There can be serious sizzle in flamenco dance, but only when the performers can radiate that heat from the deepest part of their cores. For Esmeralda Enrique and her troupe of dancers, the Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company, intensity and charisma were very naturally integrated into every dance and song, with each successive piece topping the last. “Letters to Spain” was, quite simply, a marvellous performance of dance and music so rarely seen in Toronto where it felt as though every person was giving it their all in a private performance just for you.
The first half, “Poeta”, was a combination of Enrique dancing with Piotr Biernat and the rest of the company swirling around. Adding to the textured mix was the poetry of Rafael Alberti and the offstage singing of Fernando Gallego Torres, who’s raspy, richly emotive voice was an ideal complement to the video images on the back screen, as well as the musical playing of the company (Chris Church on violin, Rosendo “Chendy” León on percussion, Nicolás Hernández and Benjamin Barrile on guitar). All told, it was a deeply and intensely romantic homage to Enrique’s idea of Spain, but also one that the average foreigner can relate to as well.
Audiences were treated to quite a spectacular second half, “Letters to Spain”, with a medley of singing, instrumental offerings and short flamenco dances that only got better and more fascinating as it progressed, the music-and-dance version of watching a high jump competition where athletes continually clear higher and higher bars. As each one outdid the previous, an energetic buzz grew in the audience. Spontaneous applause, cheers and whistles broke out until after the third or fourth piece, the company was given raucous appreciation that only grew louder.
It was quite deserved, too. The dancers, and particularly Esmeralda Enrique, swished and swirled around the stage, whipping their legs around so the trains on their billowing gowns almost moved as independent entities. And when they rhythmically engaged in snapping palmas and foot flats and whipped around their Manila shawls, the effect was hypnotic. It was impossible to tear your eyes away from the fierce expressions of music and dance onstage, with a flurry of colour, intense facial expressions and proud postures eddying on every inch of the floor.
If there can only be one word to describe flamenco dance and music, it has to be passion; and it’s an adjective Esmeralda Enrique and her dancers really distilled to its simplest, bringing to light all the elemental love, romance, fury, intensity and range of sounds and emotions associated with that one word. Flamenco is both rigid and fluid at the same time, with extremities gracefully flowing around an immovable core.
Further enhancing the Spanish mood were the singers and musicians, all of them possessing unique styles that, together, melded into a beautiful array of colour and personality that reflected the rich tapestry of Spanish culture. Gallego Torres, with his rustic voice, brought to mind a Spain from the time of Hemingway, while his singing counterpart, Tamar Ilana, contrasted him by being soaring and smooth; together, they formed one voice with an astonishing depth of characteristics and produced a timbre rarely seen in male-and-female duettists.
Percussionist Rosendo “Chendy” León and guitarist Nicolás Hernández were showcased in one solo performance in between dances, and the excitement between the two was palpable all the way into the upper seats. As each musician took turns with skilled, lively playing, they grinned at each other and nodded in time to the music. It would have been lovely to hear them play again, but as with any stellar performance, the best ones always leave you wanting more.
Rounding out the evening’s talent was Sharon DiGenova as the lighting designer, working a behind-the-scenes job that’s nearly always more subtle and unnoticeable than playing a starring role. But in “Letters to Spain”, she sharply focused the light on the dancers in a way that made the audience sit up and pay close attention, bathing them in a rectangle of blinding white light only to snap it off with an intensity that was flamenco all on its own.
The best performances are ones where novices and experts alike are truly entertained and in “Letters to Spain”, there were narrative arcs for a multitude of people to follow. Enrique and her dancers told a story of Spanish life and culture, summing up thousands of years in just two hours, while also delivering one burst of colour, music and dance after another in the same staccato fury as the dancers’ shoes striking the stage. There was nothing to dislike about the evening: each dancer exuded an energy from the tips of her gracefully moving fingers to her swishing feet; the facial expressions perfectly characterized the emotion and passion of flamenco; and every aspect of the performance included something strongly reminiscent about Spain that made it feel like the country’s history was present onstage.
And even a small quibble like the performance wasn’t long enough to satisfy the audience’s appetite would be unfounded. “Letters to Spain” was the perfect length, and judging by the audience’s standing raucous ovation at the end, each one agreed.