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Cisne Negro Dance Company Performs at the Joyce Theater

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Cisne Negro Dance Company
(Cisne Negro Website)
Presented at the Joyce Theater

Hulda Bittencourt, Artistic Director
Dany Bittencourt, Asst. Director

Dancers: Naiane Avelino, Rossana Boccia, Felipe Silva,
Angela De Jesus, Harrison Gavlar, Rebeca Ferreira,
Leandro Neves, Fernando Zavickis, Diogo Santos,
Joel De Oliveira, Stephanie Stevanato, Morvan Teixeira

Sergio Andreucci, Marketing Director
Marco Aurelio Nunes, Company Manager
Mary Raquel Balekian, Technical Director

Guest Artist: Marcelo Gomes
(Marcelo Gomes ABT Page)


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 15, 2011

Flock (2007, NY Premiere): Choreography and Costume Design by Gigi Caciuleanu, Music by Igor Stravinsky, Lighting Design by Raquel Balekian, Performed by the Company.

This opening work could have been the closer, in my opinion, as it was tonight’s most riveting dance, musically, visually, and choreographically. Men and women wear what might be called practice tutus, elasticized above, with stiff tulle circular shapes, quintessential ballerina motifs, in black then red. The women wear beige bra-like tops, almost flesh colored, while the men have bare chests. The twelve Cisne Negro Company dancers listed above propel themselves about, much of the time, with winged arms bent forward and down, like swans. Cisne Negro actually means “black swan” in both Spanish and Portuguese. Some of the torso-arm winged shapes were especially evocative of Balanchine (Mozartiana) and Robbins (Glass Pieces), and some of the partnered lifts into the wings were equally evocative (Robbins’ Brandenburg and Into the Night), noteworthy to a New York balletomane.

The recorded score combines Stravinsky’s “Fireworks” and “Firebird Ballet”, and the music meshes beautifully. Costumes change from trunks to tutus, black with a bit of red, to all red. An offstage voice speaks about the driving force of transformation and mutation, swans to firebirds, and this voice added a further cultural dimension. I thought the lifts were exotic, especially in the brilliance of the solidly stark tutus, and duos and ensembles made the most of intertwining “wings”. When the stage was filled with the entire Company in brilliant red, and Stravinsky’s soaring score filled the Joyce, a central mysticism was realized.

Paganini (2011, World Premiere): Music by Nicolo Paganini (Caprice op. 1 no. 24 in A minor), Choreography by Marcelo Gomes, Violinist: Charles Yang, Performed by Marcelo Gomes.

It’s hard to say anything about Mr. Gomes that’s not extraordinary and laudatory, as I’ve followed him for many years as a soloist then exemplary Principal with American Ballet Theatre. However, tonight’s Paganini left me disappointed. I love Brazilian music, its jazz, its samba, its cultural, folkloric fiber. Yet, this was the second work tonight to a classical score. I live for classical scores and classical ballets. But, tonight, I was in the mood for vibrant Brazilian rhythms, and I thought Mr. Gomes would share with his fans something of his Brazilian roots. Instead, he chose a Paganini Caprice and the vivacious Charles Yang as his onstage partner. Mr. Yang used campy gesture and jumping effects, while he masterfully played his violin. He began playing while Mr. Gomes casually walked onstage and put on his ballet slippers, in somewhat Vaudevillian theatrics. At this point, one would expect some dynamic devilish dancing, à la Gomes, at his finest, but the devilish choreography did not fully reach expectations.

Mr. Gomes used some campy humor, almost Three Stooges style, before he threw himself into the music. During that catapulting segment, he was gripping. But those moments were interspersed with hand spinning, like rapidly making butter, all in the tempo of Paganini. Mr. Gomes walked toward stage front and center, but then, with cocky capriciousness, ebulliently pranced or crouched about. Few Principal dancers onstage today have Mr. Gomes’ personality and charisma, and he could have used that persona toward refined balletic splendor. Or, as mentioned above, he could have used a Samba or Brazilian jazz score with a musical duo or trio to showcase his Brazilian roots. His Paganini seemed more like a vehicle for Mr. Yang’s violin solo than a vehicle to enhance Cisne Negro’s opening night. Next time Mr. Gomes should bring one of the numerous New York-based Brazilian bands. Then he can fully explore his roots.

Abacadá (2009, NY Premiere): Choreographic Direction by Dany Bittencourt, Music by André Mehmari, Lighting Design by André Bottó and Dany Bittencourt, Costume Design by Gustavo Silvestre, Performed by the Company.

Finally, here was a fantastic Brazilian jazz score for Abacadá, by Brazilian composer, André Mehmari, and just in time, as I was longing for some South of the Border beat. Another highpoint of this Dany Bittencourt work was his lighting design, in collaboration with Andre Bottó. Geometric patterns of shifting light were stunning and transfixing, and the choreography created powerful dance athleticism. Brightly colored costumes enhanced the visuals, and Brazilian flute and percussion, mixed with Argentine Tango tones, enhanced the mood and music. Program notes indicate that the word “ABACADA” is actually a formal structure, with A the main theme, followed by contrasting segments of B, C, and D. The dancers are the Chorus, echoing the music.

Dany Bittencourt’s choreographic partnering with Mr. Mehmari, composer, was a huge success, and nine dancers appeared tonight in dramatic form. The solo and duo improvisations were evocative of jazz musicians in a riff. At every jazz concert, a drummer, or trombonist, or pianist, for example, will take a theme and riff on it, so no two performances are alike. I’ve stayed for two sets on a night, with some pieces repeated, and those pieces have unique riffs each set. Tonight’s dance, scored by Mr. Mehmari, who has a background that includes jazz composition, was thrilling for its serendipitous qualities, as well as its talented dancers. It was apparent that the dancers were at one with the music, and they engaged the audience in the percussive and brassy, punctuated rhythms.

Calunga (2011, NY Premiere): Choreography by Rui Moreira, Music by Francisco Mignone, Incidental Music by Nau Catarineta and Reis do Congo, Lighting Design by Rui Moreira and Raquel Balekian, Costume Design by Gustavo Silvestre, Performed by the Company.

Just as Flock evoked comparisons to other choreographies, so did Calunga, choreographed by Rui Moreira. The choreographies that come to mind were by Alvin Ailey (his Revelations) and Geoffrey Holder (his The Prodigal Prince). In fact, a large swath of blue fabric, held by dancers while waving in the wind, dancing with tall umbrella, and Haitian-styled tribal headpieces were prominent in this Moreira work. Francisco Mignone is a Brazilian classical composer, and incidental music by Nau Catarineta and Reis do Congo was decidedly infused with African rhythms and musical motifs.

But, this work would have been more engaging with pure Brazilian Samba, rather than a snippet here or there in the opening and closing phrases. In recent years, Brazilian dance companies have performed in New York to music that’s more hip-hop than Samba, and I eagerly wait for that one dance company that transports us to Rio, in full regalia. Yet, Calunga did rouse energized imagery, and the blue cloth enveloped the dancers like a torrent or tsunami. There was some drama, and the gyrating, undulating choreography was quite eye-catching.

Cisne Negro Dance Company
in Gigi Caciuleanu's "Flock"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Cisne Negro Dance Company
in Gigi Caciuleanu's "Flock"
Courtesy of Reginaldo Azevedo

Marcelo Gomes in
His Own Solo, "Paganini"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Cisne Negro Dance Company
in Dany Bittencourt's "Abacada"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Cisne Negro Dance Company
in Rui Moreira's "Calunga"
Courtesy of Matthew Murphy

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at