The Teatro Municipal has had an impressive list of guests treading its boards, but in November it was Spain´s Compañía Nacional de Danza’s turn to shine.
Photo by Jessica Phelps
The company, headed by Nacho Duato, kicked off their South American tour in Santiago performing Duato's own choreographies: “Castrati,” “Por Vos Muero” and “White Darkness.”
After a highly successful career as a dancer and choreographer, Duato became artistic director of the company in 1990, adding a contemporary twist to the classical traditions of the company and turning the little-known company into one of the dance-world's biggest players.
The first performance, “Castrati,” is about the tradition of castrating young boys in the 16th century to keep their soprano or contralto singing voices.
Incredibly, these boys were considered lucky to have their knackers cut off, because they were well-respected and, more importantly, well-paid.
Duato's exploration of the psychological impact of castration is beautiful to watch, yet palpably painful. The piece depicts the tensions between the castrati and men who are still “intact.” Duato focuses on the internal conflicts facing the castrato protagonist, as well as the physical ones with the stallion-like men in black capes.
The all-male cast dominates the stage, whilst one solemn voice narrates the torment reflected by the jagged movements of the dancers. Although the set is very simple, the visual impact of the eight masterful men in black toreador-inspired costumes is stunning. They command the stage—you can practically see them sweating testosterone.
The castrato goes through alternate stages of grief and joy before ultimately succumbing to the virile men, who, with their capes swirling and swishing in formation, humiliate and destroy the castrato, who ends the piece uncurling himself in the centre of the stage in a stark rictus of pain, his palms stained red, while the caped men look on.
Luckily the second piece was a lot cheerier. “Por Vos Muero” is a reflection of provincial Spanish life and the importance of dance during the Siglo de Oro Español (The Spanish Golden Age).
The piece starts with the dancers wearing nothing but nude tights. Stripped of costumes, the audience can better see the grace and sensuality of their movements, whilst a gravel-voiced narrator recites the poem, also called “Por Vos Muero”, by Garcilaso de la Vega, a leading Renaissance poet.
Photo by Jessica Phelps
The dancers soon evolve from naked, primitive beings into townsfolk wearing appropriately Spanish-inspired dress. The performance alternates between upbeat vignettes with counterpoint music depicting jolly town life and slower pieces, exploring more serious issues like death or religion, all done with grace and stunning technical precision.
The backdrop was simple and the lighting kept quite dim at times, which made the lighter props (or limbs of the dancers) especially stand out. The visual impact of the female dancer's legs emerging, swan-like, from under their rippling skirts was unforgettable.
The piece ends with the dancers once again stripped of their costumes, dancing slowly together in couples. Then the narrator slowly winds up the poem to the strains of the harpsichord, and the couples slink off stage leaving a solitary couple framed in the door in an eternal embrace.
The final piece, “White Darkness,” is about a much heavier subject matter: the destroying influence of drugs on the consumers and those around them. The work starts with tragic music foreshadowing the events to come, as a couple gracefully moves up and down the stage, passing sand to each other.
At first it is all fun and games, with their hallucinations depicted by pixie-like dancers in purple. Some of the choreography, especially the psychedelic parts, is reminiscent of Bob Fosse, and the contrast between the sensual grace of the couple's movements with the playful, groovy movements of the pixies keeps the piece interesting.
Inevitably, the woman starts to disappear into her drug world. She finds herself on a turquoise stage, hounded by the sand, as if marooned on her drug-induced island. Her trips become increasingly creepy as the pixies start zigzagging and playing games, jumping leapfrogs and hula dancing, calling to mind a child's party gone horribly wrong.
The trips culminate in a powerful scene of chaotic, tense music with the pixies reaching out in anguish, overcome with tremors in a group frenzy frantically grabbing at each other with their shoulders and knees trembling, while the violins churn.
The man finally realizes that the woman is beyond help, and leaves her as the heavens open drenching her by a waterfall of sand.
Her skirt billowing, she slowly drops to her knees as the sand overwhelms her and the curtains close.
Judging from the amount of applause and standing ovations, the performance was a great success. The combination of the understated music, costumes and sets allowed the audience to focus on the movements of the dancers, all pulled off in stunning synchronization.
People with a traditional taste might find some of Duato's choreography hard to swallow, after all, it is modern and often jagged; but his work is undeniably beautiful and his final images are visually staggering. Plus, any man who can make a leapfrog look graceful has my eternal respect.