Luna Negra’s Made in Spain

Luna Negra's Kirsten Shelton & Filipa Peraltinha. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Split-second shifts and fluid technique ride on thoughtful, thought-provoking choreography set on articulate, authentic artists. Made in Spain, the latest and greatest from Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT), performed last Saturday night at the Harris Theater, once again proved the company’s stellar reputation for presenting electric, entertaining and enthralling works. Under the direction of Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano, this small group of dancers is thriving and continues to push the boundaries of local contemporary dance. I fear I sound like a broken record, but if you haven’t seen LNDT lately, you MUST go see this group dance!

In the opening piece, Fernando Hernando Magadan’s 2009 Naked Ape, the elastically eloquent Eduardo Z??iga manipulated the dancers’ actions manually and sometimes verbally through a made up language. “Gibberish, but with a specific idea in the head,” Zu?iga told me. Starched white clothing-like set pieces dotted the stage, one installed with a live mic that when touched by Zu?iga sent the dancers into spasmodic improvisations. Strong performances by all (Zu?iga, Nigel Campbell, M?nica Cervantes, Kirsten Shelton and the continually-impressive Christopher Bordenave) solidify this work as a staple in their rep.

A world premiere by Cervantes, Presente, set to Max Richter’s “recomposed” version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons delightfully muses on what it means to be present, not stuck in the past or focusing on the future. Fast-moving backward sequences and stunning solo-work by Shelton fly by as little black balls fall out of a hanging abstract white hourglass. The dancers move in and around the balls, even making a separate pile, perhaps trying to save or stop time. Cervantes’ prowess as an aggressive, powerful dancer is matched by her choreographic curiosity and detailed dancemaking.

A new work for LNDT by Magadan closed the show with live, on-stage music from the fantastic Turtle Island Quartet. A chandelier of music sheets and Labanotation notes hanging above the string group, with more crumbled under their feet created a beautiful backdrop for the dancing in Royal Road. The ensemble of dancers again show technical brilliance blending with the musicians in a wonderful riff on the relationship of music and dance. Special mention goes to newcomer Filipa Peraltinha, an outstanding to the LNDT family.

Luna Negra: A New Adventure for Moniquilla

Lunatics Kirsten Shelton, M?nica Cervantes & Eduardo Zu?iga. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

The irrepressible, glass-wearing, fierce friend Moniquilla is back with her friends Matias and Veronica for another magically crazy adventure in the second year of the Luna Ni?os Family Series presented by Luna Negra Dance Theater. Last year had the trio up against the evil Nico, but with a little help from the audience and a lot of laughter, he turned into one of the good guys. This year Moniquilla enlists his help to find a missing Matias in Moniquilla and the Moon Monster.

The original Moniquilla story (Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter) was the brainchild of Luna Negra Artistic Director Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano for Titoyaya Dance Project in 2008. This year’s installment is written, directed and choreographed by company member Eduardo Zu?iga. He also created the soundscape and set design working with illustrator Patricia Mar?n Escutia and lighting designer Jared B. Moore. With a running time of an hour, this is the first full-length production with Zu?iga at the helm. Sansano liked the work Zu?iga made for the company’s in-house choreography showcase last at the MCA, Luna Neuva, as well as his work for DanceWorks Chicago‘s Dance Chance and wanted to give him a shot at developing the Moniquilla storyline. “We used to joke in Spain that the next one would be in space,” said Sansano. “I didn’t know how to do it, but Eduardo figured it out.”

Zu?iga, 27, is up for the challenge. He’s a natural running rehearsals at their State Street studio and flashes a mischievous grin when talking about the show. He won’t give away all the secrets – there is, of course, a surprise plot twist! – but will divulge the action revolves around an alien and The Book of Magic. Injuries to company dancers may force him to jump in and perform, but for now, he’s enjoying working with his peers on this contemporary, family-friendly tale of magic, friendship and fun.

Illustration by Patricia Mar?n Escutia.

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Moniquilla and the Moon Monster at the Ruth Page Center, 1016 N. Dearborn, Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 pm and Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 1-2 at 3 pm.

