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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Performance Reviews
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Pilar Rioja

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 9, 2003
New York, NY

About the Author:

Pilar Rioja

Flamenco and Classic Spanish Dance

29th Season at Repertorio Español

138 East 27th Street
NY. NY 10016
( www.repertorio.org)

Gilberto Zalvídar, Executive Producer
René Buch, Artistic Director
Robert Weber Federico, Associate Artistic Producer
Graciela Castillo and Susana Ortiz, Costume Design
Guillermo Barclay, Costumer
Robert Weber Federico, Lighting Design
Alfonso Cid, Singer
José Luis Negrete and Antonio Muñoz, Flamenco Guitarists
David Castellano, Percussion/Singer
Pablo Zinger, Pianist

Press and Public Relations, Susan Chicoine
Springer/Chicoine Public Relations

Review by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 9, 2003

Pilar Rioja from Torreón, Mexico, was born to parents from Rioja, Spain, where she learned from Regla Ortega, Samperio, and El Estampio to combine traditional Spanish dance with ballet and modern dance. She also studied classic bolero style with Angel Pericet. She is considered a bailerina, which indicates that she has studied several forms of dance. Ms. Rioja keeps Spanish dance alive in her academy in Mexico City and also frequently teaches and performs in Moscow. Gilberto Zalvídar, Executive Producer of Repertorio Español, met Ms. Rioja 29 years ago, when she performed at Carnegie Recital Hall. He invited her to Repertorio Español for a stage performance, and she has appeared there for an annual season ever since. (Repertorio Español Notes).

Pilar Rioja
Photo Credit: Springer/Chicoine Public Relations

Ms. Rioja, whose dance performances I have attended for many years, is in excellent form and totally focused on the rhythms of the live pianist, the recorded music, the singers, and the percussionist. Whether she dances with castanets in a long, ruffled skirt, or she exotically dances in a flowing robe-like dress, she takes tiny, staccato steps, in her strapped Flamenco shoes and very toned legs. Ms. Rioja danced Stylized Spanish dances to the music of Monpou and Surinach, Classic Spanish dances to music by Halfter, Traditional Flamenco dances to Gypsy singing by Alfonso Cid and David Castellano, Stylized Flamenco dances to the play Yerma, by Federico García Lorca, and dances to Cuban and Afro-Cuban rhythms, like Guajiras and Colombianas. Her dancing was more academic and precise than the Flamenco that has been reviewed at Xunta, more serious than the Flamenco at Fazil's, and solo, as compared to the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Flamenco performance. Yet, the world of Flamenco in New York is small, and David Castellano, the singer/percussionist, has also been photographed at Xunta with Gisele Revollar.

Informative announcements between dances allowed the audience to become more aware of each dance form. Sometimes, the musicians and singers performed alone, to allow Ms. Rioja to change costume. Their Gypsy wailing and rhythmic accents, as well as the signature clapping and stamping, and the percussive slapping on the side of the cahones, the wooden box-like drum, were all extremely entertaining and exciting. Ms. Rioja's Zapateado (footwork) and Taconeo (heelwork) were seasoned, characteristic, and dynamic, as she changed mood from coy and beguiling to angry and passionate, with the position of her muscular torso and legs and her ever-changing facial expressions. Her castanets were wild, tiny clicking sounds that beat as rapidly as a hummingbird's wings.

One serious piece was extremely evocative of Martha Graham Dance Company's Lamentation. In fact, Ms. Rioja wore a long, soft, purple dress, severe hair, and sat in a chair, with expressive hands and arms. Yet, this woman played castanets as she proceeded to dance in a sweeping motion, and she eventually was supported with the rhythms of the palmeras (clapping) and the voices of singers and the rich music of the guitar. Ms. Rioja uses her skirt as a symbol of aggression and angst and of flirtatious seduction. At one point she even lifted her long skirt into the air, like the woman in white in Graham's Maple Leaf Rag. Her tightly contracted torso, her smile, her gaze, and her swiveling hips and thighs were all in coordination with the accompaniment of music and percussion, piano, voice, or record.

On a personal note, I prefer more casual Flamenco, such as is found at Xunta, with food and wine, or the large group Flamenco dances at Lincoln Center. Flamenco evokes a Gypsy mood, and one is likely to want to feel the party, the social aspect of the experience. Listening to and watching Spanish dance and Flamenco can be a somatic and sensual awakening. Yet, Pilar Rioja is one of a kind, a true professional and a classic performer, one who could never share a tiny stage with a noisy group, or dance on a far away stage outdoors. She is meant to be seen and heard up close, in an intimate setting, without the frills of a club or restaurant. Therefore, this event, an annual Season at Repertorio Español, is perfect for Ms. Rioja and is perfect for her loyal fans, who have returned for 29 years to experience her Danzas and Rumbas.

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