By Leandra de Valois-Franklin
Federico Garcia Lorca wrote about duende y misterio del flamenco (the spirit and mystery of flamenco). It is often portrayed in the work of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar and most recently in moments of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona. Duende is a critical element in flamenco, referring to the inner dark force of the artist’s soul. Experience its passionate struggle in Cantos de la Tierra, a new work by the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company.
The EESDC has been a strong presence on the Toronto Flamenco scene since 1982, refreshing Andalusian gypsy traditions with contemporary movement, pleasing a consistent audience of flamenco cognoscenti and admirers. Enrique is celebrated for her high-calibre choreography and collaborations with some of the world’s most renowned flamenco artists. Cantos de la Tierra, a compelling work that celebrates our elemental connection to the earth, is interplay with flamenco’s core elements (instrumentalists, vocalists, and dancers), creating a participatory art form in which rhythm and dance are synonymous.
Five dancers, including Ilse Gudino, Fiona Malena, Paloma Cortés, internationally acclaimed guest artist Juan Ogalla, and Enrique herself, channel duende through flamenco puro. Performing impressive solos as well as dancing in tight unison, the dancers perform brazeo (armwork), floreo (handwork), palmas (clapping), and zapateado (footwork) in both improvised and structured settings. Layers of brightly coloured ruffles swirl around the silhouetted female bodies, while flowing arms, circulatory hand gestures, and expansive upper torsos hover over percussive footwork. The dancers become consumed by the movement, as audience members are encouraged to participate with excited cries of “olé!”
Enrique appears in a solo, wearing a long white dress with a tiered train extending beyond her body, which she dramatically manipulates with skillful kicks and fierce expression as if having her revenge on a jilted lover. Her energy is high, and she likens the flamenco dancer to wine, improving with age. The distinguished Ogalla portrays the quintessential Spanish heartthrob, an Antonio Banderas/Javier Bardem character of passion and machismo. In a virtuosic display of technique and control, Ogalla attacks the floor with bursts of intricate footwork, so quick his legs are blurred like a hummingbird’s wings. His flamboyance is captivating; he is a true Lord of the Dance.
The dancers are accompanied onstage by a talented ensemble of Spanish vocalists and musicians on guitar and percussion, including El Moro, José Valle Fajardo “Chuscales,” Nicolás Hernández, and Daniel Stone. In flamenco, it is the singer who leads the musicians and dancers, and celebrated cantaora Encarna Anillo not only leads but steals the show in a duet with guitarist Oscar Lago. Her commanding voice is full of deep longing, dotted with moments of elation. Her mesmerizing presence embodies the spirit of flamenco and, for a brief moment, I too became possessed by duende.
Cantos de la Tierra is a fiery production of complete entertainment. The company of dancers, musicians, and guest artists not only entertain, but generate a sense of community among audience and performers, transcending language and cultural barriers to reveal the intensity of the human spirit on a universal level. Peeking around at my peers, brought to their feet with what they have just witnessed, it was evident that I wasn’t the only person reduced to tears. Vive flamenco!
The Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company will be featured at the Toronto International Flamenco Festival, November 15 at 8pm at the St. Lawrence Centre.