Compañía Nacional de Danza

"Bach: Multiplicity: Forms of Silence and Emptiness"
Choreography: Nacho Duato

Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier de la Place des Arts,
Montréal,
Québec

November 29, 2002
By Lena Marie Stuart


Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal has presented some brilliant companies this year and the Compañía Nacional de Danza is no exception. There is no doubt that the thirty dancers of this Spanish company are remarkably talented but I fear that Nacho Duato, the company’s Artistic Director—as well as choreographer, dancer and costume designer for this work—may be trying to wear a few too many hats.

In spite of the fact that Duato is a celebrated dancer, I questioned his artistic choice in putting himself on stage in Bach: Multiplicity: Forms of Silence and Emptiness. The symbolic representation of himself collaborating with Bach (Thomas Klein) in the prelude seems Disney-esque. Bach in his powdered wig and frock coat complete with ruffled blouse, is a distraction I could live without. Seeing him cavort on stage with the company’s dancers clad in tight black tank tops and tiny black briefs is nothing short of bizarre. The idea of an 18th century man dancing modern movement is very romantic but skews history a little too much for my taste. Bach was a devout man who spent most of his life as an organist for the church. Regardless of whether Duato “asks his permission to use his music,” the concept seems implausible. Supposing that Bach did get over the shock of the dancer’s apparel and their exposed limbs flying about, one would have thought that he could have at least made himself useful and counted aloud for the dancers as he directed them like an orchestra because the timing was terribly disjointed in the first group section.

Bach “playing” one of the women (Cristina Hortigüela) as if she is a cello did not particularly impress me either. The choreography is inventive but I felt uneasy seeing the dancer solidified within the work as a simple prop, a metaphoric representation of the music and nothing more. Many people in the audience seemed amused though. Perhaps if the tables had turned on Bach and the woman had played him like a Suzuki Method lesson I would have liked this section better. The petite and exceedingly fluid Hortigüela certainly seemed like she was up to the task.

The choreographic timing for the rest of the vignettes that make up the first half of the evening is very staccato. Duato emphasizes the beat first and foremost; one has to admire him for his stick-to-it-ness. This literal translation of the music borders on the absurd at times, the dancers spend a great deal of time waving their arms as if plunking along to Bach on the piano and at one point there is a sword fight with violin bows. Even though Duato refuses to emphasize the melody and insists on sharply accented movements, there are transitional moments that are exceptionally smooth and effortless in their execution.

Thankfully he relents in the timing department for second half of the work, which is comprised of yet another set of thirteen vignettes. It’s as if the floodgates are opened and the performers seem to respond by dancing unrestrainedly to the melody with lavish amounts of drive and enthusiasm. The powerful closing duets that are danced as Bach lays dying are beautifully underscored by a stream of dancers slowly pacing along the ramps high behind them. But when Duato reappears to dance with Bach to conclude the work, it not only breaks the momentum created by the ensemble, it relegates the dancers back to the position of props and the choreographer and the composer to the forefront in terms of importance within the scope of the production.

Technically, the production has many strengths. The costumes that Duato designed in collaboration with Ismael Aznar are really wonderful. Although they are mostly black and spare, they have brilliant little details, like a ruffle on one sleeve, skeletons of halved pannier skirts, and bright chartreuse linings on a long skirts split up the middle. They move well with the dancers and they make them look good. They’re the kind of costume every dancer silently prays for.

The sharp modernity that Duato applies to his choreography in this work is echoed in the set design of Jaffar Al Chalabi. The three levels of aluminum scaffolding are connected by ramps that zig-zag behind them and a dark, stiff material is at times stretched horizontally across each one and alternately crumpled aside in long ruffles. Brad Fields has the daunting challenge of lighting primarily black costumes against a dark background on black marly. He pulls it off though by using a lot of blue and succeeds in preventing the dancers from completely fading into one another.

Not every work has to be a serious epic masterpiece in my books but the canon of Bach, as well as the man himself, is a weighty subject. There is a lot of very solid choreography in Bach: Multiplicity so it’s unfortunate that it’s often lost in a sea of kitschy gestures. Johan Sebastian Bach, rest in peace.

 

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Edited by Malcolm.


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