By Ayako Hirayama / Japan News Staff Writer Every part of his body — even his fingertips — is filled with energy and emotion. This fire within allows flamenco dancer Siroco to express himself in many ways.
His facial expression constantly changes from serious to cheerful. Sweat drips down his face, but that doesn’t stop him from pushing himself relentlessly to the vibrant music, accompanied by his and the singers’ and musicians’ rhythmic hand-clapping and foot-stamping. As these interactions intensify, viewers are caught up in the excitement and forget to breathe.
The 37-year-old Japanese dancer, whose real name is Hiroto Kuroda, has striven for what he calls “the greatest opportunity of my life.”
Siroco is scheduled to perform in November as a lead dancer at major domestic venues, including the Tokyo International Forum, with Juan de Juan, one of Spain’s top flamenco dancers, as well as leading musicians in the genre.
“My name is in the program’s headline. The world’s top flamenco artists are coming to perform and many people will see us perform. That means a lot,” Siroco said in a recent interview. “I think the time is ripe for me as a flamenco dancer. If I don’t give my all, I will regret it.”
Siroco has pursued something intangible through flamenco. He said prominent performers of flamenco, which was designated by UNESCO as an intangible world heritage in 2010, are capable of showing not just technique but also sensibility, sensuality, grace, strength and insight, to convey states of mind that words cannot capture.
“The attraction of flamenco is that it is endless, always giving me a path ahead,” he said. “It’s not always fun to pursue, but flamenco has magical power. I feel it possesses me when I’m dancing.”
Siroco stressed that flamenco dancers perform passionately, but they have to remain calm inside. “Flamenco is logical. There are reasons why talented people can get good at it,” he said. “Dancing flamenco greatly empowers me, giving me confidence to live.”
Born in Kyoto, Siroco’s first passion was street dancing when he was a junior high school student. At the age of 19, he was blown away by flamenco when he saw a performance by Joaquin Cortes in the 1995 documentary film “Flamenco.” That prompted him to travel to flamenco’s heartland, Spain, despite not speaking any Spanish.
Siroco soon encountered a series of setbacks. He first took lessons at schools and later with acclaimed figures, including Farruquito and Juan de Juan. For about a decade, he went back and forth between Japan and Spain. No matter how much he practiced though, he did not see himself grow as a credible flamenco dancer, which fueled his frustration.
“At first, I had groundless confidence that I was good and could become successful. But I soon realized that I couldn’t make it work out,” Siroco recalled. “No one accepted me. There are so many great dancers over there.”
Also, Siroco’s life in Spain was like a survival game. He lived in a cave in the Sacromonte area of Granada to save money. He even had to make a fire to cook. “I don’t think I could do the same thing now,” he laughed, speaking with a Kansai accent. Spanish people even found it difficult to pronounce his name, “Hiroto,” calling him “Iroto” instead. So his teacher gave him a nickname, “Siroco,” meaning “hot wind” in Spanish, which became his stage name.
In Japan’s flamenco scene, Siroco gradually gained recognition by winning competitions and receiving awards, but he wasn’t satisfied and aimed higher. In 2017, he eventually achieved fame by becoming the first Japanese man to win the prestigious “Aniya la Gitana de Ronda” competition in Spain.
Siroco said Japanese dancers tend to hit the “wall” in terms of rhythms and expressiveness, compared to Spanish counterparts who grew up dancing flamenco since childhood. But “being Japanese” worked to his advantage in Spain. “Japanese male flamenco dancers were rare at that time. So I drew attention there,” he said.
In Japan, a flamenco boom hit its peak in the 1990s, and currently there are between 30,000 and 50,000 people learning flamenco, according to the Paseo monthly flamenco magazine. The flamenco world here is dominated by women, who are thought to account for about 90 percent.
Jun Tashiro, secretary general of the Asociacion Nipona de Flamenco, a leading Japanese flamenco association, said that this ratio indicates the difficulty for men in making a living as flamenco dancers. Tashiro hailed Siroco for his efforts in broadening flamenco’s horizons and reaching out to new audiences. “Siroco is not only eager to pursue flamenco but also to seek ways to collaborate with people in other genres, such as actresses and tango dancers,” Tashiro said. “That has set him apart from other flamenco dancers in Japan.”
Siroco’s life has been filled with flamenco for years, and his profile has also been raised as a teacher. With his wife, Yukiko Okuno, who is also a flamenco dancer, he currently teaches more than 200 students at studios in Osaka and Kyoto. At times, he teaches about 10 hours a day. But Siroco said the more he becomes involved in flamenco, the less he knows how to approach it.
“I want to perform on stage. I also want to study flamenco. I want to teach it, too ... I have to find where I can shine,” he said. “And I’ve come to think my commitment to flamenco can pay off by performing on stage.”
The November program will feature a piece that Juan de Juan composed when Siroco visited his house five years ago. The program’s centerpiece is the duo’s improvisation. Siroco admires Juan de Juan, whom he described as akin to a family member and best friend, not just for his dancing but for his charisma, attitude and humanity.
“I can improve simply by being with him,” Siroco said. “I want to come away from the November program with a sense of growth.”