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Compañia Nacional de Danza

by Juliet Neidish

October 18, 2007 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

New York audiences have had limited opportunities to see the work of Nacho Duato and his Compania Nacional de Danza, of Spain.  Duato’s inclusion in the 25th Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music this fall afforded us the chance to see his large company perform three of his choreographies.  This event filled the BAM Opera House on the evening that I attended (October 18, 2007).  It would be hard not to appreciate or even be amazed at the level of skill and plasticity that each and every one of Duato’s dancers has achieved.  I can say without exaggeration that he has taken physical prowess in dance to a new level.  His international troupe of dancers displayed the confidence of flawless technique, one that was tested every second on this program. A Duato trademark is his ability to generate movement that seems to visualize the music.  It seemed that there was at least one movement for every single note of the musical accompaniment, and often, even more.  Consequently, speed was a requirement.  The operative words for the entire evening could easily be: controlled frenzy.  However, the effect of so much movement being relentlessly delivered at so fast a pace detracted from the overall feeling that these pieces were aiming for.         

All three pieces on the program tried either to suggest or to tell a story.  “Por Vos Muero” (1996), set to the words of a poem by Garcilaso de la Vega and danced to fifteenth- and sixteenth- century Spanish court dance music, was meant to convey the role dance played in the period’s social and courtship rituals.  Duato used the striking image of a stage filled with dancers moving in skin-colored unitards as a contrast to those eventually entering in colorful costumes suggestive of the period.  Each section of the piece, corresponding to a stanza from the poem, was marked by varying prop or costume elements, such as masks and capes, or gestures such as clapping or the miming of flirtation.  But the speed at which all of these elements took place never allowed for reflection or insight into the period.  Nor did it allow the dancers to cultivate and add their own personal color to the work.  The piece was void of the theatrical resonance that would have enabled it to communicate its story.     

“Castrati” (2002), set primarily to the choral music of Vivaldi, suffered from the same problem.  Trying to convey the harrowing experience of a youth ambushed by an entourage of men draped in heavy black capes ¾ a psychologically fraught commentary on the historical tradition of castrati in seventeenth-century Italian opera ¾ Duato swapped non-stop movement and power-packed speed for theatrical weight and timing, which left the piece, especially the pelvic contractions and revelation of blood- stained hands, looking particularly naïve.

In “White Darkness” (2001), a story of death due to drug addiction, Duato comes closest to conveying his story with some emotional evocation.  Although the choreography here continued to remain at an ever- pulsing and propulsive speed, a slight mellowing that occurred around the featured pas de deux between brother and sister, along with the sister’s finely-honed dramatic skills (no clear cast list identifies the dancers by role), enabled the audience to be drawn into the couples’ troubled relationship.  Unlike “Por Vos Muero”, where props were brought on and taken away before they could serve their presumed theatrical purpose, the use of white powder was effective. As an allusion to drugs, it was developed just enough, particularly in the final moments of the piece as it rained down on the young girl, leaving us with a glimmer of painful beauty.    

I have seen other works of Duato’s that I found much more cohesive than those on this BAM program.  His evening- length, “Bach: Multiplicity”, was captivating and stays clearly in my memory.  It’s fast-paced, ingenious vocabulary that seemed to speak the music, was satisfying in and of itself, because the piece was intended solely as a panorama of beautifully crafted dance emanating in perfect synchrony with its gorgeous musical selections.  No story was told.  Another piece that worked for me was Duato’s, “Remanso”, set for three male dancers from American Ballet Theater.  This short piece was memorable because while it didn’t tell a story, its pacing allowed the individual dancers to show their sensational technical skills along with their particular personalities.  The delightful piece commented on human interaction, collaboration and communication.

In retrospect, it seems that Duato’s issue in this recent concert is that he is envisioning dance that can tell a story, without yet having found the approach or language within which to make that happen. The choice to literally match musical tempi to steps keeps choreography at the primary level of dancing rather than narrative. Although the dancing is beautiful it doesn’t suggest anything more than itself. This is not a unique problem but the plight of many choreographers.   The notion that dance, by definition, is an international language that communicates intrinsically is often a pitfall for choreographic endeavors.  Dance doesn’t tell stories on stage unless it is crafted to do so theatrically.   Duato has great inventiveness and flair for generating movement. If he wishes to add narrative to what has taken him this far, he should explore going beyond movement in the hopes to make it theatrically serve the story.    

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