Washington is exceedingly fortunate to have been chosen as a place of residence by Raquel Pena. This extraordinary exponent of Spanish dance belongs to the world -- she has toured internationally, and in this country she's appeared in such diverse places as Carnegie Hall, Jacob's Pillow and TV's "Tonight" show. But, lucky for us, it's here that she lives and here that she can be seen most regularly.
Pena and her Spanish Dance Company made their first appearance at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater last night, under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society. If it was their intention to be in particularly spectacular shape for the occasion, they succeeded resoundingly.
As an individual performer, Pena has been consistently superb. At other engagements, however, the rest of her troupe has sometimes appeared merely to be engaged in a diversionary holding operation between Pena's solos. mThis time, though, the entire company was in excellent form, including Fernando Sirvent, whose guitar playing was unusually fluent and articulate; Flamenco singer Manolo Leiva, whose pitch and timbre were more on a par with his expertly stylish ornamentation; the five women dancers of the troupe, looking more polished than ever; and an outstanding guest artist, an intense male dancer who goes by the name of Edo.
Spanish dance, like other Spanish arts, developed in relative isolation from Western Europe; that, along with infusions from the East (the Moors, the Sephardim, the Gypsies, and others) and regional colorations have given Spanish dancing its exotic, highly individual flavor.
Flamenco appears to be Pena's personal specialty; her solos in this genre last night were nothing short of electrifying. Her heel work, astonishingly controlled in rhythm, dynamics and sound, sometimes raced to tempos that seemed to defy the threshold of audible speed. The proud, sultry carriage of her upper body, and hands that twisted alluringly into conch-like whorls, added to the thrilling emotional concentration of her performances.