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Cisne Negro Dance Company

by Cecly Placenti

August 20, 2011 -- Joyce Theatre, New York, NY

Lighting up the stage with the passion and vivacity one would expect from South America’s most prominent contemporary dance company, Cisne Negro presented a four part evening at the Joyce Theatre that combined originality with tradition. Like the diversity of the company’s home city, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Cisne Negro integrates Brazilian folk elements with ballet and contemporary dance. “Flock,” set to music by Stravinsky, spoke of transformation and mutation in its sinewy, connected duets. Sometimes resembling a more modern Swan Lake, other times cells dividing in a Petri dish, “Flock” evoked the feeling of process, of matter changing from solid to energy, from sculptural and defined to kinesthetic and mutable. Ever present in transformations of any kind are varied emotional elements, and “Flock” made visible the sadness, jubilance and defiance of change.

A special treat for New York audiences came in the regal, gently abounding presence of Marcelo Gomes of American Ballet Theatre. A king of dance and native of Brazil, Gomes presented his solo Paganini which he originally choreographed for a ballerina in the La Scala Ballet and has now reworked for himself. Sharing the stage with the superb young violinist Charles Yang, the duet engaged the audience with a delightful, playful dance conversation. Yang walked out first, feverishly playing Paganini’s Caprice on his violin. Moments later, Gomes nonchalantly sauntered out, and did what any dancer would do- he sat down, and began putting on his ballet slippers. As if walking into a rehearsal studio, relaxed and assembling himself into the moment, he rolled his ankles, flexed his toes, fixed his tights and circled his neck, getting ready to begin. His solo rolled out like a spoken sentence, punctuated with buoyant little jumps, inflected with drawn out lines completely responsive to Yang’s exhilarated playing. Together they conversed, played, toyed with each other, talking without saying a word. It was a funny, witty, charming duet with Yang seeming to say “Try this” and Gomes responding “What else do you have for me?”

“Abacada,” a word that sounds like a Brazilian Indian term or the name of an Amazon fruit or bird, cleverly and simply refers to a basic compositional form called Rondo. Each letter represents one part of the composition in which “A “is the main theme, followed by contrasting parts (B, C and D.) The dance reflects the dynamics of the music by Andre Mehmari and each contrasting part has an improvised solo or duet, emphasizing the dialogue between the dancers and the music.

Closing the evening was “Calunga,” a piece representing the traditional Afro-Brazilian procession called Maracatu. The dance steps resonate with African rhythms and roots (Maracatu is also the name of the rhythm and dance steps involved in the procession) and often has a tribal, sacrificial feel. The celebration is in honor of Chico Rei, who according to legend, was a black king in the Congo who was captured with his court and taken to Brazil by Portuguese slave dealers. Through his work and sacrifice, he eventually bought his freedom and the freedom of many other slaves, creating a free black community. The procession is usually held before a mass and commences with the appearance of the doll called Calunga, which symbolizes all generations of Afro-Brazilians who continue through the years to carry on the African rites. Often reminiscent of Alvin Ailey’s Wade in the Water section in “Revelations,” “Calunga” is a dance about community, perseverance and hardship. It is a prayer and an offering, a nod to the past with a push to the future, which is a fitting description of the fundamental features of this exciting, highly technical and vivacious company.

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