Keeping Up with the Company: Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theatre
Friday, January 27 saw the return of Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater at the Touhill Performing arts Center. The Chicago-based company has performed three years running a part of Dance St. Louis’s annual Spring to Dance Festival and is back with an entire evening of their diverse and dazzling repertoire. The program includes an array of the facets of Spanish dance, from Flamenco to folkloric. All of the passion and dynamic typically associated with Spanish Dance is present, but Ensemble Espanol expertly elevates the authentic techniques, songs, and legends with innovative choreography and mixed media. They retain the commitment to Spanish roots with flashes of Western theatricality.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Spanish dance in its many forms is duality; the brief moments of stillness against speed, the tension against fluid artistry. Each piece showcases both the dazzling physical and emotional capacities of these incredible performers. Perfectly highlighting these concepts were solos from the world-renowned Christian Lozano, whose lightening speed footwork and quickly whipped turns in ‘Veneno (poison) Taranto’ could only be matched with his exuberant charm, and Paloma Gomez in her solo ‘Ruinas’, dedicated to Ensemble Espanol’s Artistic Director and founder, Dame Libby Komaiko. Set to music by Rodrigo Leao, Gomez kept a continual thread of achingly detailed, supple movement with introspective quality that somehow seemed to suspend time. Besides the visual, the audio effect of the show is also staggering. Many pieces are set to live on-stage accompaniment, and the dancers themselves add sound with percussive footwork, clapping, and the use of castanets. Because of the sheer speed, and the distance of a theater seat, it can be difficult to identify exactly what the performers are doing with their feet and hands to produce these flying rhythms, as the rest of the body is held erect with a suave sense of aristocracy. This however, only adds to the duality, mystery, and showmanship. Each piece begs not only question, ‘how are they doing that?’ but ‘what will they do next?’ Ensemble Espanol is a dazzling example of the manipulation of time and space, effort and emotion.
The Company was first invited to perform in St. Louis by the Artistic Director of Dance St. Louis, Michael Uthoff. It was Uthoff’s brilliant vision that launched the ‘Spring to Dance’ Festival, which brings over thirty of the best dance troupes from around the country for three evenings of a variety of dance and for shockingly low ticket prices. During an interview, Uthoff spoke of his passion for bringing the best to audiences not only for the entertainment value, but to educate on what quality dance from different cultures and aesthetics truly looks like. Some of the world’s most respected companies such as the Joffrey Ballet and Martha Graham Dance Company have performed. With many companies submitting work in the hopes of being chosen, the Festival highlights the best that the local and national dance scene has to offer. The success of Spring to Dance has impacted the rest of the Dance St. Louis season as well, with outstanding companies wanting to come perform here. Dance St. Louis has been enriching our city with the arts since its inception in 1966. Looking at the roster of upcoming performances, the Organization hasn’t missed a beat of the best and most exciting work across the genres of dance and manages to deliver it affordably and consistently.
Dance has been an integral part of almost every society from the beginning of civilization. It is a deeply rooted activity whose foundation resides in the nature of being human, of expression, ceremony, and celebration. Humans are dictated by the constant forward motion of time, the energy flow of rhythms from inside our physical self, like the heartbeat, to the ticking of a clock. Live performance works the same way with no going back on a missed step or moment. There-in lies the beauty and the challenge. Dance is, as Uthoff described, ‘an art form with no barriers’, which makes the achievements of a live person or company that much more ephemeral and special. There is a natural expectancy of the time it takes to do everything, whether it’s travelling to work or how much sleep we can schedule in. Those moments of suspension or acceleration as demonstrated by Ensemble Espanol, are the ones that catch us off-guard, delight, educate, and inspire. What a gift it is from Dance St. Louis to slow the rushed pace of life, to enjoy a beautiful experience in the most 3D form available, no glasses required.
“To dance is to give oneself up to the rhythms of all life” – Dr. Maya V. Patel