By Cate Marquis, Staff Writer

Dance St. Louis continued its 50th anniversary season with a performance by Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, which presented three performances at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on April 15 through 16.

The Chicago-based Ensemble Español, which has been called the country’s premier Spanish dance company, is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and its founder and artistic director, Dame Libby Komaiko, was in attendance at the Friday night performance.

Dazzling and jewel-like are two ways to describe the show presented by Ensemble Español, but other words that spring to mind are hot and high-energy. While many think of flamenco when they hear the phrase “Spanish dance,” it is only one of several Spanish dance traditions, which Ensemble Español is dedicated to preserving and presenting. Flamenco includes guitar, song, hand-clapping, and dancing. A number of cultures have influenced Spanish history: Moors, Greeks, Romans, even Celts. Spanish dance is divided into three types: classical, regional and flamenco, considered its own. Ensemble Español’s program included flamenco and dances from Spain’s classic and folkloric traditions, as well as contemporary Spanish dance.

The program was divided into two themes,  “Essence of Spain” and “Flamenco Passion,” ending with a performance of Ravel’s “Bolero” with Dame Libby’s masterwork choreography. Since cultural preservation is part of the dance company’s mission, the costumes matter along with the dance. They were gorgeous throughout, in red and black. The music was classical and the staging simple yet evocative—all a perfect framing for fabulous Spanish dancing.

“Essence of Spain” showcased various forms of Spanish dance and cultural influences. The first piece, “La Boda de Luis Alonso (The Wedding of Luis Alonso)—Bolarus,” used projections suggesting shadows cast by church windows along with classical music and dancers in red. “Ruinas (Ruins)” was a sinuous solo by guest artist Paloma Gomez, who also choreographed much of the night’s program.

One of the evening’s most unexpected delights was “Viva Galicia,” where dancers in colorful, ribbon-bedecked traditional outfits danced to Celtic music; a lively, high-stepping dance that could have been at home in Scotland.

“Rendicion (Rendition)” was a contemporary romantic dance with coupled performers in flowing, blue costumes, followed by the pas de deux “El Albaicin,” danced by Paloma Gomez and Christian Lozano using castanets.

There were also two interludes of flamenco music between dances, where two guitar players and a percussionist gave a little sample of the genre’s percussive, passionate sound.

“Mil Clavos (One Thousand Nails)” was a three-part piece combining flamenco and contemporary dance. The most striking piece was “Pasaje Nuevo,” which featured three men in black costumes like 18th-century frock coats, who danced a powerful, masculine piece representing Spain’s symbol of strength, the bull. “La Paloma Roja (The Red Dove)” featured three woman dancers in a sensuous, feminine dance with Flamenco’s twisting arm movements. “Fuego Negro (Black Fire)” had the whole troupe in a piece that began slowly but built to a fiery crescendo.

After intermission, it was flamenco’s time to shine. “Flamenco Passion” presented a four-dance sample, with guitarists, percussionists, and singers joining the dancers on stage. The evocative “Duende Gitana (Gypsy Soul)” opened with dancers and musicians framed by images of arches and a distant castle, as they performed foot-stamping, clapping, and skirt-flipping dances set to percussive music. “La Rosa Negra (The Black Rose)” spotlighted solo dancer Paloma Gomez, while “Anda Jaleo” featured the whole company dancing to  staccato, high-energy rhythms. “Veneno (Poison)” was a powerful, rapid-fire dance solo by Christian Lozano.

The finale, “Bolero,” was the highlight of Dame Libby’s acclaimed choreography. The performance began with five women dancers, dressed in fiery red and sitting erect on the floor, performing the same sensuous, serpentine dance movements. As the music built, the dancers rose and filled the stage with movement, culminating with wildly-energetic dancing by the whole troupe, leaving the applauding audience on its feet.

For more information on upcoming Touhill events and ticket prices, visit the venue online at www.touhill.org.

Dance St. Louis, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater in Bolero by Dame Libby Komaiko Courtesy of Dean Paul
Dance St. Louis, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater in Bolero by Dame Libby Komaiko
Courtesy of Dean Paul
DANCE ST. LOUIS, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater in Bolero by Dame Libby Komaiko, Irma Suarez Ruiz, and Jorge Perez Courtesy of Dean Paul
DANCE ST. LOUIS, Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater in Bolero by Dame Libby Komaiko, Irma Suarez Ruiz, and Jorge Perez
Courtesy of Dean Paul