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National Dance Company of Spain 2 at Annenberg (1st review)BY: Janet Anderson 05.19.2009
National Dance Company of Spain is one of Europe’s most innovative troupes. However, it was the company’s second-tier troupe that visited this time. No matter: This jayvee ensemble deserved its applause.
National Dance Company of Spain 2: Duende, Without Words, Gnawa. Choreography by Nacho Duato. May 14-16, 2009 at Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut Street. (215) 898-3900 or www.pennpresents.org.
A pleasant jolt from Spain’s second stringJANET ANDERSON
Let’s blow the lid right off here. It would be nice to think that anyone who has written as a dance critic since the 1980s could sit in a half-hour traffic delay on Kelly Drive without letting that frustration affect her reaction to a performance. It would be nice, and possibly even true, if upon leaving the Kelly Drive nightmare behind, she hadn’t arrived across the river in University City to find its streets equally clogged. Masses of people were walking around wearing caps that said “Penn 1954.” Cars were double-parked everywhere.
Nevertheless, she resolutely drove into the parking lot across from Annenberg, only to drive through all five levels and onto the roof without finding a vacancy. At this point, she turned down toward the exit many floors below her with the thought that, if a place to park turned up, she’d stay; if not, she’d simply accept her fate and leave.
As fate would have it, a vacant spot appeared on the very lowest level of the parking lot, right next to the elevators— the very best parking space she’d ever seen. So she parked and ran to the theater door, huffing and puffing as she took her seat. Caveat reader.
A heavy burden
National Dance Company Spain is one of Europe’s most innovative troupes, and despite its Flamenco Olé-sounding name, it performs nothing but the extremely hip and innovative work of its founder and artistic director, Nacho Duato. However, it was National Dance Company Spain 2 that was visiting Philly this time. Number One has been here on several other occasions.
Duato boasts a zesty background: He was trained in ballet with the Rambert Ballet in Britain and with Alvin Ailey in the U.S., then spent time with the experimental Nederlands Dans Theater. This résumé means that he, and his dancers, carry on their shoulders the weighty status of ballet dancers, plus the force field of African-American movement that comes out of the torso, plus a commitment to experimental work. Theoretically “2 “is composed of youngsters gaining experience to move upward to the big troupe. Actually, the second troupe has been so successful that its main purpose these days seems simply to provide a second touring wing.
Pushing bodies into shapes
Saturday’s performance had two Duato works from the 1990s: Duende (1991) and Without Words (1998), as well as Gnawa (2005). Duato uses bodies carefully; like a visual artist, he pushes his dancers together into shapes that form and dissolve continuously. The performance is more about theatrical stage composition than executing steps.
Duende actually means forest folk, elves and fairies. Performed to selected Debussy excerpts from Pastoral, Syrinx and Danse sacrée et dance profane, this is a quiet, slow movement meditation. Dressed in blue and performing against a blue backdrop, the dancers’ bodies merged and climbed over each other, making shapes and suggesting something of a Midsummer’s Night playfulness.
Duende was followed by Without Words, to Franz Schubert’s song scores (which were composed only for instrumental music without words). Once again, we had a shape dance, but here the dancers performed as couples, and as they rolled on the floor or draped themselves together, a photo screen overhead gave brief close-ups suggesting moods and interactions. Still, like Duende, this was quiet, introspective. The stark black and white staging was more dramatic, as were the photos overhead, but the mood was the same.
Gnawa (2005) was a very pleasant jolt. Duato’s inspiration here is Mediterranean culture, a world blending Southern Europe and North Africa. The word actually refers to a North African trance dance. The music made everyone sit up with its North African drums, flutes, bells and rattles.
Fabulous barefoot stomping
The dancers pranced out, carrying votive lights, which they placed along stage front. Then they danced— boy, did they dance. There were no shapes here, just fabulous, barefoot stomping music, plus some hollering and clapping as they formed into lines that wove around the whole stage. It made a great finale for this fine ensemble.
No dancers got individual credit on the program; I guess they’ll have to wait until they get bumped up to NDCS 1 for that to happen.
While everyone in the audience was enthusiastically applauding this deserving troupe, your faithful recorder crept up the aisle, plotting a complicated route back to the Northwest suburbs that would take her around the Kelly Drive regatta parking lot mess. It didn’t work, but she gave it a good try. ◆
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