Duato’s Ballet Pays Tribute to Bach and His Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach: Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness: Dancers and Orchestra of Mikhailovsky Ballet / Mikhail Tatarnikov (conductor), London Coliseum, London. 5.4.2013  (MMB)

Bach: Marat Shemiunov
Music: Sabina Yapparova
Dark Lady: Polina Semionova
Principals, Soloists and Corps de Ballet of the Mikhailovsky Ballet.

Choreography: Nacho Duato
Set Design: Jaffar Chalabi
Costume Design: Nacho Duato
Lighting Design: Brad Fields

Photo copyright Mikhailovsky Ballet


Nacho Duato (b. 1957) is an award-winning Spanish dancer and choreographer with an illustrious career to his name. His first professional contract was with the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm in 1980. A year later, the famous choreographer Jiří Kylián brought him to the celebrated Nederlands Dans Theater. In 1983, Duato ventured into choreography for the first time with a ballet called Jardí Tancat set to Catalan music by Maria del Mar Bonet, and with it he won the International Choreographic Workshop in Cologne. For his achievement as a dancer, he received the prestigious Golden Dance Award in Schouwburgen, the Netherlands. In 1988 he was nominated Resident Choreographer of the Nederlands Dans Theater alongside Kylián and Hans van Manen. More international awards followed through the years and in 1990, he became Artistic Director of the Compañía Nacional de Danza in his home country of Spain. Since January 2011 Duato has been the Artistic Director of the Mikhailovsky Ballet, a slightly perplexing move for the company as up until now they were essentially classic. It was during his period with the Spanish National Dance Company, while performing in the annual Weimar Arts Festival in Germany in 1997 that Duato was commissioned by the Deutsches Nationaltheater in Weimar to choreograph a new ballet. This commission was Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness which I had the pleasure of watching last night at the Coliseum, as part of the Coliseum’s Mikhailovsky Ballet Season

According to what Nacho Duato told Angela Reinhardt – an extract of her article “Nacho Duato – the Spanish Phenomenon” was printed in the programme notes – a single name resounded in his head when he was given the commission for Weimar and that was Bach. So, he created this two act ballet Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, entirely to the music of J. S. Bach. It was premiered on 23rd April 1999 in Weimar and highly acclaimed by both critics and public alike.

Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness is not a narrative ballet as such. It does not tell a story in the conventional form but there is a story of sorts, hold together by the presence of Bach as the central character in the ballet and his relationship with music. According to the programme notes, the ballet begins with a solo by Nacho Duato himself, in which he, as the choreographer, respectfully asks the composer for permission to dance to his music. When Duato does not dance his solo prologue himself this brief scene is omitted, which sadly is exactly what happened last night. So the ballet starts with a brilliantly imaginative and vibrant scene where Bach (danced by Marat Shemiunov, complete in wig and 18th Century outfit) conducts the dancers as if they were musicians in an orchestra. It is simply terrific and a perfect example of how dance can illustrate and complement a great piece of music – here, the opening chorus “Zerreisset, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft” (Tear up, shatter, smash the crypt) from Aeolus Propitiated (BWV 205). This scene is followed by one of the most beautifully lyrical pieces of dance that I have ever seen: Bach sits and plays the prelude from his Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G major (BWV 1007) but he does not play a cello, instead he plays a woman. She symbolises Music, Bach’s true and only passion, according to Duato’s interpretation. Magnificently danced by tiny Sabina Yapparova it is passionate, sensual, exquisite and touching all at the same time. Yapparova is a sublime dancer, light as a feather and with a fluidity of movement that defies belief. One has the impression that she is truly made of water ….. as if her flesh and bones were simply a figment of one’s imagination.

Sadly, the remainder of the ballet does not quite live up to the extremely high standards set in the two opening scenes. There are many moments of sheer brilliance but also a few that become slightly tedious and where the dancers’ movements were a little patchy. The outstanding moments are mostly when Polina Semionova makes her entrance as the dark figure (literally dressed in black). She personifies the enemy and is a threat to Bach’s music. Ultimately, he must shield his beloved Music from this woman. An interesting feature is that this woman eventually hides behind a noble personality and becomes Bach’s wife, which is not very flattering for the women in the composer’s life! We do not know if she is Bach’s first or second wife but it seems irrelevant; the point is that she is portrayed as Bach’s opponent because she can destroy his true love: Music. Polina Semionova is utterly brilliant as the Dark Lady. Again, Duato’s genius is at its best here. He creates movements which are completely different from the liquid, lyrical beauty of the ones he gave Music. The Dark Lady moves almost like a robot, in powerful, aggressive, machine like movements of the arms and contortions of the body. Semionova’s body is immensely expressive and she moves in a way that defies belief. If Yapparova resembled liquid water; then, Semionova is made of flexible rubber! The two are simply outstanding and alongside Bach’s music, the absolute stars of the night.

Nacho Duato’s choreography is enthralling, and the influence of his years with Jiří Kylián and especially Hans van Manen during the time he spent with the Nederlands Dans Theater is noticeable throughout. Like van Manen’s, Duato’s choreography is rooted in the classical technique with a pure, harmonious line, which is then developed with twists, turns and fluid movements. Again like van Manen, in Multiplicity, Duato fully integrates the choreography with the music, as if steps, jumps, pirouettes are written on the stave in the same way as the music notes. This is effectively highlighted by the minimalist multi-tiered structure, symbolising the stave, created by Iraqui architect Jaffar Chalabi who designed the settings.

The two acts of Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness are distinctive in tone. The first is happier, more innocent, lifting and livelier; sizzling with passion, love, beauty. The second is much more introspective, darker; often expressing grief, doubt, sadness. The final, rather beautiful scene is another interesting interpretation of Bach’s life and compositions by Duato. At the end, among all the pain and thoughts of death, Bach’s solace is music and not religion. It is an interesting perspective as it is well known that Bach was a religious man. Finally, when the composer dies, the dancers slowly walk up the music stave so symbolising the fact that Bach will continue to live on through his music. Overwhelmingly, to me Duato’s ballet is a declaration of love to J S Bach’s eternal music legacy.

The orchestra conducted by Mikhail Tatarnikov performs Bach’s music exceptionally well, effectively supporting the choreography and the dancers, particularly, Vadim Messerman on the cello who does a lovely rendition of the Prelude to the First Cello Suite. With Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, Nacho Duato shows not only his immense talent as a choreographer but also as a costume designer. He designed all costumes for this ballet and they range from the beautiful (the black dress of the Dark Lady) to the downright weird (the insect-like shorts for two male dancers during a scene in Act I).

Overall, it was a very enjoyable evening of contemporary ballet. The public present last night at the Coliseum were obviously very partial to the choreography and the dancers, as they generally applauded at the end of each scene – an occurrence that I found slightly annoying! Otherwise, the enthusiastic applause at the end and the standing ovation for Nacho Duato when he came on stage at the end of the performance were indeed very well deserved.

Margarida Mota-Bull