It’s been a while since Chicago has seen Gustavo Ramírez Sansano. In 2013, Luna Negra Dance Theatre, where he had been Artistic Director for three years, suddenly folded leaving an artistic hole in the Chicago dance community. His quick, quirky, dense choreography and innate musicality have been missed – as well as his smile, laugh and spirit, for those close to him. Now, almost two years after his abrupt departure, he’s back creating a world premiere for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC), a powerhouse of contemporary dance in the U.S.
Since leaving Chicago, he has kept busy choreographing around the world for the likes of Ballet Met (The Rite of Spring premieres in May), Ballet BC and Ballet Hispanico (who will be performing Carmen.maquia in April at the Joyce Theater in NYC). He’s booked for the next two years with projects including a full-length Giselle, where his Giselle will be a nun. Pieces of Luna Negra still exists as he has enlisted the help of some of his former dancers, or “Lunatics”, to help him reset favorites from the Luna Negra rep like 18 +1 and Flabbergast. His recent and brief appointment as Artistic Director at National Ballet of Wales made headlines and left just as quickly as it came. (The official story is too many outside scheduling conflicts.)
Sansano had five weeks working with the HSDC dancers to set his new work for 12 dancers, an ode to George Balanchine titled I Am Mr. B. He was inspired by Mr. B’s Theme and Variations, which Sansano first danced at age 19. “I didn’t dance until the end of the piece, so I had many, many times to see it. I couldn’t explain why, but it provoked this feeling of happiness in me,” he said at HSDC’s West Loop studios. “Balanchine took ballet from a story ballet to a more conceptual ballet, which is a more contemporary way of choreographing. I don’t like long ballets – they’re boring. He made it more interesting. He took the important stuff and put it in a shorter piece. Of all the classical choreographers, Balanchine made me see whole pieces.”
Sansano’s long-time collaborator, set designer Luis Crespo creates an on-stage world dressed, as the dancers are, like Mr. B. in a white shirt with a black tie. Former HSDC dancer Mario Zambrano adds text to layer the already intricate choreography. Balanchine’s famous quote – “See the music, hear the dance” – is also an inspiration for the choreographer. “It’s so simple. Sometimes as a choreographer, we go so far…I like to remind the dancers that at the end of the day, you like to dance. The most important thing is the dance.”