Sunday, October 24, 2010

78 Year Old Flamenco Dancer

Photo: Denise.R.Cooney

Pilar Rioja in an interview with Rafael Martínez Alequín
Pilar Rioja is known worldwide as the Queen of Spanish Dance. She was born in Torreón, México to Spanish parents who hailed from the Rioja region of Spain. From the time she could walk, her parents encouraged Pilar to dance, and supported her pursuit of a career in the arts. Ms. Rioja studied many forms of dance, but it was in Spain where she combined her modern, ballet and classical dance training with traditional Spanish dance forms. She has studied with Oscar Tarriba in Mexico, and in Spain with Regla Ortega, Samperio and El Estampío. She studied the classical bolero style with Angel Pericet.

Ms. Rioja considers her teacher, Manolo Vargas, to be one of her greatest influences. With her extensive knowledge and experience, Pilar has become one of the world's great teachers of Spanish Dance. For many years, she had an academy in Mexico City where she worked hard to keep Spanish Dance alive. Pilar has taught in such far away countries as Armenia, and to the dancers of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. She is such a beloved figure in Moscow, that a statue of the Queen of Spanish Dance by David Narodnisky was erected in a town square.

Other statues of Pilar have been erected in the cities of Torreón (by Mexican sculptor, Joaquín Arias) and Morelia (by José Luis Padilla). Pilar has been an inspiration for many artists' work including: a sculpted bust by Arnold Taylor, drawings and paintings by Hector Javier, paintings by Spanish artist Antonio Peyri, a collection of songs and poetry by Luis Ríus, poetry by Juan Duch and Alfonso Simone and recently an audiovisual production by Neil Goldberg in New York.

Pilar has performed in the United States, México, Latin America, Spain, Austria, Bulgaria and throughout the former Soviet Union. In 1996, she performed in England with the BBC Proms Orchestra. 1997 marked Pilar Rioja's 25th Anniversary season with Repertorio Español. She began this landmark year with an invitation to perform with the Brooklyn Philharmonic in March of 1997. She then began her season at Repertorio Español followed by special guest performances with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra in Portland, and the San Antonio Symphony in Texas. In July of 1997 she participated in the prestigious Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts (her second invitation to participate).

Pilar first came to the attention of Gilberto Zaldívar, Founding President and Producer Emeritus of Repertorio Español, when he went to see her perform at Carnegie Recital Hall. "When I first saw her, I knew she was a talented and magical performer; her talent shined on that stage, so I invited her to come see our theater. It was an instant love affair, and she has had a season with us ever since."
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