There was something for everyone in the PostClassical Ensemble’s production of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale” and Manuel de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” that played to capacity crowds in Georgetown University’s Gonda Theatre this weekend.
Both of the consecrated masterpieces famously tap folk traditions for narratives that are propelled by the musical score, but also by drama and dance. Toward this end, the Washington-area orchestra was bolstered by the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company of New York, student-actors from the university’s Department of Performing Arts, and, most spectacularly, Spanish flamenco singer Esperanza Fernandez.
First on the program was Stravinsky’s take on the Russian fable of a hapless deserter’s Faustian bargain, in which an ensemble of seven musicians alternated with the cleverly rhymed dialogue of the Soldier, a Narrator and the dazzlingly devious Devil played by Georgetown’s Allie Villareal. Brief dance sequences introduced Peridance’s Joanna DeFelice as the Princess — and a fleeting opportunity for the Soldier’s redemption — in a serviceable choreography by company director Igal Perry, and brought back Villareal to whirl, triumphant, through a demonic finale and steal the show.
Fernandez, a traditional gypsy cantaora and a monumental presence, seemed born to sing the hauntingly beautiful music of “El Amor Brujo” that has been for years the province of operatic mezzo-sopranos. The young black-clad dancers among whom she wove were fluent, flexible and feline smooth, none more so than Nikki Holck, cast as the widowed Candela, who was at the apex of the love triangle that had to be resolved.
Perry’s choreography exploited his artists’ attributes in pas de trois that advanced the plot and in an endless series of striking visuals that were an excellent fit for the music. References to the flamenco source were, however, surprisingly few, and it was up to Fernandez to convey the spirit behind Falla’s brilliant evocation of Spain’s gypsy lore, which she did in a profoundly memorable performance.