It’s a strange quirk of dance history that ballet didn’t established itself in Spain in quite the way it did in neighboring European countries like France and Italy. Ballet companies exist in Spain, but they are small and not as prominent as, say, Russia or even Britain, while Spanish ballet dancers often have to travel overseas to work – Britain’s own Royal Ballet is full of them.
It’s a little confusing, then, to see the Ballet Nacional de Espana, which isn’t a ballet company but Spain’s national troupe whose style is best described as a mix of elegant flamenco and escuela bolera, meaning Spanish classical dance. The rep is, in very broad terms, group work with distinctively Spanish music and costumes, and love and passion the preferred themes.
The dancers are all excellent, with polished manners and lovely faces. The double bill (with a third short work in some performances) showed them off, although not all the choreography served them uniformly well.
The programme opening Dualia is an upbeat group work choreographed by the company’s principal dancers Carlos Rodriguez and Angel Rojas. The pair are adept at marshalling the dancers, who move energetically across the stage in a dramatic sweep of impassioned fury. The recorded music is not so good, but the dancers are so skilful that you overlook this and the occasionally romantically dippy scene.
However, the second group work La Leyenda faired less well. It was similar in subject and scale, but with stronger flamenco moves. Some of the dancers were excellent, but the piece didn’t combine their solos and duets in a coherent theatrical whole. Indeed, it wasn’t clear if the piece was a flamenco display or a story told in dance. Even so-called “plotless” choreography has a beginning, middle and end, with steps that build and then tail off convincingly to a pleasing close. La Leyenda lacked this, and sections of the audience were shuffling with theatrical boredom.
In some performances, these two big-group works were sandwiched a short duet for the Spanish-born Royal Ballet dancer Tamara Rojo and company member Miguel A Corbacho. Rojo enhances almost all that she dances, but her talents were wasted in this floaty romantic number. And surprising, although Rojo is an excellent ballet dancer, she was less good at the Spanish dance at which you’d think she’d excel.