Steps in all directions amid aura of homage
BECKET — After 20 years at the helm, Nacho Duato, founder and artistic director of Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza and its “junior’’ company commonly known as CND2, will be stepping down from his position this year. CND2’s performances this week at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival mark the last under Duato’s command, so the occasion has about it both expectancy — what will happen to these companies? — and a melancholic aura of homage to Duato.
On opening night, alas, the program — two dances by Duato, “Gnawa’’ and “Kol Nidre,’’ plus “Insected,’’ choreographed by his co-artistic director Tony Fabre — was erratic in content. The performers mostly prevailed as personable and strong, with the brooding, charismatic Aleix Mane standing out as a dancer to keep an eye on.
Duato’s 2005 “Gnawa’’ is a Cheshire cat of a dance that may dissipate into little substance, then suddenly reappear as a vision of mysterious beauty. Some dancers smile — the title refers to members of a tribe who seek ecstasy through rituals — and some don’t, while duets, trios, and quartets appear and disappear as if figments of our imagination. While some of the work’s enigma is appealing, there is a lack of development within and between sections. Brief solos pile up like so much filler, and though the main pas de deux has lovely moments of quiet discovery, here it felt heavy, the partnering’s mechanics too obvious. Yet there are tantalizing snippets of the often-riveting Duato power.
Fabre’s 2008 “Insected’’ also suffers from too little glue holding the many interesting pieces together. A score that includes the increasingly shrill buzz of katydids sets the mood for dancers who jump and splay onto a large wall, like moths on a summer screen, or, lying on little scooters, scurry about like cockroaches in a nighttime kitchen. It’s quirky fun, sure, but especially in the last quarter or so, it’s disconcertingly choppy.
Like “Gnawa,’’ the 2009 “Kol Nidre’’ uses tradition as a jumping-off point, that of a Yom Kippur incantation that inspired Duato to address war and its effect on children. A pile of sandbags and a large mesh funnel conjure a bleak atmosphere in which eight dancers duck invisible enemies or crawl, propelling themselves on taut forearms as if in the midst of battle. They run around exhaustedly, roll, or peer out anxiously. It’s an upsetting subject, and the effect is overwrought, largely because there is no buildup to the drama. “Kol Nidre’’ is a sketch of strife, but we can’t transcend it as more than so much theatrical angst.
Janine Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.