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ENSEMBLE ESPANOL WOWS AUDIENCE WITH “FLAMENCO PASSION” AT THE NORTH SHORE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
Talk about catching fire. On Friday night, Chicago’s Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater (in residence at Northeastern Illinois University) presented the first of the weekend’s three “Flamenco Passion” gala concerts at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, and the stage burst into flame from the moment the lights came up on the opening work. The rest of the expertly calibrated two-hour program only fanned those flames.
The kindling wood for the evening came by way of “Rendicion” (“Surrender”), choreographer Irma Suarez Ruiz’s world premiere work that begins with the smoldering interaction of two couples and then grows into a seductive work for a larger ensemble. This was followed by an intense duet, “Dicen de Mi” (“You Said to Me”), created and performed by Ruiz and fellow “first dancer” Jorge Perez — a work that debuted as part of the troupe’s 2012 tour in China. It was followed by Madrid-bred choreographer Paloma Gomez’s sensual “Nuevamente Vivir” (“To Live Again”), exquisitely danced by Crystal Ruiz, Julia Hinojosa and Olivia Serrano.
The tone changed considerably with “Yunque-Farrusoul” (“Soul Train”), choreographed by guest artist Jose Barrios, a flamenco master from Madrid. As five women (Sara Samuels, Claudia Pizarro, Monica Saucedo, Evelyn Sanchez and Abigail Ventura) moved in highly stylized patterns, Barrios played the macho figure at the center of attention, employing the quintessentially male “farruca” style.
“Herencia” (“Heritage”), a world premiere choreographed and performed with great emotion by sisters Paloma and Raquel Gomez, paid homage to their parents, Jose Gomez and Raquel Rodriguez, beloved dancers in Madrid. Projected photographs of the pair, and of the sisters dancing as children in the family living room, brought a touching conclusion to the work, as did their embrace of each other during bows.
The full company was on fine display in Ruiz’s “The Dance of Luis Alonso,” a charming music-box-like work inspired by Spain’s light opera tradition. And the first act drew to a rousing close with “Soul of Aragon,” a work based on the Spanish national folk dance, “la jota.” The piece had the ensemble engaging in rapidfire footwork and great, springy jumps — the dancers circling the stage with so much buoyant energy they seemed close to taking flight.
For the program’s second act, a full-fledged celebration of flamenco (set against a picturesque Andalusian street scene backdrop), the ensemble, along with the beguiling and impressively polished Youth Company, joined forces for the world premiere of Barrios’ festive “Juerga Flamenca” (“Flamenco Jam”).
Then, in a solo preceded by the work of two splendid musicians (singer-guitarist Paco Fonta and percussionist Javier Saume Mazzei), Barrios, the quintessential self-regarding, matador-style flamenco dancer displayed his sensational footwork and whiplash turns in the debut of a self-created solo, “De Cordoba a Cai” (“From the Town of Cordoba”).
Where can you go after such vibrating tempestuousness and showmanship? Directly to the pure, breathtaking artistry of the ever more breathtaking Carmela Greco. Now in her fifties, with spectacular legs and a soulful face framed by a great mane of long, silvery hair, Greco (stunningly backed by an ensemble of musicians), kept her audience spellbound in “Cinco Tiempos Para Amar” (“Five Times to Love”), her work of a dozen emotional colors. And she brought the audience to its feet.
The gentleman seated in front of me proclaimed to his companion: “That was the most provocative dance I’ve ever seen in my life.” And so it was. (Greco, a frequent guest artist with Ensemble Espanol, is the daughter of Jose Greco, the great popularizer of flamenco dance in the U.S. from the late 1930s til the 1970s.)
Closing the program was company founder Dame Libby Komaiko’s “Bolero,” now celebrating its 20th anniversary season. Maurice Ravel’s score has long been a pop icon of classical music, but Komaiko (who has deftly woven projections of Picasso paintings into this signature work) has found marvelous ways to exploit its ever-escalating rhythms and colors, creating a swirl of light, movement, and blazing red and black costumes into a grand finale.
Note: Komaiko’s “Bolero” will be presented again as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival, with performances at the Auditorium Theatre (Aug. 22) and in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (Aug.24).