The artists of Ensemble Español are gorgeous. Everything is placed just right: hair, costumes, body positions, lighting, choreography, just to name a few. The “Raices” performances, a follow-up to the popular annual “Flamenco Passion”, featured more than forty dancers, musicians and guest artists, in a brilliant web of classical, folklore, traditional, contemporary and Flamenco styles. Angel Rojas and Carlos Rodriguez, artistic directors of Nuevo Ballet Madrid, brought two world premiers to the program: Rojas’ “Defalla, Fuera dela Caja” and Rodriquez’s “Redobles,” along with the last year’s critically acclaimed “Iroko”. Rodriguez also introduced Chicago audiences to his solo work “Siento (Feel).”
The pieces throughout the program did an outstanding job of exploring the contrasts I see in Spanish dance: the exceedingly quick and rhythmic movement against the slow, elegant movement; the sharp angles and poses in contrast to the beautifully and gracefully articulated hands, necks and backs; the percussive and tight Spanish “tap” dance and the incredible use of silence and stillness.
“Mi Deseo” (My Desire), a solo choreographed by Guest Artist Carlos Rodriguez and performed by the company’s Artistic Director Irma Suárez Ruiz, was a highlight of the evening for me. Her flirtatious and self-assured performance was a real treat to see. I also enjoyed the presence of some of the men from the company, backing her up with quiet Palmas (clapping). Another piece I really enjoyed was a Dame Kibby Kamaiko (Ensemble Español’s founder) classic from 1976, “Zapateado.” The music was performed live by Guest Flamenco musicians Paco Fonta, David Chiriboga, Patricia Ortega and Javier Saume-Mazzie, and the dancing was compelling, passionate and the dancers moved as one.
The work that closed the first act, Rojas’ “Defalla, Fuera de la Caja” (Defalla, Out of the Box), was originally composed and choreographed by Russian choreographer Léonide Massine. After premiering in the early 20th century in London, the piece was revived at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in 1934. For Rojas’ iteration, the
image of the Spanish dancer is stripped away to reveal the soul of the dancer. While I appreciate the premise behind it, I was startled by the lack of sets, props, lighting and costumes within a program of lush and traditional Flamenco. Perhaps this was part of Rojas’ goal.
While, the dancers of Ensemble Español are stunning, I cannot say the same about the show’s production values, and that ultimately tarnished the overall experience for me to some extent. The sound was not balanced well, which left the music and singing sounding unbalanced and hollow at times. Also, the transitions between pieces were often awkward; it would have been great if the musicians had played in-between pieces, or the lights were brought up a bit. A technical highlight (please excuse the pun) of the evening, though, was the lighting design, executed by various artists throughout the program, most notably, Dustin Derry, the Lighting Designer/Production Stage Manager of Ensemble Español.
All in all, the evening succeeded in showcasing the extraordinary world of Spanish dance, and reminding us how lucky are we that such a stellar company is housed Northeastern Illinois University.
Ensemble Español’s three-day stint at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts is part of the American Spanish Dance and Music Festival, June 7th – June 24th, now in its 41st year. The festival includes performances, concerts, classes, seminars and lectures that highlight the beauty and fierce passion of Spanish dance, music and culture. For more information, visit EnsembleEspanol.org
Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater and Center –
Under the artistic and executive leadership of Founder Dame Libby Komaiko, Artistic Director, Irma Suárez Ruiz and Executive Director, Jorge Perez, Ensemble Español is internationally recognized as the premier Center for Spanish Dance, Music and Culture in the United States. The company’s dancers and musicians promote Spanish dance culture in all its forms – from Flamenco to traditional folkloric to classical renaissance to the 21st century.
ALL PHOTOS BY DEAN PAUL