When opportunity knocks, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet stands ready. And when a worthy associate seeks support, ASFB widens its dance umbrella. A just-announced act of arts entrepreneurialism involves an expansion: the addition of Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe to the ASFB family, spawning a vital new branch for the robust arts organization.
“It is serendipitous … and inspiring,” admits Executive Director Jean-Philippe Malaty. Forging an unprecedented partnership between a renowned contemporary ballet company and a fledgling flamenco troupe should not come as a total surprise, Malaty contends: “Responding well to opportunity has been intrinsic to Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s history and development. It’s been one of our strengths,” he says.
Siddi’s intimate cluster of dancers and musicians has burned a furious brand of world-class flamenco for the past six years. Expanding beyond a core clientele that comprises Santa Fe locals, tourists, and cognoscenti, the troupe has attracted the attention of theaters around the country and begun to tour.
The Spanish-born Siddi got his New Mexico start when flamenco pioneer Maria Benitez anointed him as her Santa Fe successor. His local reputation escalated rapidly, so much so that in 2011, he was granted the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Santa Fe. Deborah Lawlor, the acclaimed impresario of “Forever Flamenco” in Los Angeles, where he performed in the past, is a key supporter: “Juan is a wonderful dancer who draws on the resources of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, one of the nation’s prime flamenco hubs,” she says.
The addition of Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe is a further expression of ASFB’s core mission. Through its presentation series, ASFB has already introduced many dance companies in both home cities. Sharing and leveraging knowledge and riches is deep-seated in the company culture. A commitment to community and diversity has been a beacon throughout ASFB’s history.
Further, beyond its core activity of incubating contemporary choreography from around the world, ASFB holds the value of preserving heritage and cultural dance. Evidence is found in the organization’s longtime folkloric program reaching more than 300 children in Aspen and Santa Fe combined. This award-winning approach to community outreach stems from a belief that the joy of dance, for non-dancers, is best accessed in a familiar and relevant cultural milieu. A professional flamenco troupe, representing truly the zenith of Spanish cultural dance heritage, provides the community with a model of excellence beyond that of classical ballet.
Good timing galvanized the partnership: “Over the past eighteen years, we’ve accrued deep knowledge, relationships and a reputation in the performing arts market,” says Malaty. “A few years ago, we were confronting a recession, coping with heavy touring, struggling for permanence. Having reached more stable ground, it becomes possible, and even attractive, to transfer our knowledge for the benefit of a devoted artist like Juan.”
There is more than a modicum of self-recognition in the act. “We remember all too well when ASFB was six years old. We were on the cusp of a breakthrough, broaching the next level.” Therefore, says Malaty, “It all feels so familiar. We understand intrinsically what needs to happen for Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe.”
So it’s not pure altruism. Malaty sees tremendous benefit converging on ASFB: “We will gain the privilege to deepen our spirit of collaboration, preserve cultural heritage, expand diversity, serve as an incubator for new ventures, encompass more forms of dance, play a role in the future of an endangered art form.”
Siddi likes ASFB right back: “They are such an admirable company. The whole organization is very established, professional and respected. They are an international compass; they are out there and recognized for it.”
By incorporating his operation into that of ASFB, Siddi gains access to the ballet company’s largely hidden asset: its team of seasoned arts administrators. ASFB will provide critical support services: booking, marketing, audience development, communications, fund raising, and fiscal management. This bank of knowledge, transferred in doses over time, should fast-track the Siddi troupe’s advancement.
Siddi gets that. “Their staff can take a lot of pressure off my shoulders,” he says. “Before, I have almost done everything, from choreographing to applying for artist’s work visas and arranging their housing. Then the financing part, managing and creating budgets. With the help of ASFB, I’ll have more freedom to focus on the production.”
But why flamenco? ASFB Artistic Director Tom Mossbrucker chimes in: “We see artistic excellence in what Juan does. Flamenco is so appealing: the women are charismatic and powerful; the musicians are exceptional and accomplished – often virtuosi. Juan himself is a remarkable dancer. There’s an unusual complexity and refinement in his dancing that we appreciate.”
Beyond all the alluring artistic affinities, the venture has pragmatic footing in the business of the performing arts. Mossbrucker has a vision. “Together with Juan, we want to go beyond the company’s current tablao-style presentation (cabaret in a hotel) into a theatrical format with full production values. We believe that this offering, given Juan’s authenticity, will have appeal to presenters around the country.”
The historic Lensic, Santa Fe’s Performing Arts Center, with its Moorish-style architecture, provides a perfect fit for flamenco. Lensic Executive Director Bob Martin says, “For companies that are artistically driven, it is wonderful when they get strong management. It can be nothing but positive. From The Lensic’s perspective, more dance is good for dance. I think it’s going to be a mutually beneficial relationship.”
“It’s a privilege rather than a burden to help a fellow dance company reach its potential,” says Malaty. “Juan Siddi Flamenco Santa Fe has demonstrated true grit over the past six years, difficult days for any arts organization but for dance in particular. The bottom line is that Juan’s troupe merits our support.”