Review: Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s “Letters to Spain”

by Liliana Guevara Opinska

Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company’s newest production “Letters to Spain” is a 110 minute-long journey into Spanish tradition, history and culture. It is a beautiful tribute to a fascinating country full of appeal, mystery and passion.

As the Company’s artistic director, Esmeralda Enrique, explains the show attempts to express the extent to which Spanish culture has influenced the lives and work of all artists in the Company.

The first part of the show is a restaging of a work, created by Enrique in 1999. Set to music by Vicente Amigo, it is titled “Poeta”. The piece is dedicated to the influential Spanish poet, Rafael Alberti. Alberti was born in a small town in Bay of Cádiz: Puerto de Santa Maria. After the Spanish Civil War Alberti, due to his political believes, was forced into exile. The longing he felt for his beloved hometown is described in numerous of his poems. Towards the end of his life Alberti returned to Spain and was elected deputy for Cádiz; after his death, his ashes were scattered over the Bay of Cádiz. As written in the show’s program, the dancers: Esmeralda Enrique, Pamela Briz, Virginia Castro Durán, Paloma Cortés, Ilse Gudiño, Noelia La Morcha and Margarita Maria Rigó “portray the landscape of the poet’s journey”. Recognized contemporary dance artist, Piotr Biernat, represents Alberti himself.

The performance opens with a beautiful projection of the image of a calm, sea; the sea of Bay of Cádiz. Biernar-Alberti is walking on stage, as if on a beach, playing with the almost tangible sand and contemplating the beautiful horizon. The scene succeeds in conveying a sense of calm admiration in awe of nature’s beauty. Through the entire piece Enrique renders a whole pallet of moods as she takes us along a journey through the different stages of Alberti’s life. Personally, I was most captivated by Enrique and Biernat’s duet, in which they seemed to represent the mesmerizing sea of the Bay of Cádiz. Enrique, dressed in a long, dark-blue flamenco dress with a long veil, danced masterfully moving her veil from one side to another with her feet in a sinusoidal way, resembling the movement of ocean weaves. Biernat danced around her in a white shirt and black pants, he was the white ocean foam. Biernat’s contemporary dance training provided an aesthetically exciting contrast to Enrique’s highly stylized flamenco dance. His dancing was highly emotive and captivating.

Another highlight of “Poeta” is a scene created in reference to the difficult years during the Spanish Civil War. In contrast with the rest of the choreography, which is often joyful, this part is much darker. Dressed in black costumes, the dancers successfully convey a feeling of despair, as a voice recites Alberti’s poem “Mar” (“Sea”). The poem is about bloodshed; bloodshed that scares away even the sea’s, previously undisturbed sleep.

“Poeta” reaches its climax at the end of the performance. Dancers of the Company come out wearing white dresses and shawls. I remember hearing someone behind me whispering, “they are beautiful” in reference to the dancers. Biernat dances joyfully around the seven female dancers, swirling about himself. It is the celebration of the long-awaited return home. It is also the swirling of life itself at the end of its long journey.

The second part of the show consists of seven short pieces danced to live music. Two of the seven pieces are pure music. “Sendero”, choreographed and performed by Company dancer Ilse Gudiño, is soothing and romantic. It is set to a style of music called Granaína; this music is a mix of fandango from Granada and flamenco. Ilse dressed in a luxurious dress with plenty of frills, enchants us with her sensual dancing. She dances next to a blue fabric that evokes the sea, while the singer, Tamara Ilana, recounts the story in Spanish. The choreography sets a mood of nostalgia and melancholy.

The mood of Guidiño’s choreography contrasts with the next piece in the set, Juan Ogalla’s “Descenquentros”. For me, “Descenquentros” was by far the most memorable piece from “Letters to Spain”; it is absolutely brilliant! The piece is a reflection on the fast-paced life and solitude in big cities. The opening image is surreal; gold shoes unattached to any legs, walk frantically in different directions. This is, of course, an illusion, a brilliant play of lights. The lights focus only on the dancers’ feet such that the rest of their bodies remain concealed by darkness. Even the shoes appear to be gold only by virtue of the lighting, as one can observe later, they are standard, black, flamenco shoes. The dancers, accompanied by Rosendo “Chendy” León’s percussion, stamp their feet in an invigorating rhythm that engulfs the audience in a sense of frenetic energy. After a change of lights the dancers are revealed, they perform the zapateado, flamenco tap dancing. “Descenquentros” is bold, expressive, provocative and very high energy.

“La Capitana” is Antonio Granjero’s emotive tribute to Flamenco dance icon, Carmen Amaya, The Queen of the Gypsies. Dancers, Pamela Briz, Paloma Cortés and Ilse Gudiño, wear traditional male, flamenco costumes, a reference to Amaya’s own fashion style, and dance with strength and passion.

“Letters to Spain” succeeds in conveying, transmitting and infecting the audience with the artists’ very visible love for Spanish dance and flamenco culture. In one of her recent interviews, Enrique stated, that, in spite of the technical challenge of flamenco, one of the most important things for the audience to observe are the dancers’ faces. One should be able to read all the emotions that the dancers experience, with the influence of the music, from their facial expressions. The emotion on all the dancers’ faces through the show, reveled the honesty and truth in their dance.

The previous evening I had attended Amelia Ehrhardt’s presentation for Harbourfront’s Hatch 11. Her work was centered on the notion, that aesthetic information in performing art is an equally important source of intellectual stimulation as are ideas and concepts. “Letters to Spain” reinforced Ehrhardt’s concept. The aesthetics of flamenco dance are anything but trivial; they are incredibly rich in emotive potential and express the wide range of human emotions. Esmeralda Enrique’s livelong dedication to Spanish dance and her passion for it are palpable from the beginning to the end of the show. “Letters to Spain” is a delightful show that transports us into the exotic, warm, streets of Spain. A very enjoyable journey especially since spring it taking too long to come to Toronto and we are all in need of optimism and sunshine.

EESDC White Shawls by Hamid Karimi

EESDC White Shawls by Hamid Karimi