Spain's National Ballet leaps beyond flamenco at Singapore's da:ns festival. We're next
Connoisseurs of bodies in breathtaking motion celebrated Spain’s National Day on Wednesday by thrilling to a performance of the Ballet Nacional de Espana at Singapore’s Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.
The Spanish Embassy in Singapore supported its appearance during the annual da:ns festival, as the one in Bangkok did for this weekend’s shows at the Thailand Cultural Centre.
I started celebrating the National Day early with my first-ever taste of Spanish ham that morning (it’s better than Parma ham) and wished the ballet’s new artistic director, Antonio Najarro, all the best for the patriotic occasion.
“The company will go through a big change – I want the public back home to see that we can perform anything, both old and new,” said Najarro, whose first mission has been guiding the company through its Asian tour, sold out everywhere so far.
It began in Guangzhou last month, continued on to Taipei, Seoul and Singapore and ends in Bangkok tomorrow.
Each season will henceforth include both existing dance pieces from the repertoire and new works, Najarro said, and “one of my goals is to create harmony between them”.
For a world premiere at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela next March, Najarro has invited “young choreographers to create ‘risky shows’, with a new language of Spanish dance – more complicated footwork, for example. I want the dancers to dance in different styles.
“This will be followed by my re-creation of the ‘Suite Sevilla’,” he added, referring to a classical Spanish dance piece he conceived for the company that bears his name.
Najarro is fully aware that younger people are less interested in Spanish dance, so he’s developed a more “modern” programme in which practitioners of other arts – such as music, painting and design – collaborate with the choreographers “to capture the attention of the young public”.
“And then maybe they’ll come back to see our repertoire works later.”
Najarro is not new to artistic innovation, having created “Tango Flamenco”, “Flamecoriental” and “Jazzing Flamenco” for his own company and done choreography for world-class figure skaters.
“The public reaction to these ‘risky shows’ is very good,” he said. “I work on this fusion with much respect. I never say I create something new – it’s always already been created. The only thing that makes them different is the choreographer’s personality.”
The troupe’s dancers enjoy the fresh challenges, he said, but they need to be reminded that the older works are still essential.
“I’m one of the company’s youngest-ever artistic directors, but we must have respect for tradition. Otherwise we’ll be completely lost.”
Najarro insists that they be able to “perform all styles of Spanish dance, in addition to contemporary dance, with a strong classical ballet base”. They train for six or seven hours every day, moving from classical ballet to classical Spanish with Najarro, then another class with a guest choreographer, and finally rehearsals for upcoming shows.
“It’s very important for the dancers to have very good technique – and then forget it,” Najarro said. “Then we just have to show our energy and passion in using the technique.”
Interestingly enough, flamenco has a large and devout following in Japan. He’s been there many times in the last 20 years.
“I think in the Japanese way of life it’s difficult to express all your sentiments. Spanish people are quite the opposite. The Japanese are captivated by how flamenco dancers show all of their emotions and energy onstage.
“Spanish dancers like myself – I’ve been training since I was eight – can say more with our physical movements than with spoken words.”
The Singapore performance displayed the company’s remarkable and effortless capacity for handling different choreography.
“Danza y Tronio”, a 1984 piece by the late acclaimed teacher-choreographer Mariemma, was slow yet strong and graceful start to the evening. The ensemble showed perfect synchronisation and energy in the melding of classical Spanish ballet and fandango.
Fernando Romero’s “Caprichos”, which followed, was simply the best flamenco show I’ve ever seen. It brought out all the varied sentiments in dance and music – and passages of silence – and was made even more theatrical by the lighting.
A solo by principal dancer Miguel Angel Corbacho was in fact like a mesmerising duet with guitarist Diego Losada – the true climax of the evening.
In the final piece, “Cambalache” by Antonio Canales, we witnessed more of Corbacho’s prowess, even though it began and ended as an ensemble work.
“I love flamenco,” Najarro said, but on the Asian tour, “We want to show the audience that flamenco is only one of the styles of Spanish dance.
“In Taipei they especially liked ‘Dualia’, which is not actually flamenco, and they understood its message, and that’s very important. Outside of Spain not many people know Spanish classical dance.”
Najarro aims for the same level of understanding from his Bangkok audience.
“The audience will leave the theatre with something new in their heads. Apart from energy, synchronisation and choreography, there’s a very big message. We can really show how we are.”
A few months ago I predicted that the Ballet Nacional de Espa