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Inventive shapes: CND2 at Jacob’s Pillow.

Youth Movement
By Mae G. Banner

Compañía Nacional de Dañza 2 (CND2: Dances by Nacho Duato)
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, July 27

Remember, in grade-school science, how they taught us that hybrids are stronger? Well, Nacho Duato’s choreography for CND2 provides convincing evidence of that rule.

The troupe, formed in 1999 in Spain, is the touring arm of the somewhat older and larger main group, Compania Nacional de Danza. The 14 dancers, aged 17 to 23 years, made their U.S. debut last week at Jacob’s Pillow, performing three dances by the prolific Duato, who also has choreographed for an international range of companies, including American Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Hybrid vigor ran through all three dances. Whatever the mood or music, each was a blend of balletic lifts and leaps tempered with gravity-bound honesty. Movements were fluid, often sensuous. Stage composition favored action in unexpected corners, or patterns that segued from duets to trios to full ensemble stage pictures.

Torsos were flexible rather than rigid, as they are in classical ballet. Two or three dancers might link up briefly to create sculptural shapes for our contemplation. Dancers related to each other as part of a group, giving individuals or couples their moments to star, but always reabsorbing them into the ensemble.

Na Floresta, a dance for five women and five men to music by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Wagner Tiso, was a mix of angles and curves. The men in light brown T-shirts and pants (no men in tights here) and the women in simple dresses in garden colors of purple, rose and green, moved to sounds of the rain forest and Portuguese songs in a rich contralto voice.

A man might drop and pivot on one hand, then spring to his feet in one fluid move. A woman might roll on the ground before a frame made by three linked dancers. A harsh male-male duet was marked by fast jumps and jetes, grappling hands and even a leapfrog. A man slid a woman along the ground, then lifted her. She rose as if she were being blown by a hot wind.

Duato’s work is full of inventive shapes that flow one into the next. Two men lift a woman facing front between them. She extends her legs in a wide inverted V, then sinks to lie across both the men’s bent backs, beautifully calm.

If Na Floresta was the lovely dance, Coming Together was the scary one. It’s set to a repetitive and partly improvised electronic score by Frederic Rzewski that overrides a spoken text—a letter written by a prisoner killed in the 1971 Attica riots.

The words are delivered like blows, not connected to each other. Words and music are randomly repeated in unpredictable order as bodies create sharply angled shapes, drop and roll, or do seesaw kicks.

A dancer runs over the rolling body of another. Three women dance with their hands locked behind their backs, their bodies moving like whirlwinds in this demanding, troubling dance that draws you in even as it repels you.

Duato’s choreography shows a great sense of cadence and composition. He is precise in the timing and placing of his blows. His dancers are tireless, powerful in their expressiveness, which moves the ballet-based vocabulary to a new dimension.

The program ended with Duende, a suite of five dances to Debussy’s music for flute, harp, viola and strings. Here, Duato shows an affinity with Nijinsky’s two-dimensional images in Afternoon of a Faun. The dancers made me think of a surrealist movie I saw recently, in which statues of nymphs and fauns came to life and sprang from their pedestals at midnight to revel in a forested garden.

The choreography plays with pairs of dancers in mirror images and with provocative shapes, such as a woman resting on one bent knee, while the other leg flares up and out behind her.

Speed is paramount as couples and threesomes gambol, then pose in broken arabesques and odd angles. A man and woman approach each other across an open stage to the sound of Debussy’s insinuating flute in Syrinx. Will they meet? Yes, but at the side of the stage, and so actively that their sexy coupling seems feral, not romantic.

The meetings and partings of these eager young dancers were perfectly matched to the mood of the music in Duende, which was the fullest, most satisfying dance of the three.

These dances, all made in 1990 or 1991, were first performed by the Nederlands Dans Theater in the Hague, where Duato was resident choreographer for many years, or by CND2’s parent company in Madrid. CND2 first performed them in various Spanish cities over the years between 2000 and 2003.

Like Paul Taylor’s Taylor 2 or Alvin Ailey’s junior company, CND2 is organized to teach young dancers the repertory of the parent company and to tour its works to smaller and more far-flung cities. It’s a win-win idea from which dancers and audiences benefit.

