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Flash Review 1, 7-26: Bach, Bewigged but Not Bewitching
Duato Drops Rare Goose Egg on Lincoln Center

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Compania Nacional de Danza gave the U.S. premiere of Nacho Duato's "Bach: Multiplicity," its tribute to the composer, last night at the State Theater. Artistic director Duato has many assets, including strong dancers, a bold sense of theatricality, and a knack for costume design. Choreography may be more of a chore for Duato than anything else, simply a means by which to achieve a bold, physical, theatrical statement.

Duato's style is derived from choreographers such as Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek, with whom he once danced. Recurring movements include legs planted in second, bent at the waist, arms fully outstretched with the back flat; arms crooked with the wrists limp; and six o'clock extensions. The foundation and training is clearly ballet, and yet Duato's style seems hostile to ballet: not questioning it, just beating it up, as in a vulgar sport.

The nearly constant spectre of a costumed Bach character was bad news to audience members who might have understood the character's presence without the powdered wig and waistcoat. It seemed a serious miscalculation which only worsened when he began to conduct the dancers as if they were instruments, and then actually play a woman as if a cello. The function of art as metaphor hastily retired for the evening in that early scene.

The Bach selections were diverse, with an emphasis on the fugue in the second act. While the program was created to celebrate the composer's music, by the end of the evening, it managed to suck out any magic, either artistic or mathematic. The musical interpretation was often literally plodding, as in lank poses thudding to plucked strings. At times, a duet would lapse into a more flowing phrase, only to revert to a chopped cadence. Most effective were the scenes surrounding the intermission, featuring a line of dancers crossing the stage and breaking off into solos and small groups.

The dancers were athletic, with well-trained feet and hips coaxed to their maximum looseness, perhaps beyond. Iratxe Ansa shone (despite having to be a cello) with an intensity of spirit that burst through the standard-issue emotional opacity (the subtitle of the piece was, after all, "Forms of Silence and Emptiness.") Duato himself, performing in the piece, exemplified the muscular, splashy strokes which comprise his vocabulary. The set, by Jaffar Al Chalabi, was a bit overwhelming, a ramped matrix with big folding rubber sheets which slid back and forth, exposing and hiding. Its implications on many levels fought with the sadly bewigged Bach. Brad Fields designed the stunning lighting for this theatrical spectacle, and Duato's costumes were elegant and frequently witty.

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