Theater archives



At 70, Spanish dancer Pilar Rioja has a figure women half her age might envy and, more important, a carriage that comes from decades of embodying pride in all its guises: joyous, disdainful, enraged, malevolent, erotic, and undaunted by grief. Rioja’s upper body, centered on a resilient spine, operates like a lyric dancer’s—chest held high, head flung back to expose the throat, arms etching curves on the air. But where her feet meet the ground, she is all vehement percussion. Heels, balls of the feet, and toes stab, clatter, brush, and tap in complex shifting rhythms, sometimes echoed by precisely articulated castanets. A deft hand with fabric as well, Rioja grasps an outsize fringed shawl (pink) or a long skirt of tiered ruffles (dying-ember red) and swirls it around her body until the material assumes its own dancing life. With a single pose or gesture, she conjures up vivid stock characters— from a young beauty in love to a fatally dangerous witch. Rioja is not an abandoned performer—one misses the barely-in-control ecstasy possible in flamenco—but she’s an extremely wise one, and time has increased her ability to calibrate and convey her effects. Her show, a geographical and historical catalog of Spanish forms, ably accompanied by guitar, piano, and plaintive song and aptly framed by its intimate playhouse, is a satisfying treat.