Silva Blends Portuguese Song Tradition with Contemporary Dance

United KingdomUnited Kingdom    Arez, A Darker Shade of Fado: Nino Silva (supported by Pavilion Dance South West and Greenwich Dance) artsdepot, London, 1.5.2014 (J.O’D)

Photo Nino Silva
Photo Nuno Santos


Woman: Stephanie Dufresne
Maker: Matthew Lackford
Musician: Sabio Janiak
Spirit: Nuno Silva

Conception: Nuno Silva
Choreography:Dam Van Huynh
Music: Abel Arez
Lighting: Guy Hoare
Scenery: Emma Robinson
Costumes: Yann Seabra


Two very different messages were coming from the stage as the audience took its seats for Nino Silva’s A Darker Shade of Fado. The guitars or guitar-like instruments carefully arranged on it suggested the acoustic and the refined; the dry ice seeping slowly from the wings suggested the fantastical. Whatever the expectations it aroused, this blend of contemporary dance with the Portuguese tradition of melancholy song must have left a lot of them unsatisfied. As far as the fado goes, Nino Silva performed one or two of them. Snatches of scratchily ‘authentic’ recordings of the genre were played at two key moments. For much of the time there was not enough going on in terms of drama, or movement, or singing. The production only really gelled at the end of the first half, and again at the end of the second.

If, on his first appearance among the dry ice and semi-darkness, Nino Silva bore a resemblance to Jonathan Goddard in the Mark Bruce Company’s 2013 ‘Dracula’, it will be because lighting designer, Guy Hoare, also worked on that. Indeed, A Darker Shade of Fado often seems to strive for the elemental force of Bram Stoker’s tale, and of Mark Bruce’s retelling of it. There is a ‘Spirit’ (Silva), a ‘Woman’, and a ‘Maker’ (of the guitar-like instruments). The Spirit both brings the man and woman together and enjoys keeping them apart. Like Dracula, he appears to the Woman at night, releasing a sensuality that does not find expression in her tentative, day-time relationship with the man. In Dam Van Huynh’s choreography Stephanie Dufresne’s movements are alternatively contained and expansive. As the ‘Maker’, the bearded, leather-aproned Matthew Lackford spends a lot of time on a stool, looking at pieces of instruments. When he moves it is always a surprise, for Lackford does not look like dancer (i.e. is not thin). The moment at which things gel for the first time, is when he and Silva dance a slow, circling kind of duet. Silva’s own physique tends to the gladiatorial. He and Lackford move around each other with masculine heaviness, before being joined by Dufresne for a trio that provides a second peak (dramatic and choreographic) before the interval.

The second half continues as the first. The frictional relationship between the man and woman drags on; Silva wears fewer clothes. Then, just before the end, everything changes. The piece switches from the partly real to the completely symbolic. Lackford runs on with a set of horns on his head, and his leather apron tied around him to represent a bull’s hide. Silva, now wearing a flesh-coloured, Jean-Paul Gaultier-like garment that is half swimming trunks, half corset, engages with him in choreographed combat. Dufresne, in a blue-green costume that serves the same function as the narrative stopping ‘big dress’ of classic Hollywood cinema, is the subject of their struggle. The bull/instrument Maker wins. He carries the woman off into the darkness at the back of the stage, leaving Silva/the Spirit stretched out on the floor like a Theseus vanquished by the Minotaur.

John O’Dwyer

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