Nacho man

Mark Fisherjets off to Vienna to catch Spain’s leading contemporary dance company in action before it arrives in Glasgow.

Nacho Duato has been stirring up the Spanish dance world. After sixteen years away from his native country. he returned to Madrid in 1990 to take over the directorship of the Cornpania Nacional de Danza. Let’s get things in perspective. The 37—year-old choreographer is not a radical in the Michael Clark sense of the word. His use of music may be broad. but not quite so broad as to get The Fall up on stage. His choreography may be imaginative. but you won‘t find his mother turning up in the act. Frilly ballet dresses may be out. but so is nudity. and you can still spot the occasional dancer on tip-toes.

No. Duato is distinctive. determined and dissmissive of dull tradition. but he is not interested in shock for shock's sake. His roots are firmly within the discipline of classical dance. but he is also an intensely creative artist who is not about to let the past or people‘s perception of the past dictate to him what he should do today. The results of this mixture. the commitment both to traditional technique and to contemporary creativity. are performances that classical dance buffs find invigoratingly fresh and modem affrcionados find pleasingly unstuffy.

‘Even now in Spain people ask you, “You’re a dancer, but what do you do tor a living?”

Changing the ways of the past takes time Spain‘s dancers still have contracts giving the right of employment until they are (>5; good for workers‘ rights. had for art but Duato has managed to bring new energy to the company. introducing six new pieces a year and building up sell-out audiences at home and an ever-stronger reputation abroad. This last has been particularly encouraged by the Spanish government which sees in Duato's company a positive PR opportunity: his work is credible and dynamic with just enough Spanish flavour to avoid cliche (not a castanet in sight). Actually. Duato points out that only a fraction of his dances have a distinctively Spanish influence (the brooding and passionate Arena] which features at the Theatre Royal is one of them). but he does feel it is important both for himselfand his country that he should draw on his roots.

I meet Duatojust before the second night ofthe company‘s run at Vienna‘s lntemational Dance Festival. Tanz 94. He is lucid. genial and very clear in his intentions. seeing himself not as a radical. but as someone who is developing a tradition as honestly and as organically as he can. ‘The dancers in my company always start with classical.‘ he says. ‘you must have a strong base in classical training in order


Ricardo Franco takes a leap above France Nguyen in the Spanish-influenced Arena!

to dance my pieces. Critics like to say "Modem".

"Classical". “Contemporary” . . . I don‘t know what it is. this is contemporary dance because I‘m doing it todayf

At the same time. the idea of doing say Giselle. with its pre-packaged steps and long-established costumes. is utterly boring to Duato. ‘The way a dancer develops as an artist is by creating things. not copying.‘ he says. ‘That‘s why classical companies nowadays are very difficult to keep up. because none of the dancers have worked with the original choreographers who have all been dead for 50 years how do you keep that alive? How do you get a girl ofeighteen to believe that she's a lily or a fairy? Even the Russians don‘t believe in it any more.‘ As for modern dance and dance-theatre. he believes you should judge not the form itself. but simply whether it is a work of quality of not. ‘I like minimalist dancing. if it is good then it's line. I like Pina Bauch's work. for example. but there are lots of sub- Bauch groups that I think are terrible. Things work or they don't work.‘

Leaving Spain at the age ofeighteen. the year before the death of Franco. [)uato trained in London's Rambcrt School. Maurice Bejart's Mudra School in Brussels and New York‘s Alivin Ailey American Dance Centre. His professional work has taken him everywhere from Stockholm to Holland. Frankfurt to Canada. His sixteen-year absence allowed him a sharp perspective on how Spain has taken democracy on board; how in the absence of a violent revolution the system has a residue if not of

I Fascism then certainly ofthe old bureaucracy; how

. only as economic forces take hold are the previous

working practices being overtumed. ‘lt’s interesting because not only am I trying to change the company and to change people‘s minds and their philosophy

3 about their work and the way the audiences look at

; dance. but also in a very small way I‘m helping to

L change the whole system.‘

He's tread on a few toes. upset the people who

I believe that a national classical company should do

only the classics. but by upping the output he‘s increased interest in the company and developed a

following that‘s eager to see more. ‘The way to build : the audience is to give them a dialogue. a

communication,‘ he says. ‘The company is not only made by the director and the dancers. but also by the audience.‘ Not that he‘s doing things deliberately to please the audience. he adds. but familiarity develops a better understanding. ‘Even now in Spain people ask you. “You‘re a dancer. but what do you do for a living?" This is because of living so many years with our back to the rest of Europe.‘

‘How do you get a girl of eighteen to believe that she’s a lily or a fairy?’

Seeing Duato‘s work it is difficult to pick up directly political resonances. though the choreographer is insistant that any artist with his ears and eyes open must be political even ifdance is not an easy form in which to make clear-cut statements. ‘l)ance is more comparable to poetry.‘ he says. ‘but you can be very direct. very much to the point and still be abstract. Sometimes you can say much more.‘ His political feelings about his own country are ambivalent: on the one hand he has an instinctive hatred of nationalism. on the other he still feels Spanish. What this brings to his work is a rejection of the insular. an intemational outlook. but also a facility to draw on the folk traditions from Spain's rich and diverse cultures. ‘Maybe you can see in the work that I haven't been in Spain for so long.‘ he says. ‘But I do feel very much from where I come from. it's something you really have inside you; I

can't avoid having Spanish blood and I can't avoid

that in my work. I try to go to the essence of what is Spanish. to peel the orange and get to the point and to

l avoid the paraphenalia which is the image foreigners i have of Spain.‘

3 Cmnpanla Nar'lanal r/e [)anza. Theatre Royal.

| Glasgow. 'Iire 22—Sa! 26 Mar.


The List 1 1-24 March 1994 45