Juan Luis Silis Ends the Drought


2nd Corrida of Opportunity in Tijuana

By Mark Schwarz

During the dreadful drip-drip-drip of a drizzling, dismal afternoon for bulls—or almost anything, really—the perhaps 1,000 brave souls who ventured out to the Plaza Monumental de Playas for the second of the three so called “Opportunity” corridas, were subjected to a numbing variety of the technical and charismatic shortcomings which are part of the reason that these 6 toreros have struggled to make headway in this most difficult profession. It was an afternoon of faded and threadbare trajes and stained, worn muletas, banderilla placements in uneven pairs or singles or multiple false passes, tossed capes, soggy zapatillas, half-swords, full-swords in vaguely lethal locations, pinchazos of every stripe, and the latest installment of the tragicomedy of the arrastre, dragging out the dead bull—an afternoon of mostly honest, but lacking, efforts from young men who desperately need, and are not prepared to take advantage of precisely this: opportunity.

The afternoon began with Ricardo Rivera, whose bull was neither as bad as he made it seem, nor as good as the crowd seemed to want it to be, if only to boo the perplexed matador and his curiously affected free hand as he prudently avoided proximity.

"El Poeta"
“El Poeta”

Following Silis’ revelation, on which more will be said presently, Tijuana native Manolo Juarez, known (??) as “El Poeta”, whose resemblance to the young “Armillita” is absolutely unnerving, achieved occasional moments of fusion with “Velador”, including a media-veronica for the ages, and an excellent pair of banderillas “al violin”; placing the sticks over his shoulder as the bull passed close, before the faena with the red muleta slowly fizzled between “Velador’s” lack of enthusiasm and “Poeta’s” utter inability to kill cleanly (a sadly general note for anyone charged with that task, “puntilleros” included). However, Juarez bears watching; his intermittent moments possessed that inimitable magic and “luminosity” that only the most authentic and “deepest” toreo can offer; he has charisma and “looks” the part of the torero. That alone, according to the venerable Alfonso Ramirez, “Calesero” is half the battle.

Gerardo Adame spent a great deal of time and effort with “Cigarron” and even though he cut the only ear of the day; awarded by ring Judge Galvan with more than a few reservations, it was a somewhat generous ear for a faena that was more bulldog perseverance than artistic accomplishment. Perhaps the very determined ¾ sword to finish was enough for the rapidly curdling mood of the crowd.

Lorenzo Garza-Gaona enjoys the surnames of two of the most illustrious toreros in Mexican taurine history; Rodolfo Gaona, “El Indio Grande” and Lorenzo Garza, “El Ave de los Tempestades”. That, apparently, is about all he inherited. His efforts with the very manageable “Norteno” were more like practice sessions than polished final products; coming from such rich and volatile personalities as his great-grandfather and great-uncle, one wouldn’t think personality or charisma would be an issue. A few, isolated naturales with his feet closed together broke the monotony, but his ups and downs—and seven descabello attempts, buried his modest effort.

By the time Brandon Campos emerged from the burladero de matadores to confront “Pinon” and put us all out of our misery, the rain, which had ebbed and strengthened all afternoon, decided to stop, sort of, leaving us to wonder if anything might have been better. “Pinon” started well enough, charging hard at the picador and promising a real opportunity for Campos, who has been a great tease since his auspicious European apprenticeship. However, to no one’s particular surprise, “Pinon” took to thinking things over before offering half-charges or probing searches with his horns instead of really employing his 540 kilos in honest attacks. By the time Campos placed a full sword and the bull fell all were relieved to call it a long, wet day.

But back to Juan Luis Silis. At 34, Silis is no longer a “promise”. His difficult career, punctuated by a brutal goring in the neck and mouth in the Plaza de Toros in Pachuca in 2012, has foundered on the prongs of his shy, respectful personality—a faithful recreation of his mentor, the great Mariano Ramos—a distinctly unphotogenic presence, and the lack of a true promotional infrastructure in Mexico. Yet rumors of his deep talent persist among the most invested aficion, and Sunday we found out why.

His opening veronicas to “Atrevido” were the very essence of the art; terse, contained, elegant, supple, rhythmic, perfectly timed and expertly closed with a caressing media. He took it on himself to work the bull into position for the picador with gently controlled “walking chicuelinas”, and, following a thunderous toppling of the picador, a “quite—taking away” of hair raisingly tight Gaoneras that would have impressed their inventor. The faena was similarly elegant; nothing forced or artificial—deep, authentic sentiment as man and bull lost themselves in each other and the two headed beast of toreo appeared—only to be broken when Silis—in a moment that owes everything to his deep commitment to his art AND his lack of practice—left too much daylight between himself and his muleta and “Atrevido” found him, perforating his upper right calf and breaking the fibula—which will likely cost him months of recovery time. That his imminent triumph was upended by the same lack of experience and “toro-technique” that purchased his spot on the cartel is depressingly fitting—the ears he would almost certainly have cut would have guaranteed his inclusion in the August 30 cartel of triunfadores. No matter, when a torero can, as the expression has it, “poner todos de acuerdo” as Silis was able to do; you have to believe he will have his day, again.

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