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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 6 June 2005—When Nacho Duato came to the Théatre de Saint-Quentin- en- Yvelines in 1997, he brought with him the splendid troupe of dancers that he had formed since being invited to take over Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza seven years before. 

Now, he has gone even further, and the three superlative programmes shown at the Théatre du Chatelet in Paris in March demonstrated not only the talent of one of the world's great choreographers, but also presented a wonderful new generation of young dancers, with few known names apart from Mar Baudesson.

The week of dance opened with four performances of Multiplicité: Formes de silence et de vide, Duato's masterpiece inspired by the music and life of Bach which triumphed in Paris two years ago. The first part of the work is full of joy, from the moment the choreographer, Duato himself, still a superb dancer, comes on stage to ask Bach for permission to use his music, while  the second part is more  mystical and spiritual. The ballet, a pas-de-deux between Bach and the instruments, is overflowing with invention.

Nacho Duato: Multiplicité: Formes de silence et de vide

The work ends on the unforgettable image of the dancers, whose average age is not more than twenty-six, silhouetted along the back of the stage like notes on a score. They were not only the notes, but the instruments and the music itself; the whole theatre seemed pervaded by the atmosphere long after the curtain came down.

The second programme presented three stunning works including Duato's 1996 masterpiece, Por vos Muero, a favourite of all the dancers, followed by Arcangelo , a fast-paced ballet requiring enormous energy, and White Darkness, works which all illustrate the Spanish choreographer's masterly use of the dancers whether in a solo, a pas-de-deux or an ensemble. His imagination is unbounded and each ballet stamped unmistakably by his own lyrical and harmonious style, which has its roots in Jiri Kylian's fluidity of movement and special musicality. Duato's distinctive theatrical imagination, however, has made the pupil the equal of his master.

Nacho Duato: Por vos Muero

The last work staged was the 2004, Herrumbre, inspired by a photograph of the base at Guantanamo showing prisoners thrown on the ground like animals, with scenery designed by Irakian Jaffir Chalabi.  It is a plea for peace, a spectacular attack devoid of all superficiality, upon all regimes which use torture. Duato brings the world's attention to the inhuman treatment to which political prisoners are submitted in a magnificent statement against all forms of terrorism. In sixty minutes he produced a succession of unforgettable images, each more violent than the precedent, of women raped, and men humiliated while their wives are waiting at the prison gates.

Nacho Duato: Herrumbre

The occupation of space and the patterns woven by the dancers were extraordinary and Duato's use of people in the background, where even the shadows were an important part of the work, were quite terrifying. The subject was, however, treated with finesse and elegance, never falling into unnecessary aggressiveness.

At the end, an emotionally shocked and shaken audience stood to acknowledge both choreographer and interpreters, and yet, awful as it was to watch, no one left the theatre depressed, but rather at peace. The last scene was of outstanding beauty. Emerging from the anguish, fear and uncertainty, the dancers came on stage in a continual stream, carrying hundreds of shimmering red lights as if in a cathedral, a sublime tribute to those who died in last year's terrorist attacks in Madrid.

Nacho Duato: Herrumbre

 After the performance I asked Fabrice Edelmann, a member of the troupe, just how Duato produces such stupendous works, and how he has formed a company of dancers almost unequalled in the world today.

"As far as the dancers are concerned, they give him everything, for he's looking for perfection", said Swiss-born Edelmann. "Even when performances go well, as tonight, he always finds a detail to correct, or some aspect of the lighting to change.  There's not a step of every ballet he's created that isn't in his head. He wants the best, and makes us dance better and better. Musicality is paramount, and we always have to pay great attention to the score; each movement has to be with the music."

"When he choreographs a new work, "the dancer continued, "he's spent a thousand hours and more listening to the music. It guides him. He has all the images in his head, but when he presents the theme to us, he watches for our reaction and listens to what we say. He stages his ideas. That's his particular form of genius. There is enormous mutual respect in our relationship."

"Of course, working with him is very hard and there are no half-measures, but he always has a simple way to explain what he wants from us all, making it easy to grasp what he's looking for. And it's magical to be a part of his ballets. When you dance his works, you live them. He has a way of making us believe, for instance, as in Por vos Muero, that we are part of the court in the sixteenth century. And as for his wonderful ballet on Bach, we become the music. Everything is very intense."

All the dancers in the company,  from Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, France, Bulgaria, South America, Albania, Malaysia, Japan and Bulgaria as well as Spain are classically trained, brilliant technicians as well as being extraordinary interpreters.  Fabrice spoke of his fortunate meeting with Duato when the latter was looking for someone to interpret Paris in his 1998 version of Romeo and Juliet, and commented that each member of the company had his own personality and temperament. Homogenous they might look on stage, but that comes from the way they move rather than physical or temperamental resemblances.

"It's a dream of many dancers to be in this company", Edelman said. "It's one of the finest in the world, and although we are always asked to stage Nacho Duato's works on tour, in Madrid we have a very varied repertoire, including creations and works by Mats Ek, Kylian, Forsythe and Naharin. Duato himself creates very rapidly and knows how to surround himself with people of quality in a totally professional atmosphere. I adore watching my colleagues", he continued, "for their work is unbelievable and inspires you to give way beyond your best."

As those who have met him know, the tall, softly spoken Duato is a man of great personal charm and intelligence. His presence inspires those around him, for as his dancers told me, he has only to enter a rehearsal room, and instinctively the level rises. His first priority is that his work be visually beautiful, touched with elegance, grace and poetry. He does not, as he will say, try to revolutionise the world of dance, but stages ballets inspired by music, whether classical, baroque or opera, or, as in the case of Herrumbre, music specially composed for the work, to fire the public's imagination.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for

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