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Sunday, May 20, 2007
Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles
Presented by Dance at the Music Center

The dancers certainly looked young. My companions and I guessed that the oldest couldn’t have been more than 23 years old. We over shot by a few years. The members of Compania Nacional de Danza 2, the second ensemble of one of Spain’s two national dance companies, in fact range in age from 17-21. Yet the youthful performers displayed impressive confidence and energy in a gorgeous program of three works by artistic director Nacho Duato.

The opening work, “Rassemblement”, began with a beautiful solo by a woman who appeared desperate or in mourning and slowly built by adding more and more figures to the stage until the explosive ensemble ending. Set to the music of Toto Bissainthe, the piece evoked tribal communities and a vague struggle for freedom against some sort of oppression. A stunning, animalistic solo culminated in an abstract beating. The chilling final image featured a man hanging upside down as others reached toward him in longing.

Though Duato didn’t develop any sort of clear narrative, the work broadly addressed issues of human suffering and the power of culture and ritual to hold people together. His choreography effectively combined ballet technique with effortless partnering and human pedestrian movements such as a cupped face or the frantic waving of hands that added an emotional element and a sense of vulnerability to the work.

“Remansos” followed in an extended version of the original male trio that premiered on American Ballet Theatre in 1997. The work was inspired by the elegant and calming music of composer Enrigque Granados and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

The piece began with two fluid duets before moving into the male trio that proved to be the true substance of the work. As danced by Joaquin Crespo, Kenji Matsuyama, and Aleix Mane, the alternating solos in front of a wall of changing colors were alternatively comical, romantic, and poignant. The most satisfying moments were in the interactions of the three young men in several partnering sections and tableaus against the wall that were brilliantly lit to cast a soft glow around the dancers.

A red rose that moved throughout the work could have been clichéd but was regarded without preciousness and instead served as an elusive symbol that ultimately was less important than the physical relationships between the performers.

The evening concluded with “Gnawa”, a work originally set on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago that paid homage to the Moroccan descendents of West African slaves. Duato creates a rich visual world with dark backdrops, simple costumes, and pots of candles that cast shadows and gave an element of mystery and ritual to the work. Duato has the ability to introduce endlessly compelling partnering that in each of the three works felt related yet distinct from each other. In “Gnawa”, however, the most fascinating moments were the group sections where the ensemble, swaying together in a tight space or plowing upstage in interlocking rows, was engulfed by the dramatic music of Hassan Hakmoun and Adam Rudolph.

Despite the youth of CND2, the company offered a mature performance that, while perhaps light in substance and meaning, was nevertheless a bountiful offering of beautiful images, flawless technique and execution, and a lush tapestry of the various cultural and musical influences of Spain and Northern Africa