Choreographer Nacho Duato has redefined many New Yorkers’ existing definitions of the word “nacho” as not just a cheesy appetizer, but a gourmet, three-course meal. On October 16th through October 20th, his Madrid-based ballet company, La Compañía Nacional de Danza, transcended the limits of dance, expression, virtuosity and humanity in three extremely evocative dances during the 25th Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
The night opened with the haunting and celebratory, “Por Vos Muero,” based on the love poem by 16th century Spanish poet, Garcilaso de la Vega, and with Spanish music from the same century by Venegas de Henestrosa. Fragments of the poem were interspersed with dances reflecting 16th century Spanish society, filled with jesters, lovers, masqueraders, priests and courtiers. The dancers, layered in dark purple and green costumes, evoked the women and men of a Velasquez painting. Weaving in and out of darkness and light, they seemingly disappeared and reappeared behind panels at the back of the stage. At times, burgundy-cloaked men spun around with incense, at others, women played out an eerie dialogue between themselves and the skull-like white masks in their hands. The movement of the dancers was both graceful and nuanced, with fluid curves, claps, and hints of castanets. In addition, the music and verses drew the viewer across time and oceans to an elegant dream from which one has no desire to awake.
This dance was followed by the disturbingly beautiful, “Castrati,” featuring music by Vivaldi. “Castrati,” based on the operatic tradition of castrating men to preserve soprano voices, engendered the sensuous horror of a cathedral’s interior – complete with men in dark robes and bloody saints. The men in black skirt-robes pierced the stage with their decadently violent jumps and turns above a vulnerable young man in flesh-colored underwear, whose delicate, protective movements revealed him as their sacrificial lamb. Other “castrati” in white corsets, performed sad movements of unfulfilled desire as a premonition of the young man’s fate. Awash in Christ imagery, the group of men apparently raped, or castrated their victim, leaving him to dance an eerie solo with blood-stained hands, before curling himself into a fetal position at the edge of the stage. This dance displayed the strange beauty and travesty of an Almodovar film and left the audience speechless and in tears.
The final course of this dark, delicious feast was, “White Darkness,” accompanied by string music played by Karl Jenkins. This was a ghostly depiction of addictive relationships and the effect of drugs on society. In a non-judgmental frame, Duato portrayed a world soaked in white powder and conflicted couples dressed in dark colors, which try to drag one another from the circles of sand in the corners of the stage. The central pair poured powder from the hands of one to the other, seemingly aiding each other in addiction, until the man decided to break loose from his partner, and the substance. The woman is left alone, in a spotlight, as a cascade of sand breaks from the sky and poured over her body. We are left with the haunting image of the woman caving under the powder’s weight.
La Compañía Nacional de Danza began as la Compañía Nacional de España Clásico in 1979, but has taken on a flavor of anything but classical since Nacho Duato became artistic director in 1990. The award-winning Duato has danced and choreographed for the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm and Jiri Killian’s Nederlands Dans Theatre in Holland, and has won international praise for his work. His groundbreaking ballets form part of the repertories of many major ballet companies, such as American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Ballet. His work intends to transform la Compañía Nacional de Danza into a ballet company with a unique personality combining a contemporary style with classical precepts. His performance at BAM was a mesmerizing display of passion and artistry that perhaps proved him to be one of the most innovative and talented choreographer and dancers in Europe. At least he certainly knows how to leave you spellbound.
Don’t forget to check out New Voices from Spain, Buika and Macaco, on Oct. 26th and 27th – also part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival.