An artist of startling power and sustained virtuosity, Pilar Rioja beckons you into her magical world of Spanish and Gypsy dance and song, accompanied by the sensuous voice of Bernardo Juardo, who sets the evening’s somber tone. Beautifully lit by Robert Federico and exquisitely costumed by Guillermo Barclay, Rioja’s choreography, including three world premieres, speaks both to her loyal and venerable public and to the young audience very much in evidence opening night. Percussionist Erik Zang, lyric singer Bernarda Champions, and guitarists José Luis Negrete and Antonio Muñoz give excellent performances.
While Sonata, El puerto, and Guajira are influenced by 18th-century Spanish classical dance, in Tientos and Bulerias Rioja uses traditional flamenco to continue her lifelong expressionist engagement with the female psyche and body. In La monja gitana, she interprets García Lorca’s 1927 Gypsy ballad about a nun frightened by the memory of her Gypsy past. Clothed in black and white fabrics, Rioja meditates, standing still, concentrating on facial expression and pose, transforming her nun’s habit into a Gypsy cape. In Tientos, she enriches flamenco’s sustained emphasis on footwork, adding minimalist arm circles and an expanded torso to the rhythm already established by her feet. Her neck is tensed, her head thrown back in ecstasy. In the Cubano-flamenco Bambera-Buleria, her flounced red dress seems to partner her seductively. It swirls in the dark like a comet, filling the space between musicians seated upstage. Rioja brings boundless energy to her performance, demonstrating how maturity and vast experience can create profound art.