Saturday, May 10, 2014

Migration and Movement: Esmeralda Enrique's De Idas y Vueltas

Esmeralda Enrique in De Idas y Vueltas, at Toronto's Fleck Dance Theatre (Photo: Hamid Karimi)

The powerful, absolutely top-notch, program of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, throaty flamenco which Toronto’s Esmeralda Enrique presented late last month at the Fleck Dance Theatre inside Harbourfront Centre, explored the idea of human migration, and how when people move, ebbing and flowing like the oceans carrying them from their homelands to a new land of (it is hoped) opportunity, things are lost and things are gained. As a theme for a dance show, essentially an examination of how people move, it fit like the proverbial shoe.

Flamenco is a dance/music hybrid, born in Spain but indelibly stamped with a wide array of influences visited upon it by a whole of host of immigrants past, among them marauding and native sons and daughters returning from the Americas armed with the cadences and rhythms of Cuba, Mexico and other Conquistador countries where Spanish people have traditionally immigrated to and emigrated from over the centuries. Some of these journeys far from home have spawned a genre known as cantes de ida y vuelta, nostalgic immigrant songs given a flamenco accent. Enrique, a Spanish immigrant herself who founded her own company in 1982 shortly after moving to Canada, took a handful of these songs to create an original program of dance, song and live music called De Idas y Vueltas in recognition of its source material. A recipient of two Dora Mavor Moore Awards in addition to the inaugural Young Centre for the Performing Arts Dance Award issued in 2012, Enrique has a proven track record of producing arresting flamenco-inspired programs. But De Idas y Vueltas has to count as among her best. The three-performance run was sold-out, a rarity for a dance show of any scale in Toronto. The lure was Enrique’s reputation as a consummate professional who seeks to preserve the traditions of her cherished flamenco while at the same time offering something new.

An accomplished and committed dancer who first learned flamenco in her native Spain, Enrique not only conceived the show, she performed in it alongside four female members of her award-winning Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company in addition to internationally acclaimed guest artist Juan José Jaén Arroyo, a.k.a the sensational male flamenco dancer, El Junco. Sparks flew as a result of such an assemblage of talent. But there was excitement, too, in the way Enrique chose to present her art form. Using projected video montage designed by Bryan Diaz, scene-defining lighting by Sharon DiGenova, and Depression-era costumes (nipped waist jackets and matching knee-length flared skirts) created by Enrique in conjunction with Mary Janeiro, De Idas y Vueltas situates itself in Spain’s southern port towns where ships routinely took citizens across the waters to America, and beyond. Symbolizing this, and seen on the large screen suspended over the stage to the back, is a woman sitting pensively on the edge of a dock, staring out at the horizon. In subsequent scenes, she appears with a child. With suitcase in hand she buys a ticket to the unknown, the starting point for a flamenco show which, likewise, was a voyage of discovery.

El Junco and Ilse Gudiño (Photo: Hamid Karimi)

Seamlessly, the on-screen narrative eventually flowed onto the stage designed to resemble a train station. Through steam generated by imagined locomotives the same woman in the video, could be seen now waiting on the platform, full of expectation. When she ran off, the focus narrowed to a solitary traveller (Enrique) who clutched at her heart when a pair of travelling minstrels stumbled along. They were singing a song whose lyrics presumably were reminding her of what she was about to leave behind. Their singing then sparked a torrent of memories expressed here through a series of dynamic dances running the gamut of flamenco expression, from playful buleria and fiery fandango to swaying bambera and blistering fast tanguillos. There were eight numbers in total, mini vignettes brimming with music and dance, all inspired by some aspect of the Spanish immigrant experience. Guajiriana, for instance, the first work on the program which was performed by the fill company, reflects the name given farm labourers’ songs from eastern Cuba. Other numbers, like Ancestral, a voluptuous solo which Enrique danced herself, more poetically captured the sense of being a newcomer in a strange land with thoughts returning to memories of childhood. Resonancias, a work using the lively and intricate flamenco music form of cantiñas, was also fantasy-based. Here, Enrique danced as part of an all-female cast, all of them wearing brightly coloured bata de cola, floor length flamenco dresses with five flounces in each cascading trains. The trains were so heavy, the dancers had to lift them up and to the side in order to move. The skirts anchored while above their heads they reached with curling wrists and fanning fingers into the air, their hands fluttering like the wings of tiny birds, eager to take flight.

