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A Passion For Life at Novalis Hall

"In the second part of the program, every cell of Esmeralda’s body appeared to give energetic assent to the complex musical nuances of the guitar, in mesmerizing accord with her delicately stamping feet, a solo performance that left the audience breathless in soul."

June 4th marked the festival of Whitsun and the appropriately festive appearance at Novalis Hall of a gaily clad Spanish dance company led by Esmeralda Enrique. A hush of expectancy was palpable in the assembled, near capacity audience, many members of which had attended this group’s previous performance for the Novalis Project in 2004. Excitement was most high in anyone who had seen Esmeralda and friends dance in the meantime, in larger venues such as the Toronto Premier Dance Theatre, knowing that a more heightened experience was in store in our small hall. Although popular demand has brought Flamenco to the world stage, it is still, at its heart, the intimate art form of the southern Spanish cafés, in which it flourished at the height of its development in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Gypsies are credited with carrying the origins of this tradition from Northern India to Spain but the popular songs and dances of Andalusia, deriving from earlier Moorish roots, had a major influence too.

Flamenco gradually evolved into the exacting dance form presented in this remarkable program by one of Canada’s most innovative dance companies. Singing, dancing and guitar music are the usual components of a Flamenco performance, a totality of elements that creates a dynamic fusion of sensory effects. No singer was included in this performance, although the full bodied voice of Esmeralda herself sounded forth once or twice, like a force of nature or clarion call, expressive of the totality of being she brings to her art.

Oh body swayed to music, brightening glance, How can I tell the dancer from the dance-these lines by Yeats came to mind….. Ms. Enrique’s beauty, poise, quality of centred calmness and her remarkable rhythmic savvy captivated the audience in her opening virtuoso display on the castanets. She dances as well with her hands as she does with her feet! In the second part of the program, every cell of Esmeralda’s body appeared to give energetic assent to the complex musical nuances of the guitar, in mesmerizing accord with her delicately stamping feet, a solo performance that left the audience breathless in soul.

Tears came to my eyes-I was experiencing the effects of that mysterious power that all may feel and no philosophy can explain, referred to by Goethe and recognized by Spaniards as Duende. It was a power in this instance that was more than the sum of the aptitude, technique and virtuosity with which Esmeralda’s performance was graced. In the words of Lorca, it gave… a sense of refreshment unknown until then, together with that quality of the just- opening rose… Duende has also been characterized as a struggle coming up from the soles of the feet, an earth force held in balance by a higher force of aspiration existing within the dancer or singer. Duende is variously defined in the dictionary as elemental, demon, magic, magnetism, charm. Lorca has declared in a famous essay on the subject that the true struggle of the artistic process is with this elusive phenomenon.

Flamenco could be superficially taken for a passionate display of temperament and certainly a passion for life is of essence to the dancer. However, artistry must ultimately triumph over temperament in any professional endeavor. Graceful hand gestures were suggestive of the tension of opposites between earth and sky that rendered the posture of every dancer on stage proudly upright and taut as a stretched bow. The three stellar graduates (perhaps now staff members) of Esmeralda’s school gave evidence of the classical Spanish style that is part of their training.They were a delight to watch. Artistic inspiration is often pitted against elemental entities that exist in human souls as lassitude, resistance, indifference, willfulness and doubt. These opposing forces can be brought into balance and service in the meeting with desire, discipline, devotion and dogged endurance that characterizes artistic endeavour. Resources whether physical, emotional or mental, are taxed to the limit in this ultimately spiritual calling, so well exemplified in the bright and free focus of these performers. I recently heard a musician/dancer friend of mine describe Flamenco as a mystical discipline, in which form can dissolve into something that transcends its visible expression - his version of duende…

Few of these considerations were lost on the Novalis Hall audience in the excitement that remained when the show was over. Hearts were beating faster. We were more ourselves, as if we ourselves had danced or now had hopes of dancing. A few of our ranks actually took to the stage in optimistic imitation of the fancy footwork they had witnessed. Others hastened to purchase the CD recording of Nicolas Hernandez, musical director of the company whose guitar accompaniment provided inspiring stimulus for the dancers and declared him one in heart and mind with them. His male presence underscored the unique dynamic inherent in Flamenco when male and female energies combine. Another distinctive element was added when world famous guitarist Jesse Cooke, whose wife is a member of the troupe, made a surprise guest appearance as percussionist.

As Esmeralda left the stage, I remarked on her ability to move me to tears…She responded with characteristic modesty:” I experienced so much love and appreciation in this audience that I gave all I had in me to give- and more!”


Treasa O’Driscoll,
Co-ordinator of the Novalis Project.
Barrie , Ontario, June 2006.

The Novalis Project is sponsored by The Ita Wegman Foundation
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