Compania Irene Rodriguez And Abby Z And The New Utility Perform At Jacob's Pillow

In a highly-anticipated return to Jacob's Pillow, Compañía Irene Rodríguez makes their Ted Shawn Theatre debut, June 26-30, with a diverse and exhilarating program that features one U.S. premiere, two world premieres, and audience favorites. A prominent voice in the emerging contemporary Cuban dance scene, Compañía Irene Rodríguez unites traditional flamenco and Spanish dances and vibrant Afro-Cuban rhythms with ballet and contemporary techniques.

The presentation of Compañía Irene Rodríguez coincides with a Professional Advancement Program of Flamenco & Spanish Dance at The School at Jacob's Pillow, June 24-July 7, which Rodríguez directs. For two weeks, renowned faculty and emerging artists in the international flamenco community convene for an in-depth intensive surrounding the traditions and new directions of these two intertwined genres, flamenco and Spanish dance.

"In 2017, Compañía Irene Rodríguez's performances in the Doris Duke Theatre were sold-out before opening night. They are truly back by popular demand this year, making their Ted Shawn Theatre debut while Irene leads a flamenco and Spanish dance program that will enable dancers from around the world to have access to her artistry," says Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge.

Compañía Irene Rodríguez's Festival performance encompasses a series of short works that bring together the best of the company's unique style. This includes Pillow-commissioned Pena Negra based on poetry by Federico García Lorca, featuring Rodríguez performing in a striking, textured black dress co-designed by Jesús Villalonga and Rodríguez herself, which acts as the choreographic centerpiece of the work. This is followed by the U.S. premiere of Encierro, inspired by the Encierros de Navarra (an event where 12 bulls are transported through the streets of the city), praised as "one of the most memorable feats of flamenco dancing in Cuba" (Arte por Excelencias Magazine).

Compañía Irene Rodríguez brings two Pillow-commissioned world premieres: La Desesperación, inspired by Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream, performed by the entire company and set to music by Reynier Llorente and David Acosta; and A Contra Tiempo, a powerful showcase of the company's male dancers. Additional highlights include the International Choreography Contest Award-winning El Mito; and Homanje, a tribute to legendary flamenco choreographer and dancer José Greco, known for popularizing Spanish dance on the stage and screen. The program ends with Amaranto, lauded for "displaying an extraordinary level of physical stamina" (Dance Enthusiast).

The dancers in Compañía Irene Rodríguez have extensive technical backgrounds in traditional Spanish dances. Five seasoned flamenco musicians accompany them with arrangements for saxophone, percussion, bass, and guitar. As one cohesive ensemble, the dancers and musicians present a performance that blurs the lines between a visual and aural experience. The New Yorker comments, "Flamenco rhythms played on Afro-Cuban instruments suggest a crossover that's both historical and novel: evidence that a specifically Cuban form of flamenco might exist."

Director, Prima Ballerina, and Choreographer, Irene Rodríguez is the leading figure of Spanish dance in Cuba. A member of the International Dance Council (UNESCO), she earned a Bachelor of Theater Arts Degree (Acting) from the National University of Arts (Instituto Superior de Arte, Havana, Cuba), receiving the "Diploma de Oro" in theater arts, an honor bestowed for her numerous roles as an actor. She also received a Master's Degree in Theoretical Studies of Dance from the same university.

Born in Havana, she graduated in 1999 as a professional performer of Spanish dances. After graduating, she immediately joined the Ballet Español de Cuba, where she became Prima ballerina in 2007, as well as the Choreographer and Specialized Professor and Regisseur of First Level. For several years, she has worked as a Professor of the Cuban National Ballet School and a choreography consultant of the Cuban National Ballet, specifically for Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso's Spanish works. On several occasions, she has performed as a guest dancer with the Cuban National Ballet. She has performed as Prima Ballerina in the most prestigious theaters of Barcelona, Granada, Andorra, Colombia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and Mexico, where she has shared the stage with world-renowned artists.

In January 2012, she founded her own company, Compañía Irene Rodríguez, receiving rave reviews since the Company's debut. As a dance professor, she plays a role in training many of the professional Spanish dancers in Cuba. She has given master classes and conferences both nationally and internationally, and has created several works for distinguished companies. In 2014, she created her own dance school, the Irene Rodríguez Spanish Dance Academy.

Rodríguez has received numerous awards, including the First Prize in the VIII "Alicia Alonso Ibero-American Choreography Competition" (CIC' 2012); an award from the Author's Foundation of the Spanish General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE) for her work El crimen fue en Granada; the Choreography Award in 2006 from the Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba for best female artistic interpretation 2006-2007; the Ramiro Guerra award for the best interpretation in 2011; the Excellence Choreography Award in 2016 for the best choreography work at the International Ballet Schools Competition; the Ibero-American Medal given for the Honoris Causa Foundation from the Guadalajara's University in Mexico and the Audience and UNEAC Award in the North Atlantic Choreography Contest "VLADIMIR MALAKHOV". Among many accolades, Rodríguez was recently awarded the Order Isabel la Católica, the highest recognition given from Spain's King.

In the U.S., she has performed at the Montalvo Art Center, MOLAA, the Moore Theater, The Joyce Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C, among others. She is featured in the PBS documentary "Weekend in Havana." Since 2012, by special request of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta Alicia Alonso, she holds the post of Artistic Director of the International Festival "La Huella de España," a very important annual event in Cuba.

Abby Z and the New Utility makes their Jacob's Pillow debut with abandoned playground at the Doris Duke Theatre, June 26-30. The evening-length, adrenaline-inducing sequence of hyper physicality and extreme virtuosity is described by The New York Times as "where dance meets sport." 2017 Juried Bessie Award-winner Abby Zbikowski's unique movement vocabulary brings together hip-hop, West African, and postmodern dance styles.

"Abby Zbikowski is a new, highly acclaimed voice in the dance world. Her work abandoned playground immerses the audience in the sometimes beautiful and sometimes brutal dances that manifest themselves amongst players in team sports. The piece starts and it just doesn't stop-you can't believe the ferocity of these dancers!" says Jacob's Pillow Director Pamela Tatge.

In abandoned playground, nine dancers are pushed to the brink of their capabilities and their endurance is tested as they rip and run throughout the theater, performing complex sequences of full-bodied dance. Zbikowski highlights each dancer's unique strengths, forging an intense ensemble connection through vocalizations and channeling of communal energy. Performing such extreme and virtuosic movement at a relentless pace, the dancers invigorate and push each other to overcome their physical and mental exhaustion.

Following the work's critical acclaim, Zbikowski received the 2017 Juried Bessie Award for her "unique and utterly authentic movement vocabulary in complex and demanding structures to create works of great energy, intensity, surprise, and danger." Zbikowski generates her bold, high-intensity, precisely rhythmic choreography from her background in hip-hop, tap, West African, and postmodern dance styles, deeply-rooted punk aesthetic, and close collaboration with her dancers who bring their own distinct bodies, psychologies, and training histories to the work.

Abby Zbikowski formed the New Utility in 2012 with core company members Fiona Lundie and Jennifer Meckley to explore the human body's potential in choreography that pushes beyond its perceived limits. Utilizing an authentic movement lexicon that crosses multiple cultural value systems, the company seeks transformation through reclaiming embodied rigor and welcoming failure. "Our work is driven by the obsessive practice that accompanies the mastery of complex physical tasks, and structurally builds upon the psyche-emotional growth that evolves as a byproduct of practice," says Zbikowski.

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