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Bringing ballet in from the cold

The national dance company CND will finally offer Spain a ballet repertoire that has been sorely lacking.


Classical dance has been off-limits in recent years at Spain's CND national dance company. Photo: Stillman Brown.

The news that Nacho Duato will be leaving the Compañía Nacional de Danza (CND) in July after 20 years at the helm ushers in a new era for dance in Spain.

His early exit is triggered by the Culture Ministry’s recent and momentous decision that from now on the state company must offer classical and neoclassical dance, instead of just the contemporary choreographies that Duato specializes in.

This is in fact what the CND should have been doing all along, Duato’s critics feel, noting that in recent years its artistic director has been running the public company like a private feifdom.

By offering to extend his soon-to-expire contract to 2011, the authorities hoped that Duato would agree to lead an amicable transition into the new, multi-genre CND model before a new director takes over. But the Valencian seems disinclined to dance to the ministry’s tune and has turned down the offer (even though he has yet to confirm it in writing).

No matter when he leaves, experts wonder whether the CND can remain the world-class company it currently is, thanks mostly to Duato’s personal vision and unquestionable talent as a dancer and choreographer.

But classical dancers are celebrating their coming-of-age. For a nation with such a strong attachment to other dance forms —such as flamenco, one of its main cultural exports— it is an anomaly that Spain has not had a national ballet company for two decades, when other EU countries have one or more each (the misleadingly named Ballet Nacional de España actually focuses on a stylised form of flamenco, rather than ballet.)

For years, there was a pervading sense that classical ballet was passé in a country determined to be “modern.” Classical dancers therefore often felt ignored, unappreciated and even pitied. Duato himself recently told El País that “contemporary dance is much closer (than ballet) to the 21st-century man.”

A ballet boycott

Meanwhile, a whole generation of Spanish ballet dancers who were forced to seek employment abroad (there being no job openings here) were reaping significant international success. Ángel Corella triumphed at the American Ballet Theater, Tamara Rojo became principal dancer at London’s Royal Ballet, Lucía Lacarra did the same at Munich’s Bavarian State Ballet and Igor Yebra starred at the Bordeaux Opera Ballet.

Some of these dancers have attempted to fill the void by starting their own projects in Spain. In 2005, the ballerina María Giménez founded a private company that only lasted three and a half years. Blaming a lack of institutional support, she denounced “a boycott on ballet.” In 2008, after years of trying, Angel Corella created the Corella Ballet de Castilla y León, with funds from that region’s government and private sponsors.

The most serious attempt at a national ballet was mounted by Víctor Ullate, another leading dance figure, with support from the central and Madrid governments, but authorities finally considered it too expensive.

Now, it looks like the government wants to reach a compromise: since creating a new company from scratch in these economic times is not an option, it will at least force the CND to include ballet on its program. The Culture Ministry insists that there is no going back on this decision, no matter who is at the helm from now on. Rumour has it that the new artistic director could well be a ballet celebrity like Tamara Rojo, or even Ullate, whose school has produced many of these stars.

Finally, the “exodus” of classical dancers, as Corella puts it, could be over. Spain seems ready to embrace a whole group of artists who have burnished its reputation abroad. It is a pity that, as is too often the case, talent had to be recognized abroad before being recognized here. But at least there has now been a carefully choreographed step in the right direction.

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Published: Apr 23 2010
Category: Culture
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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