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Bach is for Dancing (Nacho Duato's Multiplicity)

“Multiplicity: Bach” is advertised as a “choreographic reflection inspired by the music and life of Johann Sebastian Bach.” Just based on that PR-description, it might be either terrifically right or terribly wrong. When I first recommended in 2010, on WETA’s website, I had banked on the indestructibility of Bach and the fact that it was commissioned by the culturally high-minded city of Weimar. When I then actually saw it – first at the Munich State Ballet, then Den Norske Opera & Ballett, my recommendation didn’t just stand, it was redoubled. “Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness” (to give the full title of the two-partite work) is indeed terrifically right.

It’s a ballet inspired by a deep and abiding love for Bach, and it shines through every of the 22, mostly short, mostly unrelated, dance sequences; each set to a different piece of Bach’s music. The music comes out of the can, but that’s no loss because the recordings chosen (presumably by Duato) are excellent and show that he was (and is) a very discriminating collector. (It would, in any case, be unfeasible to perform that many completely different bits of Bach and get the exact tempi right for each one. I’ve put together a list with the exact recordings Duato chooses on ionarts.)

The first part, “Multiplicity”, looks at Bach’s life, at love, domesticity, and dance. Concertos, chamber music, and every piano student’s Minuet from the Notenbüchlein for Anna Magdalena make for 14 musical appearances the thrust of which is that this was dance music and that dancing to it is the most perfectly natural response to it. That Bach himself is presented—with powdered wig in a faintly baroque getup—isn’t hooey, and neither is the scene where he draws a bow across a female dancer’s body to the First Cello Suite: instead of being a painfully trite analogy for the cello as a woman’s body, it’s a joyous to-and-fro between music itself—embodied by that one particular dancer throughout the evening—and Bach. And instead of being erotic (though possibly that, too), it is playful in a good-humored, touching way. When the Suite is over and the dancer jumps on Bach’s lap, embracing him, she’s appears more a content little boy than some alluring sexpot. The collective “awwwwwwww” of the audience responded to the pervading sense of agápe, not éros.

The second part is titled “Forms of Silence and Emptiness”, and now the austerity of Bach comes to the fore. A visualization of music, notions of geometry and abstraction, fragility, infinity and finiteness are danced to The Art of the Fugue, several organ works, and the Sinfonia and “Seufzer, Tränen” aria from “Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis”. Nacho Duato’s wonderful touch becomes most obvious when he turns the ‘dry magnificence’ of The Art of the Fugue (the beauty of which has been likened to that of solving a math problem) into two searing emotional episodes, including the near-finale of Contrapunctus 14.

Bring the spouse and bring the kids, and, if Bach has a deeper meaning for you, if he touches you profoundly, do bring the Kleenex—I wish I had.

Your next opportunity to hear and see "Multiplicity" seems to come March 22nd and 23rd of 2018 at St. Petersburg's Mikhailovsky Theatre.

All Pictures © Wilfried Hösl courtesy Bavarian State Opera

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