Born in Valencia, Spain, Nacho Duato started professional ballet training with the Rambert School in London at eighteen, expanding his studies at Maurice Béjart's Mudra School in Brussels and completing his dance education at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Centre in New York. In 1980 Duato signed his first professional contract with the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, and a year later Jirí Kylián brought him to the Nederlands Dans Theater in Holland, where he was quickly incorporated into the company and repertoire. For his achievements as a dancer he received the VSCD Gouden Dansprijs (Golden Dance Award) for the year 1987. Duato's natural talent soon had him look beyond the limitations of a dancer and turn towards choreography. His first attempt, in 1983, turned into a major success: Jardí Tancat, to Spanish/Catalan music by compatriot María del Mar Bonet won him the first prize at the International Choreographic Workshop (Internationaler Choreographischer Wettbewerb) at Cologne.