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A company of ballet dancers wearing black performing onstage

Dancing on the edge

Choreographer Goyo Montero talks to David Mead about his ballet Chacona

‘I have always been in love with the Chacona,’ says Goyo Montero of the final movement of Bach’s Partita No.2 in D Minor. ‘The first time I heard it in a concert as a kid, I was blown away. When I started doing choreography, I always wanted to use this music.’

The opportunity came in 2003 when he was commissioned by the Spanish Ministry of Culture to make a work with important Spanish dancers of the time who were working abroad. The resulting Vasos Comunicantes (Communicating Vessels) used different versions of the Partita for violin, guitar and piano for a series of solos, duets and trios before connecting everything with the Chaconne.

Chacona as a stand-alone ballet came about in 2017 when Julio Bocca asked him to stage it for the Ballet Nacional de Sodre in Montevideo. ‘I think it works because it has a natural curve. Musically it has a unity and something compact about it. It also goes through the feeling of the different instruments. It brings the dancers into the feeling of three different worlds.’

A company of ballet dancers wearing black performing onstage with a piano player
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Goyo Montero’s Chacona © Johan Persson. Image description: Four ballet dancers wearing black perform on a dimly lit stage. Positioned just behind them is a pianist playing live music.

The piece is like a marathon but it’s also very rewarding. If you give, it’s going to give you something back

Goyo Montero

Montero explains that while the piece was made for classical dancers, it uses contemporary technique and has a contemporary heart in the sense that it is of now. Like much of his choreography, it is physically very demanding. ‘I do that to bring honesty out. When you are really tired, when you have the challenge of keeping your energy up, you somehow forget your brain. You are just there and in the moment.’

Besides being open, Montero believes that artists, in all the arts, are at their best when they feel a tiny bit uncomfortable, a little out of their depth. ‘I think it’s the only way to evolve, to transform yourself. The moment you know what your instrument is, it’s somehow over.’

A large group of dancers wearing black and performing on stage on a dimly lit stage surrounded by fog
Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in Goyo Montero’s Chacona © Johan Persson. Image description: A large group of ballet dancers wear black, performing on stage on a dimly lit foggy stage. They perform in canon: a group of four dancers on the very right stand, the next group to the left of them stand hunched over with arms bent, and the two groups on the very left lay on the floor stretching out their arms.

With Chacona, he says he tries to bring dancers ‘to the tip of falling. It’s all off balance, it’s all about weight and tension’. That has to be there from the first moment to the last, he explains. ‘The piece is like a marathon but it’s also very rewarding. If you give, it’s going to give you something back.’ It also connects with audiences, he feels. ‘Some pieces can be obscure and more difficult but this piece you can really get into. You can be at one with the dancers.

Montero has adapted the ballet for Birmingham. ‘I am not a choreographer that thinks choreography is sacred. It has to fit the dancers. It has to take them to places where they are challenged, so it has to be slightly different for each dancer and each company.’ There’s always room for personal interpretation too. ‘I think if a dancer feels regarded as an artist and as someone who brings something to the piece more than just doing the steps, then that dancer is going to bring the work forward by adding something of their own. It’s not just then my work, it becomes their work, their Chacona, something unique to them.’

There is more to come too, in the shape of a new duet for Carlos Acosta and Alessandra Ferri that Montero will make in early autumn. Also using music by Bach, he plans that it will ‘bring in Chacona or give birth to it,’ promising that it will have something of its moods and personalities, making it appear strongly connected together

Two ballet dancers performing a duet on a dimly lit stage, the female dancer balances in a back bend
Haoliang Feng and Yuki Sugiura in Goyo Montero’s Chacona © Johan Persson. Image description: Two ballet dancers wearing black performing on a dimly lit stage. The male dancer holds his female partner in a balance, as she arches her back and lifts one leg.

‘I have always been blown away by pieces that make me think and where I can find some storytelling within or that make me associate ideas, colours, feelings. I think Chacona is about that.’ It’s like a living organism, he says, perhaps a flock of birds or a shoal of fish, something with a heightened state of mind as a group but also full of individual personalities.

While its parent ballet Vasos Comunicantes has connections with the book of the same title by French modernist writer André Breton and its ideas around dreams and reality, Montero says Chacona is basically a way of connecting with the music. ‘I think it has a strong positive vibe that is needed in this time of isolation, fear, darkness, insecurity. It’s 15 minutes of pure energy and pure joy. It’s no more than that.’

David Mead is a choreographer, editor of, and also writes for Dancing Times and a number of international publications