his mother was from Barcelona and his father from southern Italy. He speaks four languages. After returning to Spain to study dance, he began touring with various flamenco companies at the age of 18. He was living and dancing in Seville when a guitarist friend told him that María Benítez was in Madrid, casting dancers to come to the United States for the summer.
He began dancing with her in 2002 and came back every year. “Santa Fe is nice,” he said. “It seems very far away. Santa Fe is the only place in the U.S. where flamenco artists can get three-to-six month contracts, where they can live as artists without traveling. María was at The Lodge for years and years, and before that Vicente Romero was at El Nido. It’s an amazing spot.”
“The timing was perfect,” Benítez said over the phone. “After 38 summers, I was ready to stop. But I had done so much work for so many years, building an audience, that I didn’t want to throw it away. Juan was the right age [he is now 30], he was just starting out, and he was at the point in his career when he was ready to make a move into doing his own thing. Plus, he had Justin.”
Siddi’s partner, Justin Nadir, serves as executive producer for the company. “Most flamenco companies fall off a cliff because they don’t know how to handle the business. They can manage the artistic side, but the company goes down the drain because they don’t know anything about business. Justin and Juan make an excellent team.”
Benítez said that she had watched Siddi as a company member for five or six years and was confident of his leadership potential. “You have to have the energy to measure the negative against the positive always. Negativity brings everyone down. He’s not like that.”
At the rehearsal hall, Siddi’s dancers were warming up barefoot, getting their feet ready for another long day in practice shoes. Two singers were expected to arrive from Spain later that day, and an imminent first rehearsal with the musicians at The Lodge seemed to lend a sense of excitement to the room. Soon, the young women had donned shoes and skirts and were working on a phrase Siddi had choreographed at the last rehearsal.
The cacophony of five dancers practicing steps seemed to subside almost miraculously into a booming rhythmic unison once Siddi counted out the beginning of the phrase in Spanish, and the dance began. Getting it right meant not just the footwork, which was complicated in itself, but also the posture of the upper body, the movement of the hands, and spatial patterns that the dancers made as they moved from small groups to a single line. Siddi sat on a bench in front of the mirror, allowed the women their mistakes without comment, and offered gentle corrections after each repetition:
Juan Siddi Flamenco Theatre Company