With the solo Solera, Irene Rodríguez demonstrated great temperament and technical expertise. Photo: OnCuba 

Founded just four years ago, the Irene Rodríguez Dance Company has succeeded in positioning itself among the best of the Spanish genre in Cuba. Proof of this is the fact that the diva Alicia Alonso, president of the International Ballet Festival that bears her name, has invited the company to participate in the last three editions.

The emerging company earned its place at the 2012 edition, as Irene Rodríguez had that year won the Ibero-American Choreography Competition with El crimen fue en Granada, inspired by the poem of the same name by Antonio Machado, dedicated to Federico García Lorca.

Alonso herself, presiding the competition judging panel, remarked then that the choreographer “brought together, in an original fashion, flamenco, Spanish and contemporary dance with a performance of clockwork precision.”

Two years later, the company was again invited to participate in the Festival, with the premiere of Aldabal, also choreographed by its director. The piece is a siguiriya, one of the styles of flamenco, along with the soleá and the bulería. While a flamenco theme, it was inspired by electro acoustics, lending a contemporary twist.

At this year’s 25th edition of the Alicia Alonso International Ballet Festival, the company returned with three pieces from its interesting repertoire, all choreographed by Rodríguez herself and each welcomed with resounding ovations from audiences.

With Solera, a solo by Irene Rodríguez accompanied on stage by the company’s own music ensemble, the dancer left the public breathless thanks to both the rhythmic intensity and the virtuosity of her heels; a piece where not a single movement is detached from emotion.

The company also performed Secreto, a zapateado (rhythmic feet stomping) with the whole company, and El último gaitero de La Habana, with an innovative style that includes a range of Spanish folk dances. This choreography saw thirty musicians including bag-pipers, guitarists, batá drummers and other percussionists, cello, double bass, and harp players, take to the stage, together with the Solfa choir of the Schola Cantorum Coralina, and a tambourine trio from the Rosalía de Castro school.

El último gaitero de La Habana sees the Irene Rodríguez Dance Company display its skill with different folk dances and styles. Photo: Compañía Irene Rodríguez

Before the performances, during the company’s rehearsals at the National School of Ballet headquarters on Havana’s Prado Avenue, Irene Rodríguez paused for an exchange with our publication.

“First of all it is a great honor as a Spanish dance company to be invited to the Ballet Festival. I remind you that our Alicia Alonso, ever since the first Festival, has made sure that it is not only ballet. She has invited figures and companies such as Vargas Jiménez in the 1970s, María Pagés, and other great figures of Spanish dance.”

Some details on the aesthetic concept of your company. Are we talking about fusion?

The fusion style scares me a lot, one must be careful when approaching it, I do not like to use it, but anything that adds and enriches is welcome. I don’t think we can remain in a pure style, in quotation marks, as it wasn’t even (pure) in the beginning. We feed on modern, contemporary dance with all the dance vocabulary that adds to our expression. We are always renovating within Spanish dance but without losing the essence, which makes us easy to identify as a Spanish dance company. Although we are adding new techniques and trends, you always see the essence. We are a company attempting to expand with other expressions, but still in the Spanish mould.

Just flamenco?

Personally, flamenco fascinates me, it is a style that captivates internationally given its passion, but it is only one of the four styles within Spanish dance, there is the Spanish classic, an expression that one must have, the Bolero school, which we can also perform, we do a daily workout to achieve this, as only then can we face musical pieces by Falla, Albeniz, Granado, there are folk dances, of which there are thousands, and also the stylization, taking these dances to the stage.

There are many Spanish dance companies in Cuba now…

The fact that there are many groups is very positive and demonstrates the passion we Cubans feel for this genre, for these roots. We continue to have the need, in our own way, with our own criteria and vision of styles, to take Spanish dances to the stage.

It’s true, there are (groups) all across the island. It is very positive for the genre and theatres are full with Spanish dance companies, each with their own vision, which is respected, that’s why different tastes exist, the main thing is that we have something in common and that’s demonstrated in the Huella de España Festival, many of us cultivate the genre.

Last May the company performed in the Joyce Theater, New York, and received positive reviews in The New York Times. Any other tours planned?

We took Aldabal to New York and yes, it was very well received. We have other performances in the United States planned for next year, where we have opened up a huge market; we have already been to New Mexico, California and Seattle, as well as New York.

The Company has not yet faced Spain, but its director was invited to none other than the Festival of Granada, the birthplace of flamenco. “First they looked at me puzzled, there the dancers soak up the genre from birth, but later they accepted me.”

The stage presence of Irene Rodríguez is powerful, like flamenco, above all in temperament, and demonstrating an excellent relationship between the technical and the artistic. With her company she has managed to stand out amid other guest performers of this 25th edition of the International Ballet Festival, something which undoubtedly represents a challenge, as each arrives armed with his or her best pas de deux, works and repertoire.