Coming to a Theater Near You

"Remansos," "Violin D'Ingres," "Rassemblement"
Jacob's Pillow Dance
Beckett, MA
June 23, 2006

by Lisa Rinehart
copyright ©2006, Lisa Rinehart

If anyone decides to genetically engineer a crop of dancers for a utopian dance company, then the highly lauded CND2 (Nacho Duato and Tony Fabre's Compania Nacional de Danza 2) may be a good place to start. Classically trained, highly versatile, and strong as oxen, these dancers can swallow Duato's demanding choreography and spit it back out with the efficiency of a Swiss watch. And therein lies the problem. Duato creates snazzy architecture built on invention, sleek pizzazz and vaguely pretentious content, and when set on these young, fearless bodies (most dancers are under 21), it can look vacant. Duato's work, along with its tremendous physical demands, needs enrichment by more seasoned performers if it's really to fly. Hence the creation of this second company in 1999. But as of now, most of CND2's repertory is Duato's older work which isn't necessarily suited to the strengths of fledgling dancers. Given that CND2 is the agile touring arm of a cumbersome mother ship, however, this is the company that wider audiences are more likely to see, so why not present more original work showcasing the talents of these amazing dancers?

The program's middle offering, Fabre's "Violin D'Ingres," does just that. The dancers' natural exuberance is highlighted in this delightful exploration of bodies as string instruments put through their paces by Paganini, Bach, Vivaldi and Saint-Saens. Fabre's six years at Compania National de Danza are evident — he's fully absorbed Duato's athletic style — but what starts as a potential Duato knock-off progresses into something looser and lighter. The dancers mimic the saw of the orchestral warm-up with a gentle, interlocked writhing, then branch off into solos, pas de deux and pas de trois that play with all manner of fireworks possible on a violin; legs flutter with a tremolo, arms capture a run of notes in a swimming fish motion and a sharp leap punctuates the final flourishing sweep of the bow. It's a bit literal, but the dancers are fresh and fun and thoroughly enjoyable to watch.

The other two works on the program are Duato's "Remansos," (a re-worked version of "Remanso," created for American Ballet Theater in 1997) and "Rassemblement" from 1990. For "Remansos," a series of dances to Enrique Granandos' "Valses Poeticos," Duato has added three women to the three men of the original in an effort to, according to the press release, "give audiences more of what he's heard they desired by the end of the shorter work." Yikes! Since when does a choreographer re-fashion his work according to audience polls? (I feel a new reality show coming on.) The modifications don't hurt the piece, however, but they don't add much either unless you count the opportunity to use three lusciously similar women in the opening sequence. After spearing the floor with a pointy-tipped rose that kind of sums up the love-is-difficult tenor of the piece, the women go through a series (in triplicate) of flawlessly executed extensions, jumps, and drops to the knees that are pretty stunning. The men arrive and the rose is woven into their duos and trios with striking wit. Duato's crisp angles leave no note unused and, while visually sophisticated, have a high octane, must...keep...moving... intensity.

"Rassemblement," a work set to Haitian slave songs steeped in Voodoo tradition, has a similar energy level, but ventures into the dangerous area of dancing for social justice. Somehow the combination doesn't work for me. Having seen exhausted Haitian workers slogging through the 90 plus heat of a Dominican Republic sugar cane field, and having seen their children cowering in filth and rags, it's hard to stomach a danced call for liberty that replicates the vigor of an aerobics class. One just wants to hand out water and let everyone sit down to rest. Nonetheless, Duato has embedded within the piece at least one exquisitely crafted pas de deux that is probably breathtaking when performed by a more experienced pair. This heartbreaking duet of pain, love and oppression is simply more than a dancer fresh out of school can manage, even when every move is done impeccably. "Rassemblement" is a strange choice for this group.

Which brings me to the heart of my quandary — these young dancers are touring the world (their schedule is grueling) ostensibly to prepare for the main company, but they appear fully capable of Duato's physical demands. One is left to wonder why they can't just join the company as apprentices. Is it necessary for them to approximate the larger company's repertory without the benefit of watching and learning from older dancers? Perhaps, but maybe, as with most things, it comes down to money. Second companies in the dance world are a little movie sequels; every successful company has one and sometimes they bring in a lot of cash. A smaller, younger group tours more easily and costs less. In theory, there's nothing wrong with this but, however noble the intent of CND2, this group of dancers deserves more than being a revenue booster. Their ability has earned them the prestigious opening spot at the Pillow's summer dance festival and arguably, a right to their own identity. Hopefully, Duato will challenge himself to create new work tailored to the enthusiasm and whole-hearted commitment of the group's youth, or give others the opportunity to try.

Volume 4, No. 25
June 26, 2006

copyright ©2006 Lisa Rinehart



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