DANCE / Lost in the heat and dust: Judith Mackrell on the Compania Nacional de Danza at Sadler's Wells

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Since Nacho Duato took over Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza in 1990, it seems to have become a one-man show - Duato has choreographed all seven works in the company's current season, has designed most of the sets and costumes, and performs some of the dancing too. Single- choreographer companies are, of course, commonplace, but the Duato experience is more overwhelming than most because the glossiness and power of his dances are so unremitting, and because their dark, grandiloquent emotions are so rarely


Duato's style has interesting Spanish roots - there are touches of snaky flamenco arms, a sinewy tension in the torso, and the music draws on a range of Spanish / Latin composers - Brazilian Villa- Lobos, the Majorcan Maria del Mar Bonet, the Basque Alberto Iglesias. It's possible to push national stereotypes and argue that there's a macho gleam to the men that's rarely seen on our more androgynous English stage and a heat in the dancing that feels Mediterranean.

Also, Duato is an inventive choreographer. He constructs bold, arresting shapes out of his dancers' bodies, he counterpoints stretched and vigorous leg work with sensuous, oriental arms and insinuating curvy hips. He composes stark, sexy patterns in space. The problems with the work are those of overkill.

Everything is danced flat out, so there are few subtleties of nuance and dynamic. Legs are splayed as wide as they'll go, bodies arched to extremes. Steps follow on without pause (you can sense the influence of Kylian here in phrases that run along so seamlessly they feel like endless rubber bands). Phrase also follows phrase with such facility that the works lose track of their own structure. And the impact, the flavour of the choreography, doesn't much vary from work to work, whether the piece is dealing with Amazon rain forests, erotic love or political oppression. Not only are signature points of the style repeated too often, but a mood of bland portentousness hangs over the whole programme.

You can feel the presence of Bejart (with whom Duato studied) in the large, vague emotions that urge themselves on to every dance and that are written about with baffling obliquity in the programme notes (Na Floresta 'communicates an intimacy and feeling for nature greater than our contact with other beings', while the main female character in Cautiva fights 'against a world of fantasy love and death').

The same stock of movements has to convey all this and more - but there's one overwhelming advantage to this limited dance terrain, which is that Duato's dancers have become superb instruments of his style. Even though other choreographers' works are still, apparently, in the repertoire, the company dance Duato's movement as if it's their special language and their mission - and it's worth seeing them just for that.

Even the most tucked-away member of the corps dances with the juiced-up energy, passionate seriousness and intent clarity of line of a centre-stage principal. Nobody's giving less than everything - but it might still be interesting to see what the dancers do when they're allowed to mix with other choreographers as well.

Spain's Compania Nacional de Danza is at Sadler's Wells, London EC1 until 19 March. Box office: 071-278 8916

(Photograph omitted)