by Raewyn Whyte
This article was commissioned by Friends of the New Zealand International Festival Newsletter, November 1999 to preview the upcoming season of La Compañía Nacional de Danza /National Dance Company of Spain.
La Compañía Nacional de Danza/National Dance Company of Spain is widely respected as one of Europe’s most talented contemporary ballet companies. With thirty-five technically and artistically strong dancers drawn from throughout the world, it makes regular appearances at international festivals in Europe and the United States.
The company is best known for works developed by artistic director Nacho Duato since 1990 when he took on the company at the request of the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Charged with strengthening the company’s Spanish character and their artistic excellence, Duato has created a series of works in which Spanish themes are foregrounded. In Concierto Madrigal, Mediterrania Por vos Muero, and Remansos, he has taken his inspiration from Spanish culture and folklore, music and poetry, landscapes and locales. Working with longtime collaborators, Basque composer Alberto Iglesias and lighting designer Nicolás Fischtel, Duato has created ballets such as Cautiva, Tabulae and Cero sobre Cero to reflect the Spanish identity of the company and link to issues of contemporary relevance to Spanish audiences.
The repertoire of La Compañía also includes established and newly commissioned works by respected European choreographers such as William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek, Glen Tetley and Ohad Naharin. These diverse works provide a wide range of technical demands, choreographic approaches, and performance styles which both contribute new ideas about dance and provide constantly changing challenges that invigorate the company’s dancing. The experience of working with such diverse choreographic styles and approaches also provides valuable input for those company members who take the opportunity to develop their own choreography through an annual workshop series provided for this purpose.
Born in Valencia, Spain in 1957, Nacho Duato began his professional training at London’s Rambert School before going on to extend his studies in Brussels at Bejart’s Mudra and at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre in New York. He began his performance career with the Cullberg Ballet in Sweden, then in 1980 joined Nederlands Dans Theatre, where, after an extensive career as a soloist, he became a resident choreographer in 1988 in partnership with Jiri Kylian and Hans van Manen.
Duato’s first choreography, Jardi Tancat won the Cologne International Choreographers Competition in 1983, and his works were soon in demand by companies throughout Europe. Today they are within the repertoires of such companies as American Ballet Theatre, Joffrey Ballet, the Australian Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Deutsche Opera ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, the Cullberg Ballet, Netherlands Dans Theatre. He has earned international acclaim as a choreographer of extraordinarily musical, expressive, poetic choreography of dynamic intensity, and is recognised as one of the choreographers who is helping to shape new directions in ballet towards the new century. In 1998, the Spanish Government rewarded him the Golden Medal for Merit in Fine Arts.
Since 1990, Duato has made more than thirty ballets, set to a wide array of musical styles and periods. Most recently he has created works set to Schubert, Prokofiev, and Bach. Without Words (1998) was commissioned by American Ballet Theatre and is set to an instrumental arrangement for cello and piano of song scores by Franz Schubert. Though the central characters are Love and Death, the work explores, without any sense of romance, the nature of obsession revealed in the musical structures created by Schubert. Love and death feature again in his Romeo and Juliet (1998), hailed as an extremely sensitive work in which all superfluous details are eliminated to create a continuous flow of fluid, passionate movement which allows the music to speak for itself.
In Wellington during March 2000, the company will present a two-part work, Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, inspired by the music and life of Johann Sebastian Bach and marking the 250th anniversary of his death. Multiplicity is set to thirteen musical excerpts which celebrate the richly diverse range of Bach’s creative output for chamber orchestra and piano, with the shifting moods of the often playful music matched by changes in costume. Forms of Silence and Emptiness is more introspective, set to selections from Bach’s Art of the Fugue. Both works move through a large sculptural stage set of ramps and scaffolding created by architect Jaffar Chalabi which is rearranged to create different levels and rooms as the work progresses.
Originally commissioned by the city of Weimar as part of its “1999 European Cultural Capital” celebration, this pair of works has also been presented in Hamburg, Norway and Spain. Dynamically intense, elegant and stylish, exquisitely performed and full of surprises, these works draw attention to Bach’s passion for musical invention, and to the mystic and spiritual themes within his music.