When you leave a dance concert humming the scenery, you know the choreographer’s got trouble. Nacho Duato’s Bach: Multiplicity, performed by his Madrid-based Compañia Nacional de Danza at the Lincoln Center Festival was originally commissioned by the city of Weimar, Germany. It had everything going for it: transcendent music (albeit recorded), 30 fine performers (with Duato making a cameo appearance), a high-tech gloss. But it proved embarrassingly literal. The dancers mimed playing keyboards, in the air and on one another’s backs, and pretended to be an orchestra conducted by a bewigged Bach figure (gravely danced by Thomas Klein) at the same time that they tried to represent the music.
Klein seemed weirdly pedophiliac—and almost sadistic—as he stroked a bow on the body of lovely corps dancer Iratxe Ansa. We know a woman’s body is like a cello. Watching this duet was like hearing chalk squeal across a blackboard: Our kinesthetic response made us want to intervene in what appeared to be an abusive relationship.
Jaffar Al Chalabi’s imposing metal framework loomed over all the activity, sometimes concealing or containing parts of it within ponderously mobile rubberlike walls and shifting floors; the troupe’s final ascent up a zig-zag ramp throbbed with pageantry if not with significance. Contemporary, blond-wood Z-shaped chairs accommodated the “orchestra” and reappeared (sometimes in clusters as platforms) throughout. Costumes like pannier skirts, viewed both skeletally and in full drape, contrasted curiously with the bare legs and arms often in evidence.
The saddest part was the superficial way Duato’s terrific dancers responded to Bach’s music, often with little scribbling gestures—Mickey Mouse in the opera house.