Pilar Rioja: Queen of Flamenco

Read more

Elegant, charming and like good wine, aged to perfection – this Rioja not only leaves you wanting more, she simultaneously ignites your soul. Flamenco dancer Pilar Rioja, is now in her 70’s, and is still as young-looking, fit, and mesmerizing as ever. She was currently performing her 32nd season at El Repertorio Español until September 11th, and this was also the beginning of her first farewell tour to New York.

From Torreón, Mexico, and born to parents from Spain, Pilar started to dance soon after she learned how to walk. It was in Spain where she combined modern, ballet, and classical dance with traditional Spanish dance, such as flamenco. One can see these amalgamations and feel the strength of her diversity while experiencing one of her performances.

On Saturday, August 27th she gave a stellar performance. Her first dance was a guajira of Cuban origin, interpreted in a flamenco style, by using melodic movements of a fan (abaniqueo). This act was the first glance she gave the audience of her charm as her smile peeked through from behind the big alabaster fan.

She looked angelic in her white ruffled dress, but her erect torso and intricate footwork leaves you wondering what she’s up to next. All of her dances were accompanied by her three guitarists, José Luis Negrete, Antonio Muñoz, and Arturo Martínez, and two singers, Alfonso Cid and David Castellano, who added the heart-wrenching flamenco cry (jaleo) to the performance.

The farruca was her next dance. This time, Pilar came out in an outfit of black fitted matador pants and a button down white shirt, as this type of dance is originally supposed to be for men. The dance contained a lot of strong footwork (zapateado) and she also added some contrasting feminine arm movements which was evidence of her creativity she adds to Spanish dance.

The dance of Doña Rosita la Soltera, based on a story by Federico García Lorca of a woman who has been left a spinster because she has become too old to marry, was mood altering. Somehow she mixed the emotions of happiness, fear, sadness and anger with the use of a white veil, precise facial expressions and a slow haunting rhythm aided by the sound of a tapping cane (palo seco). Her finale was just as fiery and spectacular as her red ruffled-train dress which accentuated her still youthful figure. It was here that she combined bulerías (jovial), and soleares (sad) as well as other bits of improvisation. During this dance, her personality exploded. She was elegant yet sensuous, reserved yet uninhibited and undeniably festive. Her stirring hip movements towards the end both surprised and awed the audience.

Seeing her at El Repertorio Español was worth every penny, because the intimate theater allows you to feel the vigor emanating from her, and almost feel what she is feeling. The audience could not help but applaud spontaneously and cheer loudly at her powerful movements throughout the show. Pilar has performed all over Latin America, and Europe, and is respected all over the world as one of the greatest teachers of Spanish dance. She currently teaches at her own academy in Mexico City.