7 July 1997 - Clichéd images of an ebony-haired,
burning-eyed Flamenco dancer can be swept aside upon meeting Nacho
Duato, the Spanish-born director of Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza
Tall, fair and softly-spoken, Duato moves with the natural grace of
the classical dancer, reflecting his years of training at London's
Rambert School, Bejart's Mudra and the Alvin Ailey American Dance
After a year's contract as a dancer with Cullberg Ballet, where he
worked with Mats Ek, Nacho Duato joined the Netherlands Dance Theatre
in 1981. A brilliant soloist, he signed his first choreography, "Jardi
Tancat", in 1983 (winning the International Choreographers
Competition in Cologne), and was appointed resident choreographer in
1988 alongside Hans van Manen, and Jiri Kylian, the artistic director
who first sensed Duato's choreographic talent.
He has been at the head of his classical contemporary ballet troupe
since 1990. "For years, Spanish culture was reduced to
bull-fights, castanets, and foot-ball", he told me. "It was
the image given by a dictatorial regime. Spain is so much more. I
despair at criticism that the company has not enough olé, olé,
for that is just what I am fighting against. We now have a very strong
Spanish identity, but I certainly don't intend to bring bulls onto the
stage to prove it".
The Ministry of Culture in Madrid asked Duato to form a company that
was a reflection of Spain and its people, something which was creative
and would develop over the years, he explained to me. "When I
arrived, the troupe had no personality of its own because it had been
directed by so many different people, each with their own ideas",
Founded in 1979, it had started life as a modern neo-classical
company, with its director, Victor Ullate bringing in such works as
Bejart's "Firebird". Ullate was succeeded by Maria de Avila
(who brought the choreographies of Balanchine and Tudor), Ray Barra,
and then Maia Plissetskaia who tried to impose a traditional classical
company in the style of the Bolshoi or the Paris Opera, bringing in
dancers, teachers and pianists from Russia. It couldn't, and it didn't
Duato explained why: "classical ballet has no roots in Spain.
We have no tradition, and no theatre. It was like trying to plant a
cactus in Alaska. What could 65 dancers do in Madrid? Matters worsened
when they tried to start a school, for nothing was properly worked
When I arrived I not only had an unwieldy company whose average age
was about twenty five, but I discovered all the dancers had life-time
contracts, so pupils in the School would have had to wait until they
were fifty-five before joining the troupe!
Now I'm planning ahead and using the money more intelligently. We're
more mobile (thirty-five dancers), and when not performing at the
government-owned Theatre de la Zarzuela, or at the Theatre de Madrid,
we travel around Spain, hiring theatres as we go. After all, it's a
national ballet and so everyone has the right to see it."
In addition, tours throughout Europe, to the United States, Canada,
Japan, South America and Australia have brought them international
Duato has created about fifteen ballets for his company whose
identity is distinctly Mediterranean; dancers with this kind of energy
are not found in the North. The level, both technically and
artistically is very high and Duato is the first to acknowledge their
He explained that when he creates his ballets, he always tries to
show each of his dancers at their best. Laughingly, he described his
work as "made to measure", belittling those who suggest
national ballets shouldn't have directors who were creators. "When
you look at similar companies, there has always been a creator there
behind, whether Balanchine, Cranko, Kylian or Bejart", he said.
Like Kylian, Duato loves movement and both are very musical; but the
similarity between the two choreographers ends there. "He
inspires me simply because he is great", says Duato. "When I
hear critics, especially in England, compare me to him, to Béjart
or Ailey it's because they know I've worked with them. If I may say
so, dance in England has stayed very much behind. They have Covent
Garden, and then their totally avant-garde, modern choreography...
they have not only not evolved in classical dance, but are aside and
isolated on another road. It's bad for them for they are not allowing
their public or their choreographers access to what is happening
elsewhere. You have to be exposed to other ideas and companies.
Classical dance has moved on since Frederick Ashton and these men are
the great choreographers of our time."
"Inbred" is not a fault that can be levelled at Duato's
company. Fifteen of the dancers are from Spain, the others from
countries including Venezuela, Germany, Holland, France and the United
States. "It's stimulating to be from different cultures, to speak
different languages and remain open to new ideas", says their
director. "We don't only dance my ballets but those of William
Forsythe, Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek, Glen Tetley, Ohad Naharin. Each year I
give five or six of my ballets to the Cullberg Ballet and Netherlands
Danse Theatre, to American Ballet Theatre, Chicago Ballet, Joffrey
Ballet, or Stuttgart, and the exchange is both rewarding and
Projects for the future revolve very much around "Romeo and
Juliet", Duato's first full-length narrative ballet, which should
be completed by January, 1998. "I love Prokofiev's score,"
he said, "and I'm following the ideas in the music. Juliet's solo
will remain Juliet's solo, the main difference being the ballet's
strong Mediterranean flavour. I see the story as love breaking through
the walls of hate."
"I listen to music all the time at home; images come into my
head and my ballets are in fact interpretation of the music through
movement. Often I choose a piece of music and take six dancers,
barefoot or on pointe and try to see if it's possible to keep the
audience's attention just by movement alone, yet making sense. I've
always set myself this kind of exercise but now I'm ready to move
further. After having written over thirty ballets and at the age of
forty it's time to move a bit "up". I feel I'm ready to move
people on stage in the right way, and balance the scenes."
Apart from progressing in his work, "Self"(1996) being a
magistral demonstration of a maturing talent, Duato's ambition is to
establish a small school, however modest, maybe just a younger company
to begin with, and to obtain the funding for a theatre.
Choreographic talents are encouraged in the company by workshops
that were started four years ago, the pieces created by the dancers
being performed in April each year.
Duato's joy in his work is passed on to every member of the company
in the beauty and rapidity of their movements ,in the swirls of skirts
whirling across the stage, and in their quieter observations of human
nature. The freshness, homogeneity and sincerity of the dancers make
the company a force to be reckoned with, but long after the
performance is over the memory of the intense musicality of the
choreography lingers on in one's mind.
Duato, who plays the piano, loves music, maybe more than dance, he
told me. "Even when I stop playing, I still hear the melody
around me". One might apply those words to his ballets too.