Nacho Duato

Dance Review: Nacho Duato and Compañía Nacional de Danza at BAM

Nacho Duato isn’t breaking any ground with his choreography. And his style can easily be traced to current dance and dance-theater luminaries in both Europe and the United States. But the program his Compañía Nacional de Danza presented Wednesday night at Brooklyn Academy of Music was sensuous, and appealing, and showcased some beautiful dancing.

“Por Vos Muero” (1996), the most formal work and set to alternating “old Spanish music” and a Garcilaso de la Vega poem recited by Miguel Bosé, opened titillatingly with the curtain rising on the full cast of dancers randomly positioned and facing upstage while appearing to run in place and in slow motion, wearing flesh-tone, two-piece outfits. Eventually one, then another spun off into quick solo passages while others eventually disappeared behind several openings in a short black wall above which hung an enormous swath of red curtain. (Crafty lighting, by Nicolás Fischtel, would soon reveal the wall to have a rich brown color and texture of wrinkled fabric.) When the dancers re-emerged, they wore Renaissance-inspired outfits designed by Mr. Duato and Mr. Bosé.

The movement here is technically rigorous, and occasionally inventive, and all of the dancers (save one) were impeccably suited to execute sometimes brisk and virtuosic passages. I liked the formal, neo-classical effect evoked by some of the social dance that the work clearly draws from. And the movement was peppered a lot with contemporary flare, like a woman’s head cocking forward and back as she’s being lifted in an otherwise balletic posture. But the movement language rides an uncomfortably close line with Mark Morris (and even Trisha Brown, from what I’ve seen), but without the cool wit and irony that is so satisfying, and distinct, about Morris’ take on classical form.

“Castrati” (2002) was the most narrative work on the program. We follow a castrato-to-be as he struggles to come to terms with his fate, here enacted by a menacing corp of priest-like men wearing black robes that are surgically sliced up the middle and end with a feminine bodice (costumes are credited to Francis Monetsinos). There’s a little Davinci Code suspense in this work, which isn’t helped by the fact that Duato chose to sandwich some rather lovely Vivaldi vocal works between the tasteless, neo-Baroque ridiculousness that is the music of Karl Jenkins. No kidding folks: He used the “Diamonds Are Forever” music. The kind of fake orgasm that Jenkin’s work induces disserved the dance, which was executed with an fascinatingly obsessive focus on the groin. I loved this part. I thought it was daring to show so much crotch-grabbing and spread-eagle physicality. For me, it really exposed that lack of attention that part of the male body receives–even in dance–and moreover, it shows the genital area in crisis, vulnerable, continually rent and pillaged. If you’re going to make a dance about castrati, you might as well go there, and Duato does so to rather beautiful effect.

And I have to admit, there is a sensuous quality in all of these works that I enjoyed for their purely erotic effects. (I never said you can never judge dance by expectations of beauty.) The dancing is beautiful in the way ballet can be beautiful, and it is sensual in the way that a contemporary treatment of the body can read as sexy. Even the sets and costumes played on our vulnerability to gorgeousness. And if it makes me sound morally responsible, I did feel the urge to resist.

The final work, White Darkness (2001), completely staged in front of what looked like a darkly lit curtain draped in a criss-cross pattern that expanded and contracted eerily (designed by Jaffar Chalabi and lit byJoop Caboort), was the least compelling dance, even though it raised the bar to a new degree of sensuality. The work incorporates white sand as a theatrical device; first being passed from hand to hand, then dropping from above in glowing blades that pierce the stage and disappear. The visual effect is beautiful, but the dance, unfortunately, is unmemorable. Except when you start to observe the limits of Duato’s choreographic language, as signature movements from the previous two works begin to appear. One in particular, which Alastair Macaulay might have called “heaven forfend on crack,” was effective in the first piece, but here, had little resonance or purpose.

But Nacho Duato’s offering is definitely worth a looksie, particularly if you just want to go enjoy yourself and some fabulous dancers. And hey: Who am I to say you shouldn’t?

Compañía Nacional de Danza runs at BAM tomorrow through Sunday at BAM.

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