Editor's Note-- Picture This Post's reviewer for this performance has given it a rating of RECOMMENDED.
In response to this reviewer's expressed hope for more experimentation by Ensemble Espanol, their Executive Director Jorge Perez kindly points out,
"The company continues to push that envelope of contemporary and out of the box presentations with Spanish dance
as seen for example in 2014 Hubbard Streets former choreographer and principal dancer, Ron de Jesus's, MIL CLAVOS Flamenco - contemporary ballet. We just presented it at the Auditorium Theatre in downtown Chicago on September 29, 2016 as their performing arts series opener.
"We also just presented a contemporary piece in the Escuela Bolera style (2015) to the contemporary music pianist, David Dorantes titled SUR by former principal and rehearsal master of the National Ballet of Spain, Ms. Raquel Gomez.
"The company has over 135 choreographic works with a new premiere coming up this summer by Angel Rojas of Madrid titled "DeFalla, Out of the Box". And in deed it is out of the box. It's Manuel De Falla's / Mozart of Spanish dance meeting in 2017.
"...Please reserve the dates June 16, 17 & 18 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie for our Annual American Spanish Dance and Music Festival with guest artists from Spain and the U.S.
"More out of the box projects are in the works."
The Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater has been a steady force in the Chicago dance scene for 40 years, establishing a large educational reach through their residency at Northeastern Illinois University. Founded by Dame Libby Komaiko and led by Artistic Director Irma Suarez Ruiz and Executive Director Jorge Perez, the company is well known for presenting classical, folkloric, flamenco, and contemporary Spanish dance. The dancers, especially the fiery Jose Torres and Claudia Pizarro, are all technically outstanding, and the youth companies under their cultivation show promise. The Holiday Concert this weekend offers no surprises; the company continues to deliver what they do best.
Theatricality and silk
With projected backgrounds, set pieces, and complex lighting, this concert is especially high on production value. The tone is set from the first moment in “La Era Romantica” when dancers parade on in over-the-top royalty regalia, to the closing piece “Iroko”, in which no less than six costume changes take place in a single work. The costuming simply demands attention, such as in “Mi Deseo/My Desire,” a duet between a woman and her dress. As in concerts of classical ballet, costuming and music choices often feel quaint, as popular styles from previous eras are faithfully reproduced. True delight, however, can be taken in the vigorous athleticism of La Jota in “Alma de Aragon,” and the smart body percussion in the a capella footwork of “Zapateado.”
Reproduction vs. evolution
True to its mission, the company does a beautiful job of preserving Spanish dance traditions. Less clear is what they plan to do to push the art form forward (as does, say, the annual Flamenco Festival at Sadlers’ Wells in London, where I once saw flamenco done in pointe shoes). I would love to see what this company, with its wonderful roster of talent, could do if it took more risks.
Your enjoyment of the Holiday Concert will likely depend on what you’re looking for from a night out at the theater. If you’d like to see a bit of subversion of typical gender norms, or boundary-pushing art, this is not it. If, however, you’d like to escape reality on a lovely two-hour journey to Spain with gorgeous dancing, amazing costumes, and delightful people, this is indeed the show for you.
Recommended for: Classical dance enthusiasts, families
Not recommended for: Modern dance/ performance art buffs averse to spectacle
December 16 & 17 @ 7:30pm
Northeastern Illinois University
5500 St. Louis Ave, Chicago IL
Susanna Hostetter is a dancer and teaching artist, exposing hundreds of Chicago Public School students a year to dance through renowned dance education organizations. She holds a B.A. in Anthropology and Dance from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and is an avid attendee of Chicago theater, music, and cultural events.