Fusion of Genres, Passion for Culture Drive Ensemble Español

A flourish of ruffled skirts sweeps the stage with vibrant color. The characteristic upper torso arch and sharp spiral shift of focus infuse movement with nuanced passion. Hands and fingers fan and unfold, caressing the air as if stirring a magical potion. The staccato counterpoint of castanets and heels tapping complex rhythms propelled Ensemble Español’s opening Gala Fridaynight at Skokie’s North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.  From classic Flamenco and folkloric dances to the innovative fusion of forms in Ron De Jesus’s Mil Clavos, (premiere) the rich cultural heritage of Spain simmered, steamed, and occasionally boiled over in music and dance.  

The Ensemble presents a clean, polished exposition of traditional Spanish dance styles.  A hallmark of artistic director Dame Libby Komaiko’s choreography is a sweeping use of the full stage space and continuous flow of inventive group configurations.  Integrating its delightful Youth Company into several group pieces, the Ensemble was able to highlight the impressive educational scale of its year-round programming and the significant contribution it makes to perpetuating this valuable heritage. Putting children on stage with the pros can be tricky, but these kids were so beautifully-trained, and so well-rehearsed, they only added to the festive energy that ignited both performers and audience throughout the program.

The excellent musical ensemble of percussion, guitars and voice sat in full view of the audience, both a visual and auditory treat. Performed by guest singers and instrumentalists from Spain, the distinctive rhythms and melodies resonated with the emotional heart and history of Spain and its people. 

Guest artists Carmela Greco (daughter of famed Jose Greco), Manuel Reyes, Pol Vaquero, and Gala Vivancos each contributed unique style and a personal take on traditional form, each oozing with soul, fire, and intensity. Especially impressive was Mr. Reyes’s unaccompanied Tan Solo (U.S. premiere) in which his body and foot percussion combined with his singing lament to create a stunningly poignant totality of movement and sound.  Ms. Greco, along with company associate director Irma Suarez Ruiz, added caprice and humor in their playful duet, “Marismeña,” (premiere). 

Ron De Jesus clearly knows his way around Spanish Dance. Mil Clavos pays tribute to his dance beginnings with Ensemble Español, demonstrating a masterly command of both the technique and style, but infuses the genre with expansive freedom in the torso and arms and a seamless blend of contemporary dance vocabulary. Music, by Ezio Bosso, Valtteri Kujala, and Ludovico Einaudi provided a canvas reminiscent of Phillip Glass that set the choreography in relief against its multi-layered backdrop. The driving rhythms and textured variety of movement in Mil Clavos made an exciting culmination to the lively, entertaining evening.  Dramatic partnering, falls, and leaps gave the Ensemble an opportunity to let loose with a range of virtuosic dancing that transcended the tightly-bound parameters of Flamenco while retaining fidelity to its form and spirit.    

Lynn Colburn Shapiro, editor