Tickets are $15; visit www.lunanegra.org or call 312.337.6882.

 

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 Ram?rez Sansano, Diana Szeinblum and M?nica 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 www.mcachicago.org/performances.

Preview: Luna Nueva

Luna Negra dancer/choreographer M?nica 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 M?nica Cervantes, Requiem, and the U.S. premiere of Artistic Director Gustavo Ram?rez 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 4dancers.org?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 www.mcachicago.org.?

 

 

 

Adventures in Dance

"Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter". Photo by German Anton.

This weekend, two local dance companies are staging children’s shows set to entertain both kids and adults alike.? Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, HS2 brings back last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon at the Harris Theater and Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) launches its children’s dance series Luna Ni?os with the Chicago premiere of Monaquilla and the Thief of Laughter at Stage 773.? Both one-hour performances are interactive, incorporate video projections and designed specifically for young audiences.? Ticket for both shows are $15.

HS2 premiered Harold in 2010 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and then to packed houses here in Chicago (read my preview here).? This year’s show based on the beloved children’s book by Crockett Johnson promises a new cast and vamped up lighting design (Mattew Miller) to compliment the sets and projections (Ryan Wineinger) and costumes (Rebecca Shouse).? Chicago composer Andrew Bird provides the music with HSDC dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and HSDC Artistic Associate Terence Marling choreographing.

Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, which premiered in Spain with Titoyaya Dance Project in 2008, has its U.S. debut this Saturday.? Created by LNDT Artistic Director Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano, Moniquilla is a mystery adventure styled after Scooby Doo and Indiana Jones (Sansano’s favorites as a kid).? Moniquilla enlists the help of her friends Matias and Veronica to help her find out why the children across the world can’t laugh anymore.? A narrator and video projection/sets by Luis Crespo help the story along, but it is the audience that ultimately must solve the mystery.? A bicycle with sidecar, swinging axes, snakes (egads!), spies, and of course a villain add to the story set to a dramatic score including Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet and classical flamenco music.? “It was a? good chance to use music that I loved, but never found the right fit for,” says Sansano.? “When I was thinking about the music, I thought a lot about Walt Disney.? He used to make all the soundtracks for the movies.? Every single movement was in the music.? It was real choreography.”? Just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean this choreography is simple.? Sansano’s trademark style involving fast, quirky movements with seamless transitions is on full display along with some slapstick moves reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.? I sat in on a run of the first half of the show last week and I can’t wait to see how it ends!? It’s fun, funny, and as Sansano says, “a treat for the senses.”

Hubbard Street 2, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Dec 3&4 at 2pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312,334,7777

Luna Negra, Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, Dec 3 at 10a & 1p, Dec 4 1&4pm

Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, 773.327.5252

 

Thoughts on Luna Negra ?Mujeres!

Luna Negra dancers in "Naked Ape". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday night at the Harris Theater, Luna Negra Dance Theater presented ?Mujeres!, a one night only show celebrating influential Latina women.? Since installing Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano as Artistic Director in 2009, Luna Negra has quickly become one of my favorite companies to watch.? The new artistic vision and technical ability of the dancers are similar to the style of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (It was nice to see many HSDC-ers in the audience!) and is a decidedly different direction from the former Luna.? For the performance, I think I had the best seat in the house (V 106). It was the “center stage” spot in the audience. I normally sit closer and did miss seeing more of the facial expressions (I didn’t have my glasses), but this seat provided the perfect perch to view the complex patterns and minimal sets.? I was excited to see the first piece, Sansano’s world premiere Not Everything, which I’d seen earlier in the month in rehearsals.? It not only did not disappoint, but was the best number in the show.

