Saturday, May 26, 2018

Viva Flamenco: Esmeralda Enrique's De La Raíz

Left to right: Alison MacDonald, Virginia Castro, & Paloma Cortés in De La Raíz. (Photo: Jennifer Watkins)

Against a backdrop of vintage photographs of flamenco artists past, Toronto’s Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company celebrated the communal origins of its tempestuous tripartite art form in De La Raíz (From the Root), a thrilling spectacle of dance, music, and song which took place at Harbourfront Centre’s Fleck Dance Theatre May 4-6. The award-winning dancer and choreographer Esmeralda Enrique used the occasion to stage a variety of Spanish dances that stepped back in time to tell (by showing) the story of flamenco’s rise from the cafés cantates of the 19th century to become a much-applauded theatrical presence on the world stage.

There was no narrative framework beyond the program's being neatly divided into two parts to showcase traditional folkloric dances in the first half, and polished flamenco with a contemporary flair in the second. The two-hour show unfolded through a series of well-crafted, beautifully costumed and lit (kudos to lighting and production designer Sharon DiGenova) vignettes that succinctly and powerfully showcased an artistic evolution predicated on a fusion of various outside influences, from the sinewy lines of Middle Eastern dance to the formal patterning of ballet. The riot of styles accommodated not only historical and social points of inspiration but also originality and innovation.

Born in Andalucia sometime in the late 1700s, flamenco has survived the centuries because it has consistently embraced change as a way of keeping its traditions alive. A native Texan of Mexican descent who trained extensively in Spain for 12 years before forming her own Spanish dance troupe in Toronto in 1982, Enrique consistently mixes Hispanic dance styles with other professionalized forms of movement to keep flamenco both growing and relevant to today’s audience. From 1996 to 2004, she collaborated with kathak dancer Joanna de Souza to form the Firedance collective, which explored the similarities and differences between their respective percussive dance forms; in 2015, she used the poetry of Rafael Alberti, one of the greats of contemporary Spanish literature, to showcase flamenco’s softer and underappreciated spiritual side and astonishing range in the full-length Letters to Spain. There are many more examples of flamenco fusion in a career that spans 36 years. But with De La Ruíz, Enrique has returned to her roots, presenting Spanish dance in as pure as form as possible in order to pay it homage.

Juan Ogalla performing in De La Raíz. (Photo: Jennifer Watkins)

The flow of dances consisted of sevillanas, guajira, farruca, tanguillos and alegrías, to name a few of the traditional Spanish dance styles which comprised the half dozen works of original choreography presented on the program. An elegant performer with butterfly hands and lightning-fast foot work, Enrique danced some of the set pieces alongside members of her polished dance company. They were Pamela Briz, Paloma Cortés, Virginia Castro and Alison Macdonald. Guest artist and frequent EESDC collaborator Juan Ogalla performed two explosive solos of his own creation – “Te Lo Cuento,” a dynamic dance backed by jaleos, a clapping chorus, and “Mi Sentir,” set to seguiriya, a complex form of flamenco music in 12 counts.

Ogalla, a magnificent artist who is a resident of Spain, sparked excitement with just the flash of his eyes. But it was his pantherine body that more quickened the pulse. With hands upraised like horns and his torso intensely coiled like that of a cobra, Ogalla attacked his dances with the ferocity of a wild animal. A virtuoso, he drilled his heels into the floor with hammer-like precision and pirouetted with dizzying speed. Backed by the sensational flamenco guitarist Caroline Planté and her fellow musicians Rosendo “Chendy” Léon on percussion and Benjamin Barrile also on guitar, Ogalla brought flashes of energy to an already brilliant show, heightening the onstage electricity to an almost dangerous degree. Singers Manuel Soto and Marcos Marín delivered the raspy confessionals amplifying the passion at the heart of flamenco. Their dirge-like wails punctuated the surrounding silence, creating a sound that was like an echo of the past reverberating in the present, and forging a palpable connection.

Deirdre Kelly is a Toronto-based journalist, author and internationally recognized dance critic and style writer. She writes for Dance Magazine in New York, the Dance Gazette in London, and NUVO in Vancouver, and is a contributor to the International Dictionary of Ballet (St. James Press) and AWOL: Tales for Travel-Inspired Minds (Vintage Books). A staff writer at The Globe and Mail for the last 32 years, she was her newspaper's award-winning dance critic, from 1985 until 2001, before transitioning to the Style section as its senior fashion reporter in Milan, Paris, New York and cities across Canada. Her other accomplishments at Canada's paper of record include stints as an investigative reporter in the visual arts with a focus on art crime, a weekly lifestyle columnist covering the Toronto International Film Festival and celebrities, rock critic, business writer and cultural bureau chief in Montreal covering the arts in Quebec and Eastern Canada. The best-selling author of Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, she has also written for a wide range of international titles, including Marie Claire in London, Elle in New York and Vogue Australia. Recipient of the 2014 Nathan Cohen Award for Excellence in Theatre Criticism (Long Form Category), Canada's most important arts writing prize, she is presently at work on her next book, an examination of The Beatles and their style. In 2017, she joined Toronto’s York University as Editor of the award-winning York University Magazine.

1 comment: