Breaking News: Luna Negra Dance Theater

Gustavo Ramíraz Sansano. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

As of today, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano is stepping down as Artistic Director of Luna Negra Dance Theater. He will still remain involved with the company artistically. In May, the board will begin an international search to replace him as Artistic Director.

A sad start to the week. His childlike spirit and artistic vision will be greatly missed. Kisses and kudos. Here’s some of the fantastic work created during his time in Chicago with Luna.

Luna Negra Dance Theater: Luna Nueva

Luna Negra dancer Eduardo Zuniga in "En Busca de". Photo by Nathan Keay.

Luna Negra Dance Theater opened a run of their Luna Nueva program last night at the MCA.  Fast, frenetic, interesting, architectural, strange, wonderful and expertly danced.  You still have three chances to catch the three new works for the company by talented choreographers Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Diana Szeinblum and Mónica Cervantes.

Here are some of the reviews for last night’s performance:

Chicago Sun Times, trailorpilot, Chicago Tribune

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Luna Nueva at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave., through Sunday, June 10th.  Tickets are $28 ($22 for MCA members).  Call 312.397.4010 or visit

Preview: Luna Nueva

Luna Negra dancer/choreographer Mónica Cervantes. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

A man sits on the floor as three women take turns forcing themselves, crawling, pulling and pushing through the space between his body and arms.  Beside him another man sits with his arms overhead as three people crawl over his shoulders and down to the floor like a human waterfall.  This is a glimpse of the early stages (as in day two!) of a world premiere being created on Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) by Argentinian choreographer Diana Szeinblum.    “Elbow, there, fuerte”, she says from the front of the studio.  Szeinblum’s new work Brasilia will be featured with a world premiere by Luna Negra dancer/choreographer Mónica Cervantes, Requiem, and the U.S. premiere of Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s 2008 work En Busca de (In Search of) at the MCA Stage this weekend as the company presents Lune Nueva, a new initiative exploring unconventional movement styles.

Sansano originally created his work for IT Dansa in Barcelona in honor of one of his teachers that had recently passed away.  “I learned a lot from her and really experimented in that piece,” he says from LNDT’s State Street studios.  “You know that feeling when you’re excited of what’s coming, but you don’t know what it is, so you’re anxious?  She crafted anxious.  En Busca de is about the momentum of your life.”    Cervantes premiere for six dancers explores the idea  pathways set to a classical score of Mozart and Shostakovich.  Read a great preview of her piece  by Johnny Nevin at here.

Szeinblum, a dancer/choreographer/actor who started dancing at age six, studied at the Ballet of San  Martin Theater in Buenos Aries and at the Folkwang Tanz Schule in Germany under the direction of Pina Bausch.  She founded her own company – Diana Szeinblum Dance Company – in 2000.  Sansano helped translate our interview two weeks ago at the beginning of her rehearsal process.

RB:  What was it like working with Pina?

DS:  It was so nice. (laughing) Interesting.

GRS:  What was so impressive for her about Pina, is she’d take every detail like it was the first time.

DS:  She was incredible.  I worked with her and Susana Linka…this marked me.

RB:  I read that you call your dances plays.  Can you talk about your process?

DS:  I always take things from the people an dI say that this, for me, gives the truthfulness to the work, my work.  The thing for me is to find in the dance the kind of truth that actors try to find.

RB:  Do you stars with a story you want to tell or a concept and give that to the dancers?  Do you use a lot of improv?

DS:  Improv.  Generally, I need to understand where I am.  To create first a place or atmosphere.  This gives me my limit to start to put all things in this place.  For me, this is the most important thing to find.

RB:  I know you’ve only been here one day, but for this specific piece, did you know what it was going to be or do you need to work with the dancers first?

GRS:  This is a specific situation, because of time, she has to use a concept.

DS:  To find it very fast.  I think I live in a strange place, so I think I can…I will do something personal.

GRS:  The way she works normally with the dancers…everything comes out of them.  The story at the end is them, but because it’s such a short time, it’s going to be something personal.

RB:  You only have two weeks.  How long do you normally work on a piece?

DS:  In Argentina, we don’t have money, we don’t have producers, no one will say ‘ok, come on, do it’  This is the only thing that is great for us – that we really have time to do our work.  Sometimes it’s four months, sometimes one year.D

RB:  How are you changing the way you work to fit the tight time frame?

DS:  I have a lot of images.  The thing I have to construct how my images go together in this work.  The are very nice dancers, very technical dancers.  I’m not used the having such technical dancers.  I’d really like to try more technical things, but I don’t have a lot of time.

GRS:  It’s a different way of working for the company.  That’s part of this program (Luna  Nueva), to let the dancers have a completely different experience.  The were telling me how much fun they had yesterday.   Every time you have a new choreographer, it’s a different process.  It’s a wonderful experience for us.

RB:  How did you find Diana?

GRS:  My search. (laughing) My encyclopedia of Latino choreographers.

DS:  Where is this encyclopedia?

GRS:  I made it!

RB:  Do you have an idea of what this piece will be about, or is it too soon to talk about it?

DS:  I’m trying to create things that speaks about layers.

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Luna Nueva at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Thursday-Sunday, June 7-1- at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are $28.  Call the MCA Box Office at 312.397.4010 or visit




Rivno’s Ahmad Simmons Takes Center Stage

River North dancer Ahmad Simmons. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Tomorrow night – Tuesday, June 5th – River North Dance Chicago gives a free concert in Millennium Park on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.  The company just finished a five-week tour of Russia and concludes its 2011-2012 season on a hometown stage.  Read my preview in Time Out Chicago here.

Look for dancer Ahmad Simmons, wrapping up his first season with RNDC,  to take center stage in a solo role local audiences are used to seeing someone else perform.  Former RNDC dancer Christian Denice wowed audiences with his athletic style in Ashley Roland’s Beat, a heavily improvised solo to a fast, percussive score.  Rumor has it, Simmons reached rock-star status in Russia with his interpretation of the piece.

Between traveling back to the States and rehearsals, RB caught up with Simmons via Facebook for a few questions about the recent tour of Russia and the upcoming show.

Tell me about the Russia tour – best parts, hardest parts?

I would say the best part of the tour was the incredible response we got from every one of our audiences. Be it bigger city or small country town, all of the Russian audiences came to our shows with a great sense of excitement and anticipation that we could feel from behind the curtain. One of my favorites being the huge arena in Habarovsk packed with people roaring after every piece. It felt like a rock concert! That said, the hardest part of the tour was getting to the performances. We endured some tough travel days with long bumpy bus rides, exhausting flights, and overnight trains.

What will RNDC be performing for the concert in the park?

In this particular show we will be presenting some of the pieces we toured including “Evolution of a Dream”, “At Last”, “Ella”, “Beat”, “Risoluta”, “The Mourning” and “Habaneras”, with the addition of Mauro Astolfi’s “Contact-Me”. I can honestly say there will be something for everyone. “Evolution”, “At Last” and “Ella” provide a sort of familiarity with music by some well-loved artists. “Beat” shakes it up with improvisation to a fierce drum track. The audience will surely go on an intellectual ride in Sidra Bell’s “Risoluta” and be challenged by the variety of relationships in “Contact-Me”. We are all beyond excited to be making our full evening debut at the Pritzker. First of all is absolutely gorgeous!! It also seats something like 4, 000 people and to be able to reach that many spirits in such a magical setting with be more than fulfilling.

You’re dancing Beat, which local audiences have come to think of as synonymous with Christian (Denice).  I know it incorporates a good deal of improv, but how do you make it your own?

Yes! I’m thrilled to make my Chicago debut of “Beat”. Christian was the only dancer I had seen perform the solo prior to my joining the company. I was in complete awe of his power and command and I remember saying to myself, ‘how would you do that?’ The key for me is continuing to explore my own nuance and essence. The only thing we truly own as dancers is our unique voice. I’m using his footsteps as more of a guide than a formula.

What makes RNDC unique?

River North is so unique because it really does welcome individuality. We all have such different voices that come together to compliment each other. As a newbie, I have to say that it’s a wonderful place to grow. I learn so many new things by watching the seasoned artists work. It also doesn’t hurt that we laugh a lot! Watch out, there are some comedians in Rivno.

River North Dance Chicago at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Tuesday, June 5 at 6:30 p.m.  This is a FREE concert.

*Tuesday’s show will be the last performance with the company for Hanna Brictson.

Ballet Hispanico Comes to the Dance Center

Ballet Hispanico in "Mad'moiselle". Photo by Eduardo Patino.

This weekend, March 22-24, Ballet Hispanico (BH) under the direction of Eduardo Vilaro, Columbia College alumni, former Dance Center artist-in-residence and founder and former artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater, takes the stage at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.  Vilaro’s newest work Asuka, set to salsa music by the legendary Celia Cruz, will make its Chicago debut on the mixed repertory program.  “It is thrilling to be back,” said Vilaro.  “The Dance Center was home for me for almost four years…and has been a major dance force in the national community since its inception.”  BH has been busy touring the past few weeks, so I corresponded with Vilaro and dancer Jamal Callender (graduate of The Julliard School and former member of Hubbard Street 2) via email.  Callender told me the best thing about being back in New York after his season in Chicago with HS2 is getting to see his family and his many friends and Julliard peeps dancing on Broadway and on the movie screen. He’s enjoying his time at BH.  “Mr. V is very forward-thinking and I like the relationship I have with him.  I appreciate his advice and the way he looks out for me and all the artists,” said Callender, who is dancing in three of the four pieces. “The repertory catered to me so well. It’s beyond diverse. It’s eclectic, like me.  I feel like an artist here!”

Vilaro, who began dancing with BH in 1985, talked about how the company has changed since he was a dancer there.  “When I started dancing there, it was a modern dance company with some neo-classical ballets.  Our founder, Tina Ramirez had a strong theatrical background, having had a career in Flamenco and Broadway.  The repertory reflected that.”  Now as artistic director, he wants to work with choreographers that explore Latino culture…so the work is more contemporary without losing sight of its heritage.  As an example, his Asuka celebrates a Latin American music icon, but focuses on how her music impacted the Latin community rather than a narrative of her life.  Alongside Vilaro’s piece is Andrea Miller’s Moor-influenced Naci and a duet about human struggle titled Locked Up Laura by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.

Also on the program is a commission work from African American choreographer Ron Brown.  Set to songs by Peruvian singer Susana Baca, Espiritu Vivo deals with personal loss and recovery.  “His work is a direct connection to the African influence in the Latino world,” said Vilaro.  “There is a deep connection that can be seen in the seamless harmony of his movement with the music.  It can also be seen in the articulated hips and torso found in Latin social dances.  Ron is a special human being and his gentle strength embraced by the dancers helped lead them to fully understand his work.”  For Callender, dancing in Brown’s piece is a full-circle moment.  “When I was younger, I remember watching Ron in the dance studio working with his company.  I used to it by the door in awe and just admire everyone in the company.I remember going with my Mom every year to the Joyce to see them perform.”

Aside from touring, the company was recently asked to perform at the victory parade for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.  After dancing for the crowd Vilaro and crew taught the fans a simple salsa step in honor of wide receiver Victor Cruz, who claims this as his touchdown dance.  “I was thrilled that dance was represented alongside such a beloved American sport,” Vilaro said.  “There is a large world out there that needs to have more dance in their loves and I hope we gained some new friends.”  Callender added simply, “It was a blast.”

Ballet Hispanico, Thursday-Saturday, March 22-24 at 8 pm

Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $26-$30. Call 312.369.8330 or visit

*There is a post-show discussion on Thursday, March 22 and a pre-show talk at 7 pm on Friday, March 23.