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Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater

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Since flamenco is historically a cultural fusion, it's weird to debate what its "pure" or "authentic" manifestations might be. Apparently the only thing people can agree on is that it should be highly seasoned: the artists experienced, the performances spicy. Chicago's Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater opens the dance-focused portion of the Flamenco 2006 festival with a program featuring only flamenco (the first time the 30-year-old company hasn't also offered Spanish classical and folkloric forms). Artistic director Dame Libby Komaiko says she's aiming for a glimpse of flamenco past, present, and future, represented by her own zapateado, a bulerias, a solea por bulerias, and a Cuban-influenced guajiris, among other dances. Ensemble Espanol is also presenting a group from Madrid, Noche Flamenca, two weeks from now. Komaiko says when she saw its principal dancer--Soledad Barrio, who won a Bessie in 2001--she knew immediately that she wanted to bring the troupe to Chicago. Definitely seasoned, definitely spicy on video, Barrio is described by another company member as "a temperamental dancer. Whatever she feels, she does." Barrio's husband, Noche Flamenca artistic director Martin Santangelo, says the most beautiful thing about flamenco is "witnessing the essence of the person" performing it. And Barrio is something to see. Sat 1/28, 8 PM, Northeastern Illinois University, auditorium, 5500 N. Saint Louis, 773-442-4636, $25. See www.cervantes1.org for complete information on the many groups performing over the monthlong festival.

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