Danc­ing the dark­ness

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Michael Wade Simp­son

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

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