What Fairchild Is This?

New York City Ballet
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 22-26

Two big events in the final week gave the New York City Ballet season at SPAC an unexpected jolt.

First, Megan Fairchild made a major debut in Coppelia, the pastoral-comical 19th-century story ballet that George Balanchine and Alexandra Danilova brought back to life in 1974 especially for SPAC’s outdoor stage.

Fairchild, only 19 and a member of the ballet corps for one year, was scheduled to dance the leading role of Swanilda/Coppelia for two matinee performances. As it turned out, principal dancer Alexandra Ansanelli was injured, and Fairchild ended up doing all four performances of this demanding role, including two in one day on Thursday.

Crisp and petite with stamina to burn, she held the stage all week and never faltered. In fact, by the Saturday matinee, her dancing was freer, more full of character. A backstage source pronounced her “hard as nails.”

By turns, Fairchild could be demure in delicately placed steps on point, or she could be quite the soubrette, flicking a disdainful leg behind her to dismiss her fickle fiancé for pining over Coppelia, the silent beauty who sits reading on the upstairs balcony of the old dollmaker, Dr. Coppelius.

Later, impersonating the doll, she arches her back and tilts her chin at Coppelius, which flabbergasts him. His creation has come to life and is showing a saucy temper.

This Pygmalion-type story ends with Coppelius bested and young Swanilda and Frantz celebrating their wedding in the midst of a villagewide pageant to dedicate a new bell. There is dancing galore, including passages by a pink-clad corps of 24 children, one for each hour in the day.

In the culminating duet, Fairchild, in white lace, fairly flies up to perch lightly on her partner’s shoulder and does a daring fish-dive from behind to rest along his back. In the evening shows, Damian Woetzel was her now-solicitous Frantz. The chemistry was stronger, though, in the matinees, when Fairchild was paired with speedy Benjamin Millepied.

Dr. Coppelius strikes me as a distant cousin to Shakespeare’s Shylock—an outsider and therefore reviled. So, I preferred Adam Hendrickson’s shaded portrayal of the largely pantomime role to Robert La Fosse’s more broadly comic turn.

Coppelia drew sizeable audiences of about 3,000 to the amphitheater, but the attraction of John Lithgow in Carnival of the Animals nearly filled the 5,100-seat house.

The new ballet, a self-declared bit of whimsy by resident choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, is more theatrical spectacle than dance, but even Balanchine, who was a skilled amateur cook, knew that a hearty meal requires a light dessert.

Carnival, set to the music of Saint-Saëns, stars Lithgow, who wrote the rhymed libretto. He is the onstage narrator and does lightning-quick costume changes to reappear as Mabel Buntz, a humongous lady elephant in gray tulle with pink trim. Big-bosomed and full-skirted, Lithgow’s elephant is a true descendant of The Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger.

Supported by four hard-working mice, Lithgow does a credible ballet turn, including a prima ballerina curtain call that is quite funny.

The sillier animals—all in the guise of schoolmates and teachers of the 11-year-old hero, who has fallen asleep overnight in the Museum of Natural History—include Charles Askegard as a ruddy-maned lion, Arch Higgins as a stern baboon piano teacher, and Yvonne Borree as a mermaid who leads a corps of spangly synchronized swimmers in Marilyn Monroe wigs.

Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette are touching as the boy’s worried parents, and ballet mistress Christine Redpath, returning to the stage after 17 years, is a serene swan in a bare-back dress and long white gloves. Their work leavened the foolishness with some truly balletic moments.

Wheeldon’s sensibility in Carnival comes from Winnie-the-Pooh. His comedy is a pale shadow of ideas from Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, which is a serious joke about human flaws and desires.

People came by the thousands to see Lithgow, not ballet. Still, as Wheeldon said in a pre-performance talk, “Anything that brings people in is good. They’ll see Carnival and maybe they’ll like something else, too.”

The uproarious response to Wednesday’s knife-edged performance of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements with Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto in the central duet may prove Wheeldon’s point. Audiences do know a good thing when they see it.

—Mae G. Banner


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