No matter what you think you know about Spanish dance, the artistry of Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater is likely to enlighten you.
Yes, you can expect to be swept up in the romance of the movement and music, the rhythm of the clicking heels and castanets. But you'll also be mesmerized by the culture from which the dances emerged.
"We wish not only to present, but to preserve, the art of Spanish dance," says Jorge Perez, executive director of Ensemble Espanol. As such, performances are grounded in a "full historical perspective on the particular dance and-or style."
Founded by Dame Libby Komaiko, the company is in residence at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago.
Dance St. Louis will present Ensemble Espanol this weekend at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The company is familiar to St. Louis dance fans from its Spring to Dance festival appearances.
The program will feature 11 pieces, including "Amor Eterno (Petenera)," choreographed and performed by Perez and associate artistic director Irma Suarez Ruiz; "Zorongo Gitano," choreographed and performed by guest artists Paloma Gomez and Christian Lozano; and "Bolero," an ensemble piece set to the famous Ravel composition and choreographed by Komaiko.
Perez has assumed a wide range of roles with Ensemble Espanol, from gofer -- "helping with mailing and filing, answering the telephone" -- to dancer and choreographer. It all began when, as a Northeastern Illinois freshman, he came across the company while looking for a job.
"I've always been interested in the theater," he says. "I've been in plays since fifth grade. And when I saw the company perform, I was hooked."
Perez says the program is designed to take viewers on "a wonderful roller coaster of Spanish dance." He called Gomez and Lozano, who are known for their work with the National Ballet of Spain, "amazing dancers in their own right." The two have earned praise for their mastery of all three styles of Spanish dance: classical, folklore and flamenco.
The spirit of flamenco should come through resoundingly in "Alegrias Y Jaleos," by legendary National Ballet of Spain dancer-choreographers Juan Mata and Ana Gonzalez.
"It's a beautiful work that they set on our company for our 30th anniversary, six years ago," Perez says. "It's very theatrical."
Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater
When 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday -- Where Blanch M. Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road -- How much Evening performances, $35-$50; matinee, $30 -- More info 314-516-4949 or touhill.org; 314-534-6622 or dancestlouis.org
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