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Flash Review 2, 10-21: Fado Works
Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Contemporaneo Remembers Amalia

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2004 Darrah Carr

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NEW YORK -- The Companhia Portuguesa de Bailado Contemporaneo delighted me when I viewed a rehearsal during a visit to Lisbon three years ago. With its North American debut at the Joyce Theater last week, in a performance seen Friday, the company lived up to memory and exceeded all expectations. Founded in 1999, the group of 15 exceptionally talented dancers is headed by two veteran teachers and choreographers from the Gulbenkian Ballet, Vasco Wellenkamp and Graca Barroso. The Joyce engagement featured "Amaramalia Abandono," an evening-length work set to the poignant songs of fado, as recorded by their most beloved interpreter, the late Amalia Rodrigues.

There are many opinions on the origin of fado; some say it originated in the Orient, others that it stems from Brazilian slave songs. Wellenkamp prefers the theory that fado imitates the sound of crashing waves and the rhythm of the ebb and flow of the sea -- a fitting backdrop for the tales of loss and longing that dot Portugal's seafaring history. His choreography is appropriately fluid. With its seamless transitions and effortless partnering, the work recalls the rush, tumble, and flow of water.

"Amaramalia Abandono" is divided into a series of vignettes, each with a title reflecting the poetry of the chosen song's lyrics. "My Love, My Love" is an exquisitely tender duet performed by the gazelle-like Ana Maria Lucaciu and her lithe partner Jose Roman. "April" references the end of Marcello Caetano's dictatorship on April 25, 1974, while "Seagull" evokes the wanderlust of a Portuguese sailor. The evening's deceptively simple set -- low benches that are flipped on their ends and occasionally climbed -- is constantly rearranged to sketch an outline of a scene. Shadowy lighting and the easy interchange of duets and trios suggests both timelessness and restlessness. While these are individual stories, they speak of shared emotions -- despair, love, and longing as expressed by the dancers and sent rippling throughout the theater.

Within the swirl of activity, Patricia Henriques shines like an unwavering light. She is powerful but graceful as she spins, collapses, and rises again, an eddy unto herself. While the movement vocabulary, drawn from ballet and classic modern dance, is not fiercely innovative, it is the mastery of craft, the teasing play with dynamics, and the lush delivery that pleases the eye and makes this dance sing.

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