Not Everything was inspired by a photograph by Graciala Iturbide that caught Sansano’s attention at an exhibit in Spain.? Opening with a powerful female duet by Ren?e Adams (in all black) and M?nica Cervantes (in all white), he sets the mood and stage by having Adams intermittently carry a large bucket across and upstage following the path of white linoleum strips laid in an L shape.? The weight of the bucket, which we find out at the end of the duet, is loaded with red paint alludes to the heavy internal burden the woman in white (Cervantes) is carrying.? Adams pours the paint onto the white strip in a big puddle, unburdening herself before she leaves the stage.? The second section, much faster and frenetic, adds in the rest of the company dressed all in black.? The dark costumes and dark lighten sometimes made it difficult to see all of the movement.? This energetic section personified the flux the woman in white is feeling.? The choreography seemed to be controlled chaos with an underlying back and forth swaying that carries over into the final section.? That subtle, lulling, repetitive movement assures that the chaos will come to an end.? The dancing is so unique and interesting, you barely notice the white panel being slowly lifted to the left, causing the paint to run.? The third section is performed in a vertical line moving from stage left to stage right.? Cervantes, second from the front, slowly walks undeterred across the front white panel.? All the other dancers, in black, dance in front of and behind her pace in a continuous cannon reminding us of the chaos in her mind as she slowly and steadily walks forward.? The final image has Cervantes walking in front of the white panel that is now fully vertical with the paint running down recreating the picture that inspired the work.? The music, sets and dancing were all beautiful.? The final image – stunning.? Congrats to Sansano for achieving another remarkable choreographic feat.? I, for one, look forward to watching his work for many years.

The second piece, another world premiere, is inspired by the first queen of pre-modern Spain.? Asun Noales’ Juana is another dramatic, black and white dance showing the female lead’s decent into insanity.? White fabric pieces hanging from the ceiling move up and down ultimately creating the tower in which the queen is locked in by her people.? Veronica Guadalupe‘s interpretation of the mad queen was dramatic, strong and heartfelt.? Even though she doesn’t leave the stage for the entire piece, it is ther final solo that drives and haunts.? The other dancers almost seemed a distraction.? The look and feel of the work was too similar to the first piece, that my companions and I questioned whether they should’ve been back to back.? The consensus of the group I was with during the second intermission was that the two pieces were so much alike that it almost seemed as if Juana was part two of Not Everything.

The third work was a restaging of work by Michelle Mazanales about the life of Frida Kahlo.? Paloma Querida was a big hit with the Luna Negra audience when it premiered in 2010 and the work holds up.? Splashes of red and vibrant music lightened the mood created by the first two works, but there was plenty of drama and strong female dancing.? Compared to the other pieces that had a more European contemporary feel, Paloma stylistically felt like old Luna.? The company is strong and focused and heading in a really interesting, new direction.? I’m all for keeping your roots and acknowledging where you came from, but maybe it’s time for Sansano to forge ahead with his own vision.? I think the company and the audience is ready.

I want to note a few problems I had with the show. ? 1.? With a one-night-only show, you can’t go back to see it again and this program warrants a second viewing.? I want to see it again (especially Sansano’s work).? 2.? Dedicating the season to women naturally tends to highlight the spectacular women in the company – and that is all of them! – but, the men, who are just as fascinating to watch seemed to be overlooked.? Aside from a sassy little solo by Eduardo Zu?iga in the final piece (where he literally almost danced out of his pants), the men didn’t stand out.? That’s a shame.

Q&A with Luna Negra’s Veronica Guadalupe

Guadalupe in "Danzon". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday marks the first performance of her 10th season with Luna Negra and Veronica Guadalupe is ready. After two major injuries during her career, she’s at the top of her game and excited about the upcoming performance ?Mujeres! at the Harris Theater. The program celebrates Latina women with three pieces: a restaging of a work Paloma Querida, inspired by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; a premiere about the first pre-modern queen of Spain; ?and another premiere inspired by a photo by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide.

Guadalupe has been dancing since she was 2 1/2 years old and studied at the Virginia School for the Arts, danced in the second company with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and was an apprentice with River North Dance Chicago before joining Luna Negra in 2002. ?She’s now also co-rehearsal director, was one of the dancers to stay with the company after founder Eduardo Vilaro left in 2009 to run Ballet Hispanico in New York and current Artistic Director Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano took over. I spoke with her two weeks ago about the transition, the company and her career.

How did you end up at Luna Negra?

I apprenticed with River North for a year and I sustained a really terrible injury when I was there.? I fractured my tibia almost all of the way through and I have a titanium rod in there now.? They think that I probably had a stress fracture that I danced on for at least three months.? I was out for six months.? After that, my leg was a noodle.? I?d been on crutches for 12 weeks and in a cast for another 10 weeks?it was terrible.? I was barely taking barre again when my friend wanted us to go and audition for Luna Negra.? Are you kidding me?? When we got to rep, luckily, everything was on the other leg!? He (Vilaro) offered me a contract and I had to tell him I hadn?t danced in six months, but he was willing to give me a try. That was July 2002.

Tell me about the transition.? When Eduardo left, you were one of the only people who stayed…

I?d left for a brief period of time, while the transition was happening.? When Eduardo announced he was leaving, almost immediately Michelle Manzanales and another board member contacted me and wanted me to come back. I did a fall season as a guest artist and I was part of the search for the new Artistic Director.? I was the only one to have worked with all of the candidates.? I could tell the dancers what it was like to work with them and tell the board and search committee what my experiences had been with these people.? I told them flat out there was only one person I would come back for. Gustavo choreographed on us in 2002 and he worked with us two other times. ?I said, he’s the only person who can take the company to the next place.? He was my choice.? I told the board that this is what the company needs.? It worked out perfectly.

The company looks completely different now.? How was the transition?

The transition was really smooth, because we did have a change over with dancers too, so we had a lot of new people starting over.? I think that was really important.? When we signed him, he couldn?t come here for a few months and I think a lot of dancers were thinking selfishly about what they would do in the meantime, instead of what would be good for the company as a whole.? I think it was important to have a group of dancers that could begin new with this new era.?

How do you like the difference in style of dancing?

I love it.? I think it?s fresh and new and exciting.? I think it?s shaking up the Chicago dance community. It?s something they haven?t seen before and no one else is doing it.? It?s incredible.

Let’s talk about your dancing.? Are you in all three pieces in !Mujeres!?

Yes.? I?m resetting “Paloma Querida”.? Michelle (Manzanales) came in for a weekend and worked with us.? She made a lot of changes.? It?s almost like a new piece now.? The heart of it is still there, but she did a lot of structural changes that I think made a big difference.? She was very respectful that these weren?t the same group of dancers that I worked with before and let?s utilize what we have now.? She made some really great changes.?

Tell me about the two world premieres.

“Juana” ? oh, I?m Juana! ? she was the first queen of modern Spain.? Her story is she fell in love with this guy Phillipe.? They called her Juana Loca and he was Phillipe Hermosa.? Phillip the beautiful and Juana the crazy.? She was crazy in love with him and he cheated on her left and right.? When he died, she went totally crazy and was obsessed with him even though he was dead.? It drove her mad.? Her family left her.? The country wouldn?t entrust her with the power of being queen, so they locked her in a tower to die.

Do you get a crazy Spanish Giselle mad scene?

Kind of. It?s a hard balance.? At first, I was focusing more on the emotional and dramatic aspect of it and then she (Asul Noales) threw a whole bunch of dance in.? I don?t leave the stage for 21 minutes.? It?s intense.

(Gustavo’s piece) “Not Everything” is inspired by a female photographer.? It?s just so beautiful.? The music?it a very intense piece musically.? There?s a really soft beginning with just M?nica (Cervantes) and Ren?e (Adams) that lays the groundwork from the picture.? The group section is?it?s the hardest thing I?ve ever done in my life.? It?s so fast.? We were watching rehearsal footage the other day and someone said it looked like it was in fast forward.? It feels like it?s in fast forward!? This is the test, the challenge?he?s throwing the hardest thing at us right now, because we have to get it.? We?re performing it in a couple of weeks.? The third section is the most beautiful music and it totally changes directions.?

Luna Negra – ?Mujeres!, Saturday, October 1, 2011 @ 630pm

Harris Theater, 205 E Randolph, 312.334.7777