Compañía Nacional de Danza

Compañía Nacional de Danza
Teatro Real
Madrid, Spain
February 17–26, 2010
Reviewed by Justine Bayod Espoz


Nacho Duato's Jardín Infinito. Photo by Fernando Marcos, Courtesy CND.

In June Nacho Duato will celebrate 20 years as director of Spain’s Compañia Nacional de Danza. But the company's recent Madrid appearances—with a program of Duato's Rassemblement (French for “gathering”) and the world premiere of his homage to Chekhov, Jardín Infinito (Infinite Garden)—did little to generate excitement for that landmark.

Rassemblement, originally made for Cullberg Ballet in 1991, explores the culture and history of Haiti; presumably it was resuscitated because of the recent catastrophe on the island nation. Despite its publicized description as a “moving appeal to the audience’s conscience regarding matters of human rights,” the piece does little to incite any kind of emotional response.

Four couples dance in faded costumes, which blend into a faded cloth background, illuminated by faded lights—a drab motif that sets a relentlessly dark, brooding mood. Even the elements of tribal dance mixed into the contemporary choreography did not suffice to give Rassemblement a bit of life.

The exquisite, lively music by Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe was wasted on this grim spectacle. Although ostensibly addressing vodun worship and the despair caused by exile from Africa, the piece shows no evidence of either theme. The reference to slavery is clear: a puerile display of two colonizers—easily discernable by their long-sleeved white shirts, navy blue trousers, and black boots—dragging the limp, bare-chested principal dancer into an imprisoning shaft of light from which he eventually escapes.

With charged themes like slavery, suffering, and freedom, it’s hard to understand how Duato could choreograph such a lackluster piece with no choreographic crescendo to accompany Bissainthe singing with all her might, “liberty, liberty, liberty.” (As a side note, it’s a little difficult to take seriously a work about Haiti and slavery in the West Indies when there isn’t a single black dancer onstage.)

Despite the disappointing first half, which left a noticeable number of empty orchestra seats, nothing could prepare the audience for the interminable Jardín Infinito, a performance created in collaboration with the Chekhov International Theatre Festival to commemorate 150 years since the playwright’s birth.

By Duato’s own admission, this abstract piece is not based specifically on any of Chekhov’s works or life anecdotes but rather a personal vision—so personal that there remains nothing linking the piece to the man it supposedly honors. The recitation from Chekhov’s notebooks included in the soundtrack might have helped, had it not been in Russian.

The work comprises several short episodes that have no real connection to one another, aside from the reappearance of a man in a white suit. His sole purpose, it seems, is to present a contrast with the other dancers (clad in grey and black against a grey and black background) and dance odd, jerky solos that are nothing short of clownish.

Jardín Infinito was more demonstrative of the spot-on timing and intuitive connection between CND’s dancers than of Duato’s choreographic or narrative prowess. Although the dancers did their best with what they were given, the public exited in droves before the closing curtain touched the stage.

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