The Raquel Pena Spanish Dance Company, founded in Madrid and transplanted to Washington, has graced this area for a number of years now as a model of artistic excellence and professional decorum. In a first appearance at the Dance Place Saturday night, the troupe surpassed even its own splendid past achievements with an exceptionally ambitious and diversified program. To the unbuttoned delight of an overflow crowd -- standing, seated and squatting -- the company once more demonstrated the fiery and meticulous proficiency, the stylistic refinement and the infectious vitality that have made it a paragon among theatrical dance troupes hereabouts.
Adrressing the audience informally, the director and outstanding soloist of the company, Raquel Pena, outlined the goal of the evening as an attempt to survey the teeming variety of Spanish dance and, thereby as well, to counter a popular misconception that Flamenco is the whole story. To this end she gave a bird's eye taxonomy of the field, dividing Spanish dance into five broad types -- Flamenco, regional, Escuela Bolera, semiclassical and neoclassical (historically speaking, the scheme would have to make room for several additional categories). The program illustrated each type, with further subdivisions allotted to several species of Flamenco.
Pena herself was at her electrifying best in "Farucca," a Flamenco solo on a bullfight motif brilliantly accompanied by guitarist Fernando Sirvent. Susana Aranda danced a fetching "Bolero" marked by the fusion of classical ballet steps, on half toe, with castanet playing and other Spanish elements typical of the 18th-century Escuela Bolera. A Pena solo to an Albeniz selection demonstrated the liberal adaptation of Spanish dancing to classical music that typifies the semiclassical genre. Alejandra Sanz, Juan Valentin and Mora Solano, the other splendidly adept company members, were featured in a startlingly vigorous, bounding folk dance from Aragon, as an instance of regional idiom.
Most elaborate of all was a "preview" of a new Pena composition, "La Vida Sigue," a "story ballet" to Ravel's "Rapsodie Espagnole" that freely mixes modern, classical and Spanish dance elements in the "neoclassical" manner. Depicting the conquering of a widow's grief through the ministrations of her fellow villagers, it is a charming, resourceful opus that reconfirms Pena's patrician sensibilities in its musical and dramatic ffelocity.