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They are both consummate dancers: Pilar Rioja, a long-time exponent of flamenco and Spanish dance whose style and energy is unquenchable, and Roxane D’Orléans Juste, from Montreal, a no less honoured dancer and associate artistic director with the José Limón company. Both are sharing a programme in which their skills are contrasted while also complementing each other.
Juste has long been with the Limón troupe, whose founder, one of the pioneers of the form, left an indelible mark on modern dance with such works as The Moor’s Pavane. Since his death in 1972, the company has continued successfully to expand its contemporary style. Rioja is one of the finest performers of flamenco and Spanish dance, a stylist in her own right and a regular attraction (35 seasons, no less) at the jewel-box of a theatre that is the Repertorio.
But this was a dance recital that showed off individual talents independently. The flamenco guitarists José Luis Negrete, Antonio Muñoz and Arturo Martínez, and singers Alfonso Cid and David Castellano were the musicians who sometimes played on their
own when not providing accompaniment.
A slender figure in a clinging green, glitteringly embroidered costume emerges from the shadows, twirling and dipping two fans that are like butterflies fluttering around her body. She smiles and frowns, emotions fleet across her face, she breaks into skittering, filigree footwork, proudly intense. Substituting castanets for the fans, Rioja continues her Andalusian dance, sometimes squatting into a deep plié. It’s peasant stuff but
she’s still elegant, ending on a triumphant note with an arm flung high.
No less dramatic, when the lights come up, D’Orléans Juste, all in black, stands poised to perform Limón’s Chaconne (the Bach D Minor). She knows how to convey the suggestion of flamenco, even of bullfighting, that is in the choreography and with her solo concert experience has assurance and a confident way of selling herself. She brings a wonderful spring and balletic approach to many of the steps, which include held classical positions and jumps en attitude. Later, in Angelios Negros from Songs of the Disinherited, D’Orléans Juste, suddenly sexy in a yellow and black fringed costume with the front cut out, at first gives the impression of an odalisque. It is soon dispelled by the clenched fists, imploring stretches and a feeling of agonised tension that pervades the piece.
Rioja can be as angry and as sad as any flamenco demands and it is never more tellingly conveyed than in her three-part St Teresa’s Poem, which she choreographed to Carlos Surinach. A Baile Estilza (a stylised Spanish theatrical dance), it starts with her wrapped in the voluminous skirt of a simple form-fitting dress. Becalmed in its folds, she manipulates the skirt in the manner of Martha Graham, almost as a partner in the dance. Quiet heel-tapping accelerates to a frenzied tattoo but in this section, romance, the mood remains light. In oración (prayer) a black cloak is put on, the hair is let down in a braid and to chords like death knells Rioja moves with stern and stunning sadness.
Daniel Nagrin choreographed D’Orléans Juste’s final piece, which is simply entitled Spanish Dance. She’s all in black again, strongly dancing complicated variations that convey something of the look of flamenco but in a very modern dance translation. Rioja’s saucy hip-swaying nod to Caribbean influences, the boisterous Bulerias Rumba Flamenca, was the finale guaranteed to send an audience out in high excitement and convinced that if anyone can be immortal, Rioja is.