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Compańia Nacional de Danza

'Gilded Goldbergs,' 'Gnawa,' and 'Por Vos Muero'

by Annie Berger

February 23, 2008 -- Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, San Francisco

Nacho Duato's distinctive European dance company, Compañia Nacional de Danza, made its San Francisco debut February 20 th through the 24 th at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The company's athleticism, energy, and outstanding technique sparked an enthusiastic response from much of the sold out house. Saturday night's Program B showcased Duato's choreographic range from contemporary ballet to West African inspired modernism. The juxtaposition of “Gnawa” and “Por Vos Muero” presented a provocative perspective on dance. “Gnawa's” tribal themes and visceral texture demonstrated the ethological aspects of dance. The historically inspired and courtly nature of “Por Vos Muero” played on the sophistication and entertainment of social dance. Each aesthetic was reflected in the music which ranged from Middle Eastern rhythms to 16 th century Spanish classics.

The program opened with the U.S. premiere of “Gilded Goldbergs,” which explored the complex relationships of artist, his art, and his audience. These partnerships, at times expressing frustration and alienation yet also consuming passion, were exemplified by the energetic and physical dancing of Ana Tereza Gonzaga and Isaac Montllor. Their twisting, stretching, and malleable pas de deuxs were frequently performed under a grand piano hanging upside down from the ceiling which conveyed almost as much danger and intensity as Gonzaga's velvet red dress.

The minimal lighting and ensemble of seated dancers dressed in casual black dance wear, representing spectators, added to the theater atmosphere of the piece. Slowly, two by two the dancers emerged downstage transforming from observers to performers. What ensued was a rotation of gymnastic pas de deux and pas de trois that incorporated nimble lifts and broken lines of angled elbows and knees. The dancers transferred their weight and balance across the stage using movements influenced by popular and ballroom dance. The piece culminated with Gonzaga, visibly tormented by a handful of piano scores falling from above, peering at Montllor's crumpled body on the floor of the stage, which provoked a chuckle from the audience.

“Gnawa” began with the curtain still drawn as sounds of water and wildlife weaved through classical guitar and Eastern style drums and flutes. As the curtain rose an orange glow illuminated seven couples facing one another on a bare stage. The women were dressed in simple long flowing black tank dresses while the men were shirtless and donning white matador-style pants. As the dancers began to move to the energetic music by Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph, Ana Maria Lopez emerged in a nude unitard. Her ease of movement and fresh, youthful steps coupled with the ritualistic formations of the ensemble represented humankind's interaction with the natural environment amidst the cradle of civilization. A fluid pas de deux peppered with difficult lifts showcased Lopez's strength and solid technique. The ensemble's flexed palms, rolling chests, and lively tribal dancing were accented with long extensions during open lifts that flaunted the African and Flamenco influenced choreography. A captivating solo by Clyde Archer epitomized the nature and rhythm of the piece which closed with the dancers illuminating the stage with candlelight. The audience went wild with praise.

“Por Vos Muero” opened with the company posed in front of a dark earth-toned wall in nude biketards symbolizing a naked or bare society. As the dancers slowly flowed off stage they reemerged as courtly figures dressed in vibrant jewel-toned silk and velvet period costumes by Nacho Duato and Ismael Aznar. Spoken word poetry by 16 th century Spanish poet, Garcilaso de la Vega and popular Spanish music of the 15 th and 16 th centuries set the historic tone of the piece. The dancers blended contemporary lifts and extensions with courtly formations and period social dancing. After a comedic pas de trois of jesters replete with clapping, eight women waltzed with masks signifying a masquerade ball. Yet these masks were realistically human, which, when placed over the dancers' faces, painted an eerie picture of a uniform royal veneer. The piece concluded with the remaining ensemble re-entering the stage dressed as nudes, creating a stark contrast with the royalty, differentiating the interior and exterior self and identifying social hierarchies.

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