Fla­menco’s dark drama

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Reviews - — Michael Wade Simp­son

Santa Fe might be the only place in the United States where you can find not one but two fla­menco com­pa­nies en­camped at lo­cal per­for­mance venues for most of the sum­mer. This is not theme-park fla­menco, ei­ther. Juan Siddi Fla­menco The­atre Com­pany, in res­i­dence at The Lodge at Santa Fe, and Grito Fla­menco, at the Canyon Road bar and res­tau­rant El Farol, fea­ture in­ter­na­tion­ally known per­form­ers from Spain. As fla­menco has gained pop­u­lar­ity in the U.S. and tour­ing groups are of­ten booked into 5,000-seat au­di­to­ri­ums, it is a par­tic­u­lar priv­i­lege to be able to wit­ness this pow­er­ful, deeply felt art form in such in­ti­mate quar­ters.

Fla­menco has roots in Gypsy caves of south­ern Spain and deals with the darker side of life. Songs are typ­i­cally about suf­fer­ing, death, be­trayal, and lust — no emo­tional walk in the park. (Does it say some­thing about Santa Fe that, in con­trast to fla­menco com­pa­nies, there are no com­edy clubs in town?) Still, there’s some­thing to be said for grap­pling with the dark side — stomp­ing it, sing­ing it, and, fre­quently, sweat­ing it out. The re­sult is dra­matic gui­tar mu­sic, col­or­ful cos­tum­ing, amaz­ing foot­work, and soul­ful sing­ing.

Both fla­menco groups in res­i­dence have great things to of­fer and are quite dif­fer­ent in their ap­proaches to a the­atri­cal pre­sen­ta­tion. On re­cent vis­its to their per­for­mances, how­ever, an un­pre­ten­tious vibe bor­dered on the un­pro­fes­sional at each lo­cale. At The Lodge, the mu­si­cians’ kids were al­lowed to run freely and play in the theater where Siddi per­forms, while the funky back­yard set­ting for Grito Fla­menco of­fered a com­plete view of an ad­join­ing apart­ment that serves as a dress­ing room for the per­form­ers. Doors are left open, and dancers walk through the au­di­ence, hang out on the porch, and ex­change text mes­sages. As you sit a few feet away on wob­bly plas­tic chairs at wob­bly plas­tic ta­bles, nib­bling tapas and drink­ing san­gría, you can also ob­serve dancers eat­ing ham­burg­ers, ap­ply­ing makeup, and chat­ting. That each show breaks out of its am­a­teur­ish over­ture and bursts into full-blown pas­sion, pres­ence, and a high per­for­mance qual­ity seems strange — per­haps a badge of au­then­tic­ity. This may be the way things are done in Spain.

Siddi is, with­out ques­tion, the star of his show. Al­though he weaves a ta­pes­try of the­matic ideas, from Hindu re­li­gious mo­tifs to an­gels to a fashion show fea­tur­ing stomp­ing beau­ties, his so­los are by far the high­light of the evening. From the sad

sigu­iriya he dances to re­flect the Hindu idea of obliv­ion be­fore trans­for­ma­tion to the sweaty tour de force he im­pro­vises in the sec­ond half, there is no deny­ing that he is a dancer of ex­treme mag­netism, sub­tlety, and joy. His spe­cial guest was Carola Zer­tuche, of Tor­reón, Mex­ico, who spent many years per­form­ing in Spain be­fore mov­ing to Cal­i­for­nia to start the The­atre Fla­menco San Fran­cisco in 2007. Zer­tuche also ex­hib­ited power, in­ten­sity, and rhyth­mic vir­tu­os­ity.

Siddi’s mu­si­cal di­rec­tor, the well-known Santa Fe-based Span­ish gui­tarist José Luis Valle Fajardo, or “Chus­cales,” was al­ways deeply in touch with ev­ery move­ment hap­pen­ing on­stage but was never showy. He of­fered beau­ti­ful play­ing — al­though al­most al­ways in a sec­ondary role. Sil­ve­rio Heredia, from Cadiz, Spain, has sung with some of the biggest names in fla­menco and lends clear au­then­tic­ity and the sig­na­ture Gypsy wail. Keka Vil­lar, the other singer, was croaky on July 8 and could barely get through her open­ing song, “Amor, Amor, Amor,” so rich at the re­cent Manuela Car­rasco per­for­mance in Al­bu­querque. Siddi’s mu­si­cal score had a movie-sound­track qual­ity at times, and the dancers of­fered a softer, less-ag­gres­sive at­tack. Some even smiled. Grito Fla­menco, on the other hand, was a more ag­gres­sive, less sen­sual-look­ing group. Dancers mostly car­ried the typ­i­cal fla­menco frown on their faces, some to an odd ex­treme. Grito starred Mercedes Amaya — niece of the great Carmen Amaya and daugh­ter of An­to­nia Amaya and singer Chiq­uito de Tri­ana — who has toured all over the world as a soloist. Held near the end of the two-hour per­for­mance, her solo was a breath­tak­ing ex­am­ple of fem­i­nine power. She is a su­perb per­former with the abil­ity to play at the edges where in­ten­sity runs to aban­don and then ec­stasy.

Also per­form­ing were Joaquin Encinias and his sis­ter Marisol, who run the Con­ser­va­tory of Fla­menco Arts in Al­bu­querque with their mother, Eva Encinias San­doval, who founded the Fes­ti­val Fla­menco In­ter­na­cional de Al­bu­querque. Encinias has a body type that matches that of his singers, Jose Fer­nan­dez and Vi­cente Griego, two pow­er­houses of ex­pres­sive and play­ful soul (all three men are portly). To watch Encinias dance, how­ever, is to wit­ness a fi­nesse that be­lies all his cum­ber­some ar­mor­ing. Marisol, in a solo, wear­ing a long-trained dress, re­peat­edly kicked at the length of her gown (known as the cola) in near-an­noy­ance, a huge con­trast to the Siddi dancers and their white trail­ing dresses, which they han­dled with smooth body spi­rals and lifts of the feet that never ap­proached ag­gres­sion.

One of the high­lights of the show at El Farol was the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the younger, tex­ting and burger-eat­ing mem­bers of Yjas­tros: The Amer­i­can Fla­menco Reper­tory Com­pany. The group dances they of­fered — like the cello in Siddi’s per­for­mance — took the fla­menco out of the tra­di­tional and into the cut­ting edge. Chore­og­ra­phy by Joaquin Encinias mas­ter­fully played with space, part­ner­ing, and group dy­nam­ics in ways that con­trasted pleas­ingly with the solo tra­di­tions of clas­si­cal fla­menco yet never veered so far away from its rhythms, ges­tures, and pos­tures that it ap­proached Ve­gas-style kitsch. Encinias clearly has an eye for spa­tial ar­range­ments and move­ment; he was able to trans­form the vir­tu­os­ity and dy­nam­ics of the tra­di­tional form and cre­ate a dis­tinc­tive vi­sion — an in­te­rior ex­pres­sion ven­tur­ing out­side into the world. Two male dancers, Car­los Men­chaca and Ne­varez Encinias (Joaquin’s son), were as ex­cit­ing to watch on­stage to­gether as two bal­let dancers tak­ing to the air.

Juan Siddi and Carola Zer­tuche

Juan Siddi Fla­menco The­atre Com­pany

The Lodge at Santa Fe, July 8 Grito Fla­menco El Farol, July 10

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