As a magician, one of the most fascinating things about my work is the people that I meet when I perform my shows. At times, it can be funny, other times thoughtful, and on occasion, perhaps a little scary. Regardless, it is at all times truly fascinating. The same rings true for the performers I have crossed paths with over the years. Amongst the truly fascinating is Sirens Studios. This was a group that came into my life, went away, and then came back again. And in recent times, Sirens has become more a part of my life than I could have imagined. So, how did I get to this point of association with them, in 2017?
Well, it all began with a phone call.
It was 2004, and I had been hired by a colleague to perform in his annual magic/comedy/variety show at a local church here in Santa Rosa. I was planning to do two different acts: a levitation with a medieval theme, and a Chinese folk tale routine illustrated with magic. The only hitch was, I needed assistants for both acts. But, after having worked with several different assistants over the years, it occurred to me that I couldn’t just hire anyone. I needed people who were already familiar with choreography, timing, costuming, stagecraft…in other words, performers.
More importantly, I needed performers with flair, with pizzazz!
It was at that point one afternoon, when “belly-dancers” came into my brain. I felt instinctively that a belly-dancer(s) could fit all those criteria. Out of curiosity, I thumbed through my Yellow Pages (remember those?) and to my delight, I found several listings for belly-dancers and belly-dance studios. So, I left a whole host of messages and prayed for the best…
I received a number of calls back, and after several conversations with various performers, I came across two dancers who agreed to meet with me in person, expressing quite a bit of interest in the proposed show. Their names were Nicole Fortuna (nee McMasters), and Nicole Gabrielle Rubio (who actually went by her middle name). In meeting with them, they turned out to be two lovely, gregarious, funny and charming young women. That’s when I noticed something: One was very outgoing and full of spunk, the other seemed a bit more reserved, but no less charming. Yet, it was clear, they were the best of friends. And their ability to work together only amplified itself when we began rehearsing the following week: They were never anything less than professional and truly enthusiastic.
My prayers had been answered.
So, for several weeks more, Nicole practiced being levitated in midair, while Gabrielle played the central role in my Chinese folk tale routine. When I told my colleague who was producing the show that I had hired a pair of belly-dancers to assist me in my acts, he suggested that perhaps they could also do a belly-dance routine for the show. Why not?
In the end, on the day of the show, their assistance made my magic acts succeed even better than I could have hoped for. Their belly-dance routine left the audience supremely enchanted.
But that wasn’t the end of the story…
A few months after the show, I was contacted by their studio with a most intriguing idea: a show that featured both belly-dance and magic, with me working with Nicole and Gabrielle’s troupe, called Joweh. (I must confess, I don’t remember whose idea this was, but I’m pretty certain it wasn’t mine. I’m sure glad SOMEONE had this great idea!) Not only would I have the privilege of working with Nicole and Gabrielle again, but also with other members of the troupe: Chloe Villareal, Camille Olvera (nee McMasters), Nadia Kosman, Robin Campbell, Nicteha Angelica Flamino-Martinez, and TerriAnne Gutierrez, the head of the studio and Joweh (and also Nicole’s mother!) To think, I was going to have my first co-produced show, and at the same time get to work with a studio’s worth of phenomenal dancers on it. Once rehearsals began in earnest, I began to learn just how truly fortunate I was.
With so many ladies, there was such a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds. Yet, they all got along well, and when performing, they were a truly cohesive unit. That kind of unifying bond extended to whatever they rehearsed, whether it was a dance routine, or one of my magic routines. They tackled everything with an equal amount of gusto. For the occasion, I had conceived a number of different ideas for acts, among them, a James Bond tribute (with them each portraying a Bond girl), a Monty Python tribute, and even a song and dance number! Their professionalism went a long way to reinforcing the value of my ideas.
That’s not to say there weren’t bumps in the road. At the time, I didn’t have a car, so I had to take public transportation everywhere. So, each week, I would have to take the bus to their studio to rehearse with them. But, all those nights, going over tricks and acts, and cheering at what worked, and working more on stuff that needed a bit of tweaking, made those trips something to look forward to. And one other thing made those bus trips truly worth it…
As the weeks progressed, I got to get to know them better. For some, I met their significant others, for others, I met some of their children! That was the greatest thing that I took away from this whole experience, which was not just how awesome dancers they were, but how awesome PEOPLE they were as well! That’s the one thing the general public never sees, when it comes to performances. They’re only seeing the finished result: They never see the hours and hours of practice, and blood, sweat and tears and brainstorming, and injuries, and whatever else that goes into choreographing a belly dance or a magic illusion. Thus, it’s very easy to forget these performers are people. The fact that these dancers were such awesome people is what made them even more amazing as performers!
