Flamenco’s dark drama
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