Cisne Negro company in Calunga

Photo: Cisne Negro

Cisne Negro Dance Company

A Contemporary Dance Troupe
from São Paulo, Brazil

Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue, New York City
August 17, 2011

A Review

Some forms of gamelan music have no beginning and no end. The music exists before and continues after a particular performance. This is how Flocks, the first dance on the program, appeared to me, as it didn't build or go anywhere. The piece was choreographed and costumed by Gigi Caciuleanu, who also combined two Stravinsky scores (“Firebird” and “Fireworks”) into a single work called “Birds in Flight.” Flocks began with dancers placed in groups across the stage, interacting and performing spectacular splits, leaps, extensions and lifts. Shape was an important element, especially for the arms (as in Alvin Ailey's Revelations). Twelve dancers exited and entered, at first all dressed in black trunks, the men bare-chested and the women in flesh colored bras so that their appearance was unisex. The unisex idea was reiterated at a later point when the women were the lifters rather that the lifted; it was wonderful to watch dance from such a pure point of view. Soon they began filtering on in black tutus, then in red trunks and finally they added red tutus. The episodic score was not reflected in the choreography. At one point the music built to a climactic crescendo while the dancers continued on with their lifts and splits and Ailey arms. We only knew the piece had ended when they all lined up for bows.

The middle piece, ABACABA, was choreographed by Dany Bittencourt, the founder and director of the company. The costumes were patchwork, having been made from different pieces of fabric sewn together, as was the choreography. This might have been an effort to reflect that Brazil is made up of so many different cultures, but the movement was not engaging, and the excellent dancers seemed not to be comfortable in what they were given to do. For instance, in one section they were all standing in profile slouching. Although this might have been an effort on the part of the choreographer to depart from classical dance, the effect was confusing, as the dancers seemed not to have any intention. Copious program notes explained how the dance was made, as there were for the other two selections, but if they could have written about the ideas, why did they need to dance about them?

Calunga, the third piece on the program began with a brightly lit pink cyclorama and resembled a 1950s Hollywood sound stage extravaganza. The highly emotional music by Francisco Mignone, suggesting springtime, birds, and storms was not mimicked by the choreography, but at times it was coyly suggestive. Much of the movement began in the torso with the arms responding as tassels reminiscent of Erik Hawkins technique. The setting was carnival, with a virgin figure who was carried around and then placed on someone’s back while he crawled across the stage—a very suspenseful moment. At one point a blue fabric was used to illustrate what appeared to represent a tsunami, but the meaning was not clear. Choreographed by Rui Moreira, a former member of the company, this piece also had a lot of Alvin Ailey–like motifs: the woman dressed in white with the umbrella, the blue cloth and, of course, the Ailey arms.

The dancers are exquisite and extremely talented. They work well together and I would love to see them perform some other choreography.

—Virginia Dillon, August 2011