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Compañia Nacional de Danza

'White Darkness,' 'Castrati,' and 'Rassemblement'

by Becca Hirschman

February 20, 2008 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco

San Francisco houses numerous dance companies, but we don't have anything quite like Compañía Nacional de Danza. Led by artistic director and choreographer Nacho Duato, the company's amazingly talented dancers hail from all over the world and what they brought to the Yerba Buena stage last night was something I've never experienced. The company, over two hours, explored current and historical issues through powerful contemporary dance and received a well-deserved standing ovation from a full house.

Duato has a style all of his own, stressing the strong use of canon, repetition, rhythm, and justifiable unison. His movement leans towards curves and sweeping limbs with well-placed hops, and themes range from literal to more abstract. Here on the local stage, we were treated to three of his more focused issues: castration, slavery, and drugs, all in some way or another delving into who we are as individuals and in short, how we define ourselves and identify with those around us.

“White Darkness,” an introspective look at drug use and abuse, brought the crowd to its feet. With sand dropping from above and brushing to and fro, Ana María López, Amaury Lebrun, Soojee Watman, Francisco Lorenzo, África Guzmán, Randy Castillo, Inês Pereira, and Fabrice Edelmann, dressed in reddish black, danced in pairs. They resembled the body and how it responds to drugs: quick and flighty at the onset and lethargic at the end. As the lead couple, Yolanda Martín and Dimo Kirilov swept from one end of the stage, leaping and embracing until she makes a potentially deadly decision. All the while Jaffar Chalabi's honeycomb-like structure grew and stretched upwards in the background, and the dancers, the set and falling dust continued to morph like a quick-spinning kaleidoscope against Karl Jenkins' “Adeimus Variations” and “String Quartet No. 2.” Joop Caboort's lighting design came to fruition at the finale, leaving many to gasp at the beauty of sand, body, and shadow.

“Castrati” opened with eight male dancers (including Dimi Kirilov, Isaac Montllor, Clyde Archer, Joel Toledo, Fabrice Edelmann, Francisco Lorenzo, Amaury Lebrun, and Héctor Torres) dressed in long sleeveless black capes and nude cropped pants moving through Karl Jenkins' “Palladio.” Mental images of De Beers commercials quickly flashed in my mind, but retreated. These men were as durable as diamonds, but they caressed the stage with liquid strength and agility, lifting each other in arabesque-like positions and pushing their hands up and out as if they were offering themselves to the audience and something higher. Stein Flujt, as the latest to lose his manliness, showed compassion and thoughtfulness; he moved softly yet with a deep determination. Duato's choreography showed these men as that: men. Even when castrated, they had their brawn, and they were a force to be reckoned with.

With sweeping backdrops by Walter Nobbe, Duato's softer, more introspective “Rassemblement” explores slavery and resistance through Toto Bissainthe's Haitian music and song, but it didn't have the same force that the other two did. Slavery is a touchy subject, and to have mainly white dancers performing it is, well, ironic and hard to swallow. However these dancers' portrayal of slaves, their feelings of resistance and their attempts to reject the ways of their captors, spinning what is given to them into something of their very own, held its own unique power unto itself. The final product, performed by Ana María López, Kayoko Everhart, Yolanda Martín, África Guzmán, Francisco Lorenzo, Mathieu Rouvière, Joel Toledo, and Isaac Montllor (with cameos by Gentian Doda and Fabrice Edelmann), weaved together a dramatic display of heart and fortitude.

Nacho Duato choreographs in big, bold gestures and it's not something that can be ignored. His fervent success has been heard around the globe, and I hope it echoes here for many years to come.

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