AN ICONIC JOURNEY (A CELEBRATION OF 35 YEARS)

By Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company
At the Fleck Dance Theatre, May 5-7, 2017

Esmeralda Enrique in “Serenidad y la Marea” (photo: Hamid Karimi)

Esmeralda Enrique founded her Spanish Dance Company and her school (Academy of Spanish Dance) in Toronto 35 years ago, and she remains Canada’s premier flamenco artist. Her celebration is a nostalgic re-visitation of several outstanding pieces from her impressive repertoire, but there are also two world premieres. Nostalgia, however, does not sugar-coat the dances. Though there are the expected exercises of various flamenco dance styles (buleria, guajiras, farruca, taranto, for instance), she does not use a single male dancer, but stamps the dances with strong feminine grace and virtuosity. The minute Enrique walks out of the wings to the stage, stretching her arms, warming up her feet without appearing to strain a single muscle, she shows the ordinariness of a gypsy dancer without relying on stagy glamour. This, of course, is no mere ordinariness: its freedom is a product of years of mastered technique, and when the first dance piece ensues, there is an easy transition between ordinary movement and heightened.

“¿Que Es El Amor?” (photo: Hamid Karimi)

Ana Morales’s ¿Que Es El Amor? is an upbeat, rapid dance, with spins and an emphasis on the arms rather than the midriff or feet, though the footwork with chufla, golpe, punta, and tacon come in colourfully as the quartet (Esmeralda Enrique, Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, and Paloma Cortes) resemble beautiful birds with their fringed shawls spreading like wings. Arroyo de la Miel, a guajira from 2012’s Aguas/Waters, offers a languorous rhythm beautifully expressed by Ilse Gudino and Noelia la Morocha in their flowery headdress and long yellow batas de colas (dresses with ruffled trains).

Paloma Cortes’s interpretation of her own choreography in the solo Sevilla Flamenca (from 2013’s Portales), supported magnificently by Rebekah Wolkstein’s virtuosity on violin, emphasizes the beauty of a Spanish dancer’s mid-riff. It has the bearing of a Spanish gypsy, with the celebrated lift of the waist, an expressive stretch from the pit of the stomach to the small of the back, and it heightens the dancer’s presence.

Ilse Gudino and Noelia la Morocha in “Arroyo de la Miel” (photo: Hamid Karimi)

Flamenco doesn’t flounder between arrogant academicism and uncompromising private language. The dancer dances, making the strongest stage imagery from a rare duende rather than décor. The choreography should be secure, the variety accurately calculated, and an audience’s attention is compelled by no unladylike insistence. Much depends on the delicacy of the feet, with steps having an especial rapidity and brilliance. What is eye-catching is the poise of feet in the air, the lightness of little running steps, and lines of movement.

All these qualities come to the fore in the program, with the strongest dramatic flair shown in the finale for the first-half: Zona Zero, a farruca choreographed by Manuel Betanzos in 2013, and performed by Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, Paloma Cortes, and Noelia la Morocha in severe, heavy grey and black, at first statically positioned in chairs before rising as if in reaction to the strong, grainy tones of Manuel Soto, a passionate cantaor. The sharp angularities of their movement and their eloquent dramatic flair (incorporating held lifted feet) create an indelible highlight, matched only by the zapateado trio of Briz, Castro, and Cortes for Enrique’s Grazalema, a homage to Jose Greco or, at least, to his rugged seriousness and precision at their heights. Less a concert than a superb rhythmic drama with stamping feet and suggestions of erotic power by the leather-booted trio with riding crops.

Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro, and Paloma Cortes in “Grazalema” (photo: Hamid Karimi)

Nothing weak in the entire program, nothing weak about the musical accompaniment either (from Manuel Soto on vocals, Caroline Plante and Benjamin Barrile on guitar, Rebekah Wolkstein on violin, and Derek Gray on hand drum), and nothing weak about the costumes, lighting, or video design. And the alegrias finale for the full company, where the white shawls create a rhythmic illusion of billowing sea waves, and that begins with Esmeralda Enrique’s solo in black and white, is a perfect conclusion. Brava and encore!

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