In addition, the show was to raise funds for at-risk youth in the community, so the studio was also very civic-minded as well. It made me proud to be a part of this production. Not even my foolish attempts to pretend I was sixteen again while playing volleyball at a company picnic, (resulting in my right knee harshly reminding me I was thirty-two) could dampen my enthusiasm. And that was less than two weeks before the show…
So, how did the show turn out? Well, everything the ladies did, whether it was with me, or on their own, turned out MAGNIFICENTLY! For myself, I felt that though there some areas that I personally could have done better in, (having nothing to do with the ladies in any way), overall, things turned out well. I even received a compliment or two at the end of the night. Joweh had once again made a dream come true, and now, that show still stands as one of the most fondest milestones of my performing life.
After that show, I would run into them individually or as a group here and there. But eventually, as time moved on, so did several of the dancers, and I then lost touch…
But that wasn’t the end of the story…
Flash forward to 2013. It was summer and I was performing magic for the attendees of the Aqus Foundry Festival of Petaluma. Imagine my surprise, when on the roster of performers, was Joweh! When they were announced, I stopped a moment to watch them onstage. The ladies that danced on the stage were not familiar to me, but then I hadn’t seen anyone from the studio in over six years. However, though they may have been new faces, they still had that SOMETHING
that let me realize that these were Sirens dancers. Something they did was very familiar, and at the same time unique to Sirens.
So imagine my surprise when I spotted Nicole, with TerriAnne nearby! It was a lovely reunion. And
now, Nicole was married with a son! Wow…so much had changed. And the changes had extended to me, as well. Over time, I had become a better, more polished professional performer and my magic business had finally begun taking a foothold. Part of that stemmed from my working with performers in other theatrical disciplines, especially burlesque. In fact, in 2014, in conjunction with a burlesque production, I put on a magic show in Brisbane where at least six acts combined magic WITH burlesque. Each act was with a different burlesque dancer that I had gotten to know and work with over the past two years. After all the coordination of schedules, brainstorming, travel, rehearsal and more, it all came together WELL! The experience made me remember with fondness the magic/Sirens production a decade before.
And now the circle was beginning to close…enter Jessica Yuen-Benavides. I had met Jessica through a mutual friend (and belly-dancer) Kimberly Charp. Jessica was a belly-dancer as well, but she was more of a metal enthusiast, versus some of the more traditional Middle Eastern melodies of a belly-dancer’s repertoire. Quite unique. We became friends, and before long, she began assisting me in magic shows, as well.
Then came the day when Jessica JOINED Joweh! The circle was nearly complete.
Now, I had even more of a reason to see shows put on by Sirens Studio. And then a totally cool thing happened: At separate times, Nicole and Kimberly Charp both mentioned that perhaps I should perform some magic in these shows. I was taken aback by the suggestion, mainly because I came to watch and cheer on the dancers. Plus, since what I did was magic, wouldn’t I stick out like a sore thumb? But then, that is what I had thought when I performed at my first burlesque/variety show. And that worked out well, and led to a year and a half of performing on the burlesque circuit. Perhaps this would be the start of something special as well…
So, on December 2016, I debuted an illusion with Jessica’s able assistance, and it went over quite well! That led to invitations to further performances, and then taking part in various think tanks and fundraisers for Sirens Studios.
And coming in November, one of those fundraisers will be a show with magic and burlesque at Sirens Studio, on Thanksgiving weekend!
In addition, I’m now a member of two different committees for the Sirens Board of Directors. Granted, the names and faces have changed...now, the troupe includes Radha Romero, Pauline Renee Persichilli, Treja McLish, Christina Atencio and more. What HASN'T changed, whether it was thirteen years ago or the present day, is the true quality of life that Sirens Studios has always embodied... for the dance community, and the community-at-large.
So what led me here? Was it fate? Coincidence? Karma? Perhaps all three, or perhaps none. In any case, gratitude cannot begin to express my joy at whatever cosmic force led me here, to this point, working in conjunction with some of the most talented and ethereally lovely dancers I have ever met. After all, it isn’t often that you are given more than one opportunity to make your dreams come true. I couldn’t imagine a better group of people that could help make it happen. It’s my sincere hope that others can have the chance to learn how Sirens Studios are true goddesses.
For, everything has come full circle. May it never be broken.