Review: Ensemble Espaňol Brings the Heat to the Auditorium Theatre with Flamenco Passion

I reviewed Ensemble Español back in June at the North Shore Center for the Arts and it was thrilling to see authentic flamenco here on our shores. Ensemble Español is in residency at Northeastern Illinois University and it is a gift to have them in our city. Ensemble Español was on stage at the Auditorium Theatre for one night only on October 1 and what a night it was!

The flamenco dancing was preceded by special guest Para Mar Dance Theatre—a contemporary ballet company. Choreographer Stephanie Martinez formed this ensemble during the pandemic lockdown to give voice to diversity and to show art as a necessity. Similar to the Lost Generation after WWI, a great deal of cultural expansion is happening and Para Mar is one of the finest to be a part of a 21st-century Chicago Renaissance.

Ensemble Espaňol. Photo by Dean Paul.

As a prelude to Ensemble Español, Para Mar presented a beautiful feast of sensuous movement. The lighting presented the dancers as amorphous shadow figures that segued into movements like an undulating ocean or sea. The ensemble name translates as "for the ocean or sea." It is a fitting name and a marvelous prelude to Flamenco Passion.

Ensemble Español opened with the same wedding dance where the lover of a woman marries another and she is left distraught outside of the church. The Auditorium Theatre stage is larger and more accommodating to the expansive moves and pageantry of Flamenco Passion. This form of dance is meant to be visual passion on the face as if one's soul is on fire. I saw many of the same dancers in this performance and there has been definite progression and maturity in their expressiveness.

One thing that I really love about flamenco is that it is for all ages and body types. Both female and male dancers are mature and confident and exude a sexiness that is not often acknowledged in women in American culture. Dancer and flamenco guitarist Jose Moreno, the spouse of flamenco superstar La Lupi (Susana Lupiañez Pinto) is featured in the five-piece music ensemble. We also got a stellar performance from another band member, singer Curro de Maria. His rhythmic steps defy gravity and are as percussive as a drum solo. De Maria spins and uses his body as percussion slapping his thighs and chest. The spotlight on his figure dressed in black added even more drama.

The ensemble performed some newer dances Resonancia del Alma/Resonance of the Soul and El Casorio/The Wedding. Both of these dances are from 2022 and choreographed by Jose Moreno and Artistic Director Irma Suarez Ruiz respectively. Danza del Fuego/Dance of Fire is from 1979 by Ensemble Español founder Dame Libby Komaiko. The black and red costumes added depth to the sinuous movements. Hand movements in Flamenco are essential as they wind like DNA strands; so does the body.

Ensemble Espaňol. Photo by Dean Paul.

The fabulous La Lupi owned the stage. She is one of my favorite examples of sensuous and sexy being a matter of confidence and maturity. Her costume was luxuriant with ruffles and embroidery as she spun around the stage. Her eyes were wild and intense when she faced the audience. She is someone to be experienced and her renown is well-deserved.

Ensemble Español has an amazing live band of guitars, percussion and vocals. Paco Fonta and Jose Moreno did most of the flamenco singing. It is reminiscent of Portuguese Fado singing. Long-held notes and a cultivated raspiness to their voices. The Moroccan influence or Muslim call to prayer is heard in the beautiful phrasing. Curro de Maria also sings and plays percussion in addition to an amazing solo turn of dancing. David Chiroboga on flamenco guitar and Javier Suame Mazzei on percussion round out the excellent accompaniment.

I highly recommend that you catch a performance of Ensemble Español. They have been featured in opera and orchestral performances on television and in films. For more information, please visit their website www.ensembleespaň

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.