It is said that “home is where the heart is” and for Joaquín de Luz, the prodigal son, Madrid is home. His initial term of five years as director of Spain’s Compañía Nacional de Danza began on September 1, 2019; this effectively means that he has thus spent half of his first year in this new role in some form of confinement be it domiciliary or regional.
But this hasn’t derailed the former New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre star. In fact, he seems poised as ever to create an identity for his country’s national dance company, one that demonstrates how a singular group of artists can be versed in so many ways.
This goal was the inspiration for the program de Luz curated for the company’s return to Teatro Real since he has taken over – “Apollo” (George Balanchine), “Concerto DSCH” (Alexei Ratmansky), and “White Darkness” (Nacho Duato). He explains how the three pieces form a stylistic coherency in which there is a progression from classical ballet to neoclassical ballet to contemporary ballet, and how the music of Stravinsky, Shostakovitch, and Jenkins, respectively, mirror this artistic diversity.
The Prodigal Son Dances Again
De Luz believes that “Teatro Real is the best theatre in the world” and that of course, “Madrid, the best city”. And the pride that the 44 years-young director exudes extends beyond his patria mater.
His eyes fill with emotion when he comments on the hard work his dancers have invested to overcome the challenges they have faced and achieve the accomplishments they have gained; it appears that indeed he has returned home to his family.
His company, along with the rest of Spain, spent over 100 days in isolation this past spring and summer. “Keeping a dancer in their home for three months is like keeping a lion in a cage,” he expresses. Once out of the metaphorical cage, de Luz so much desired to share the significant return to ballet barres and marley floors with his dancers that he decided to further involve himself in the creative process.
On opening night, de Luz will take the stage once again alongside fellow Spaniard and New York City Ballet colleague Gonzalo García in “Concerto DSCH”. When reflecting on this decision to again dance this role which Ratmansky created for him, de Luz says with a slight chuckle, “At least I will dance it one more time. Maybe I’ll regret it later. It’s quite physical”.
On the heels of this dynamic repertory program is the world premiere of de Luz’s “Giselle”. “What would it be like if [Gustavo Adolfo] Bécquer wrote ‘Giselle’?”, the self-proclaimed romantic asked himself when looking for inspirational guidance. De Luz is pulling this classical ballet from its traditional medieval setting and placing it into the Spanish Romantic period. He feels that Bécquer may be somewhat of a forgotten poet despite being author to some of Spain’s most beautiful writing.
I had the opportunity to speak with de Luz in more detail regarding his vision about:
– restructuring of the plot: “It always bothered me, things about the beginning [of ‘Giselle’]…and the end”;
– rearranging Adolphe Adam’s score: “We’re not adding any new music, we’re doing things to the music…at times”;
– and voiceovers: “We’re gonna hear Bécquer/Albrecht’s voice with Bécquer’s verses. And we’re gonna hear the voice of Giselle at the end. It’s done really well and respectively”.
Suffice to say, nobody could see the wheels turning in my head nor the excitement in my heart nor the open mouth hidden behind my mask.
El curador de jamón
De Luz doesn’t see himself as a choreographer in the way a dictionary would define one to be. In fact, he says mischievously that he’s more like Diaghilev – “un curador de jamon” (“curador” really means “one who cures meat”, but with no Spanish word for “curator” it’s the closest false linguistic friend it has). He likes to imagine and invent things, to add ingredients, and he is very much enjoying this facet of dance. He says there’s so many things in his head so… “Why not”?
Compañía Nacional de Danza’s repertory program will be presented from November 19-21 at Teatro Real and Giselle will run from December 9-22 at Teatro de la Zarzuela.