Accompanying all these dances were the aforementioned singers, Matías López and Manuel Soto, who moved on from the fictitious train station to occupy a line-up of chairs at the rear of the stage shared by musicians Óscar Lago (Enrique’s music director) on guitar, Rosendo “Chendy” León on percussion, Benjamin Barrile on guitar and Chris Church on violin and flute. Flamenco has a reputation for being brooding, if not darkly melancholic. There was little doubt, even without understanding their Spanish words, that most of the cante sung on this occasion were cries of pain. The ululating sounds ripping loose from the lead singer’s throat were streaked with anguish. He wailed as much as sang. But De Idas y Vueltas was not a one note show. Sadness was uplifted with a spirit of acceptance. Life goes on, propelled forward by a sense of adventure, and the thrill of finding new experiences. The songs, mirroring this sentiment, moved from sounding like dirges to supporting acarnivalesque performance by the remarkable El Junco who, posing as a waiter making the best of menial work, hammering out a rapid-fire beat on the round tops of cafe tables repeated and embellished with dizzying complexity and dexterity, the singers vocally spurring him on.

Pamela Briz, Paloma Cortés, and Noelie La Morocha (Photo: Hamid Karimi)

A former bailaor with Ballet Flamenco de Andalucía taught by the great Cristina Hoyos, El Junco is super tall and lean, all the better for accenting the extreme tension and heightened angularity of flamenco. The native of Cádiz towered like a Colossus over the other performers. But despite being something of a star flamenco dancer, performing in Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, wherever there is admiration for this ancient Spanish expression, El Junco never lorded over them. He exuded, instead, an affable, collaborative spirit that was dovetailed nicely with an art form that, in essence, is an intriguing commingling of sinewy music and staccato dance. That is not to say El Junco did not give way to flashes of flamboyance. Known for his improvisational approach to flamenco, El Junco adapted well to Enrique’s choreography in Mi Tangai, a festive solo set in the port of Cádiz meant to evoke a celebratory feeling of homecoming. Thrusting his hips, he jabbed the floor repeatedly with his heeled boots while curving his arms overhead, as if to lasso the energy rampaging through his taut and disciplined body. An assault of foot stamps followed, so lightening quick the heel-toe syncopation was a blur of movement. Equally astonishing was the sound rising from his attacking feet, a musically complex pattern of machine gun-like taps augmented by musicians shouting and clapping behind him. El Junco was fast, furious, frenetic: Sex on two legs.

El Junco performed elsewhere on the program, notably in Sin Rumbo Fijo where he performed fandangos (a dance for partners) with two alternating company dancers, Paloma Cortés (a former ballerina who joined the Enrique company in 1994) and Ilse Gudiño (who joined in 1996 and who presently is working towards her own solo show). He danced with remaining company dancers, Noelie La Morocha and Pamela Briz, in Nuevos Sones, a dance which the program notes intimate as being a culmination of past, present and future, a textured weave of personal histories. This group dance, the evening’s rousing finale, was also performed expressively by Enrique who more than held her own dancing alongside El Junco. Hiking her long skirts, she showed off her own percussive footwork, stamping out an intricate pattern of propulsive beats that showed that, after more than three decades in the spotlight, she has lost none of her power. Elsewhere, Enrique softened the trademark arabesque arms of the Spanish dance style with curling wrist and finger movements that lent a subtle gracefulness to movements that otherwise were sharp, strong, strident. She also created dramatic tension by varying the speed of delivery: Dancing that quickly travelled the distance alternated with more serene and tightly focused movement unfolding from the smallest of gestures. Her concentration, especially in the solo numbers, bordered on the mystical. So focused was she that she had become as one with the dance. It was a great privilege to behold.

– Deirdre Kelly is a journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic. She has written for Dance Magazine in New York and the Dance Gazettein London (official magazine of the Royal Academy of Dance) and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press). She was the award-winning dance critic for Canada's The Globe and Mail and is currently the newspaper's Style reporter. She is the author of the national best-seller, Paris Times Eight (Greystone Books/Douglas & McIntyre), a Paris-inspired memoir with a chapter featuring Rudolph Nureyev. Deirdre's second book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, has just been published (Greystone Books). Married with two children, she lives in Toronto.

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