For roughly a decade, Raquel Pena has been dazzling and enlightening Washington audiences with exemplary performances of the dance arts of Spain. Her appearance at the Terrace Theater last night at the head of the Washington-based Raquel Pena Spanish Dance Company marked her debut in the Dance America series, which is jointly sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society and Kennedy Center--a fitting tribute to the artistic contributions she has made to this city.
For the occasion, Pena marshalled a program that surpassed perhaps all the company's previous efforts in sparkle, diversity of content and theatrical flair, despite a certain unevenness in execution. As always, a major portion of the excitement was generated by Pena's own dancing--she's not only the troupe's choreographer, costume designer and guiding spirit, but far and away its most accomplished, technically thrilling and charismatic soloist. The company as a whole, however, newly enlarged to 10 dancers, is a fine one, and performed with especially close rapport as an ensemble last night.
In recent years, Pena has been striving to demonstrate that the range of Spanish dance extends well beyond the familiar Flamenco idiom, though the latter remains the foundation stone of her programming.
Last night's bill of fare was virtually a cook's tour of Spanish choreographic style, past and present. The centerpiece was the premiere of a splendid three-part creation by Pen a, in homage to and accompanied by the music of Tomas Breton (1850-1923), a leading composer of the Spanish operatic form known as the zarzuela.
The first movement, danced on half toe, with castanets, and full of charming ballet-step combinations, illustrated the rarely seen, 18th-century escuela bolera style; the last, an Aragonese Jota with a crisp folk dance vocabulary, displayed one of the many regional specialties.
Pena's revised "La Vida Sigue," set to Ravel's "Rapsodie Espagnole," was too simplistically drawn to bear its intended dramatic weight, but the remainder of the program, traversing several other stylistic varieties as well as a plethora of Flamenco forms, made a rich--if overabundant--harvest. The program repeats tonight.