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Ritualistic: CND2’s Gnawa at Jacob’s Pillow.

Photo: Kristi Pitsch

A Bold Farewell

By Lynn Hasselbarth


Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 31

The return of Spain’s contemporary dance company CND2 to Jacob’s Pillow was an historic event. With director Nacho Duato having recently announced his departure from the company he founded over 20 years ago, this past weekend’s performance represented the end of an era in contemporary European dance history.

During his directorship of the Compañía Nacional de Danza and its sister company CND2, Duato helped usher in an important paradigm shift in Spanish artistic expression. With the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1973, Spain entered a 15-year period of much needed democratization. This led to an outpouring of creativity, modernity and overall boundlessness, which Duato exemplified throughout his choreographic career.

In this weekend’s performance, Duato featured three pieces which represented a wide range of influences, displaying both ancient traditions as well as present-day struggles. With a company of 13 classically trained dancers, the pieces showcased a daring physicality and vigor made evident by the young ensemble, most of whom are in their early 20s.

The performance opened with a ritualistic piece titled Gnawa, which refers to a mystic Muslim community based in Morocco. With roots in sub-Saharan Africa, the community can draw lineage to the continent’s first generation of slaves.

With a blend of African drumming, breathy flute melodies and a faint background of trickling water, the piece reflected desert life through intimate exchanges as well as orderly rituals. The men danced bare-chested while the women were cloaked in conservative black gowns, the two relating to each other with a mix of passion and reserve.

A couple featured throughout the piece represented a distinct need for freedom and individuality. Dressed in nude-colored garments, the dancers executed acrobatic stunts with a playful and sensual quality resisted by the surrounding community.

The contrast between collective responsibility and individual desire returned in the piece Kol Nidre. The title refers to the Aramaic recitation heard in synagogues on the evening service for Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

With a Klezmer musical score, the piece reflected the energetic resilience of youth, even during times of war. With sand bags piled in the back corner of the stage and the sound of distant bombs, the dancers resisted strife and defeat with a yearning for connection.

A duet, which vaguely mirrored that of the previous piece, seemed to heal the wounds of discord. At times the couple embraced desperately, one leaping across the stage in the other’s arms. During other moments, the two interlaced their limbs and descended to the ground in a protective huddle. The piece ended poignantly with the male separated from his partner, isolated in a cascading sheet of white gauze, staring blankly outward.

Positioned between these two politically charged portrayals was a more edgy and experimental piece titled Insected. Choreographed by CND2 co-artistic director Tony Fabre, the message presented was one of self-discovery and innovation. Set to a gnawing track of humming insects and percussive strings, the company emerged torso-down on small scooters, scurrying across the stage like a fleet of arachnids.

The mass of black figures taunted and harassed a single male dancer as he attempted to escape. The man sought safety by scaling a rusty metal structure upstage, hoisting himself on its top or dangling from its supporting sides. The tactile movements of the dancers elevated the piece from a mere comic-strip spoof to a bold statement on man’s search for direction.

Having been transported to a seedy underworld of man versus nature, it was a relief to see a moment of recognizable dance vocabulary. A couple broke away from the mass and performed a rapid interlude, with each movement echoing a series of rolling castanets. With this fleeting reminder of Spanish flamenco dance, it was apparent just how varied the repertoire of the Compañía Nacional de Danza has been under Duanto’s leadership.

Having left his post at CND, Duato is likely to be just as boundless in his new role as chief choreographer of the Mikhailovski Ballet Company in St. Petersburg. As the first foreigner in over 100 years to direct one of Russia’s leading ballet companies, Duato will surely make a remarkable impact.

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