Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 1, 2019

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Compañia Irene Rodriguez

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through June 30, 2019
by Josephine Sarnelli

Two years ago, Compañia Irene Rodriguez’s performances were sold-out before opening night at Jacob’s Pillow. Her highly anticipated return this week did not disappoint. Based in Cuba, her dance company blends traditional flamenco and Spanish dance with Afro-Cuban music and contemporary inspiration.

The program opened with “El Mito,” the only repeat from her previous engagement. It playfully introduced the audience to the complexity of flamenco footwork (zapateado) by placing a screen in front of the dancers to expose only their feet and bare legs, unencumbered with either skirts or pants. It was a brilliant way to focus attention on the percussive techniques.

“Homenaje a José Greco,” sung by Andrés Correa while accompanied by four musicians, paid tribute to the centennial of the great flamenco dancer’s birth. Of note is that his daughter, Carmela Greco is on faculty for the Pillow’s Flamenco and Spanish Program this summer and spoke earlier in the day at a free PillowTalk discussion.

Two of the performance pieces, “La Pena Negra” and “Entre Espinas, Rosas,” involved dresses with long, ruffled trains called bata de cola. In the first, Ms. Rodriguez’s long black dress was used in both traditional and non-traditional forms. She worked it not as an accessory, but more as an additional body appendage. In the second half, four troupe members performed in bata de cola while using fans. They masterfully demonstrated their technique in using both simultaneously.    

“El Grito” was inspired by Edvard Munch’s composition "The Scream." True to the symbolism of the artwork depicting the anxiety of modern man, the dancers performed a frenetic choreography, first with shoes, then barefoot; initially with their hair neatly styled, then degenerating to wildly being tossed, as in certain forms of Middle Eastern dancing to cast out spirits. Exuberant castanet playing completed the feeling of chaos. 

Photo by Christopher Duggan
Inspired by Spanish bullfighting, “Encierro” had five female dancers assume the movements and personae of bulls in a confrontation with Yohan Garcia, as the toreador. Each landed blow by the sword was felt by the audience, yet Ms. Rodriguez did not succumb.

The finale was a solo piece highlighting Ms. Rodriguez’s many talents in dexterous mantón (shawl) techniques and lightning speed footwork. Trained in classical ballet, she even performed some flamenco en pointe. It was truly an amazing evening by an amazing dance troupe and choreographer!