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Compania Nacional De Danza, Three Works Compania Nacional De Danza, Three Works
photo Prudence Upton
PLUSH CURTAINS RISE TO REVEAL AN ENSEMBLE OF BEAUTIFUL BACKS WALKING AWAY: CHEWY AND MELLIFLUOUS. THIS WILL BE A NIGHT FOR BEAUTIFUL IMAGES CREATED BY BEAUTIFUL BODIES. A RICH AND DEEPLY TONED VOICE, THE KIND THAT NARRATES WILDLIFE DOCUMENTARIES, SPEAKS SEDUCTIVELY IN SPANISH. I LATER LEARN THAT IT IS COURTLY VERSE BY RENAISSANCE SOLDIER-POET GARCILASO DE LA VEGA AND I WISH THAT I HAD BEEN MADE PRIVY TO ITS MEANINGS.

This opening piece, the first of three works by the acclaimed choreographer Nacho Duato, is Por Vos Muero. The music is Renaissance Spanish. The costuming is courtly. The set is muted and elegant. The lighting is subtle but tightly choreographed. Semiotically, these elements signal subdued stateliness but…the ongoing rush of tightly woven choreography is sometimes frantic and I long for a breath or a pause. Ever-moving, rarely lingering, Duato’s choreography is intensely musical and these well rehearsed dancers move inside the music, embodying a symbiosis of sound and motion.

They are fluid, grounded but light, muscular but slender and glorious in extension. They are confident and perform the intricate movement score with gusto and occasional smiles of authentic pleasure. Their spines are both upright and rubbery. Their pelvic bowls are tethered by practice and open to the world. They display wonderful collectivity, even at the expense of individuality. They are all seductive in their obvious beauty and I have several ‘wow’ moments.

Gnawa, the second work, also begins with those beautiful backs, duly lit to highlight the developed musculature. The music seems at once Indian, Spanish and Turkish, but the program tells me that it is “sub-Saharan." This dancing is far too polite for this music. Again, there is much partnering and lifting in a structured separation of male and female. Certainly, Duato plays with this separation by employing some man on man action, but his choreographic gendering renders these dancers not individual artists but prototypes of classicist perfection and virtuosity.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This is not contemporary dance. This is modern ballet. Duato uses the aesthetic freedoms of contemporary dance to wrench open the canonical dictates of classical ballet, but there are still plenty of pointed feet, plies, lifts and balletic extensions. There is the symmetry of the proscenium arch, the homogeneity of the dancers and a classical dynamic that vacillates between the slow and sinuous and the quick and light.

I am impressed rather than engaged. I feel seduced. I am struck by the sameness of the three pieces. But the wonderfully cool abstraction did lead my vision to elemental qualities of movement rather than narrative meaning. In fact, when Duato does attempt overt emotional resonance in White Darkness, a piece apparently about drug addiction, I find the posturing overblown, almost funny.

Three Works afforded enjoyment with a lingering emptiness and ultimately what I will remember is that I sat two seats away from Gough Whitlam and it was to him, the man who gave us free education and universal health care, I gave my silent accolade.


Compania Nacional De Danza, Three Works, choreography Nacho Duato, Lyric Theatre, Star City, Sydney, Jan 6-8

RealTime issue #83 Feb-March 2008 pg. online

© Pauline Manley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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