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Interview with Nacho Duato
The major works of the ballet repertoires are largely devoted to showing beautiful bodies moving gracefully and, along the way, may touch on feelings such as love, sorrow, grief, passion, etc. Yet Nacho Duato, General Artistic Director of the Staatsballett, manages to be political in his choreography. How does he do that?

Well, politics is a lot about passion and feelings, too, right? Pretty much anything can be seen in a political light. I mean, even “Giselle” is a political ballet. The prince can’t marry his little darling because she’s of low birth. Or look at “Swan Lake” - political to its fingertips. But you’re right, these works are hardly ever politicised. Audiences go to a ballet to see a pretty ballerina or a prince. They don’t want to open their programme and have to plough through the Declaration of Human Rights. And the conservatives among them certainly don’t, most of whom have paid upwards of 20 euros for their ticket.

That was more or less what they were doing, though, with “Herrumbre”, your choreography dealing with the terrorist bombing in Madrid, which played at the Staatsballett a year ago. After the performance Amnesty International had people handing out leaflets condemning torture. Wasn’t that a little provocative, coming right on top of a show that itself was a little hard to digest?

It was, yes, but that’s how it should be! For my first work, “Erde”, we had Greenpeace on board. I was really chuffed at that. Usually in ballet you’re involved with big stars or big sponsors like Mercedes Benz, which is why I think the link to Greenpeace is so important in a city like Berlin, which is so raw and plagued with problems and full of people from different countries living in such close proximity to one another. I, for one, am proud of it and it’ll be interesting to see if any synergies come out of it.

So in effect you’re happy to alienate people who are turned off by these kinds of connections and references. You prefer to put together choreographies that highlight issues that are important to you.

“Swan Lake” is always going to pull in bigger audiences than “Herrumbre”, for instance, and I totally get that. Who wants to subject themselves to a serious, drastic work after a hard day in the office? The impression I get is that the audiences that turn up to my stuff are not trying to avoid confrontation. They want to make up their own minds about the material that’s dished up for them and not be presented with something that’s detached from their own reality. That said, I like the great classics, too, and have choreographed them, “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Nutcracker”, for example. But my own work mostly deals with issues that affect me and move me personally. In the end no one has to be alienated, because the other works are being staged too. I don’t want to be deciding consciously against a particular audience; I just want to present stuff that’s right for one audience or another and I want everyone to get what they’re looking for.

Your new choreography, “Erde”, has its world premiere on 21st April alongside Hofesh Shechter’s “The Art of Not Looking Back”. Is “Erde” the kind of work that affects and moves you?

It is, definitely. It’s about our planet, the one we’re destroying without a thought for our own recklessness. And we’re going to suffer the consequences - big consequences. But the choreography is fundamentally optimistic, because I do get the impression that humanity in general is gradually realising what has to be done if we’re going to halt the destructive process.

Hmm, in some countries there is zero movement on environmental protection and wholesale denial of the repercussions of pollution.

Oh yes. And since the change of presidents in the USA recently there’s been a surge in the number of people pushing that fake agenda. But in my opinion, that can also have the effect of nudging the other camp - in this case the environmentalists - to get their act together and take real action at last. If you ask me, the signs are so overwhelming that no one can close their eyes to them.

What connection is there between your choreography and Shechter’s?

Both works have electronic music. Hofesh Shechter wrote his own music for “The Art of Not Looking Back” and I commissioned musicians. They included two composers and three musicians who DJ regularly and whom many people will have heard of. Richie Hawtin is often playing at Berghain, Alva Hoto is a well-known German artist, who has often worked on projects with Mika Vainio, the third guy in the group, who’s known for his minimal and ambient material. And this combination of classical and electronic music has turned out really well.

So is there a thematic link between the two works?

No, but Shechter and me have very similar dance vocabularies - powerful, earthed. His dancers are barefoot, mine wear trainers. I think the two works go very well together. They complement each other.

Interview: Renske Steen
(c) Yan Revazov