REVIEW: Luna Negra Dance


snapshots of a lost tribe



Luna Negra Dance Company

at Harris Theatre

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Fast growing and now firmly established since its 1999 debut, Chicago’s justly praised Luna Negra Dance Company has now entered its second season. It marks that occasion with a new artistic director to succeed founder Eduardo Vilaro. 33-years-old, tall and elegant, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano is a Spanish choreographer who just made an auspicious premiere with the ensemble in a gala Millennium Park performance. It was a promissory note that seems to ensure the troupe a bright and certain future.

Sansano will bring a more theatrical, European-based style to the company’s works, You saw it on display in the world premiere of “Toda Una Vida (All My Life),” the lead offering in Saturday’s fall program. (It’s also the third creation he’s imagined for the company.) Set to Ravel’s achingly predictable “Bolero,” it opened with a quirky and seemingly improvised duet between an agitated (and uncredited) couple. They furiously indulge in Flamenco-like eruptions of frenzied independence as they come closer and finally establish contact. Their cavorting courtship ritual swells with the escalating music, like a tango in overdrive, until they cross a barrier and seem to consummate their quarrel with carnal delights.

This wild wooing is soon followed by music from Los Panchos and Eydie Gorme in which the male dancers back up the couple in robotic movements that seem to formalize their engagement while suggesting the wildness between them that they have yet to tame. The work is billed as “deeply personal” to Sansano and that presents a problem: This precious particularity may have kept it from touching the Harris crowd as publically as possible.

Much quirkier, “Bate” (“heartbeat” in Portuguese), a North American premiere by Fernado Melo that pays whimsical homage to Brazilian soap operas and was created for a Swedish ballet, tightly frames the male dancers in parts rather than as persons. They appear and disappear in scenic “cut-outs” that follow the appearance of a long bridal train which carries objects in its wake—and is finally followed by a symbolic flower pot. The men, in black suits and bare feet, alternately inflate and deflate with passion but seem more enervated than passionate. When the entire stage finally opens up, the men indulge in staggering, very un-macho, rubber-like like steps, sort of like enervated Slinkies. Seemingly double-jointed and gravity impaired, they dance as if driven. We can only imagine the unseen women who so effortlessly emasculated them. But in the end the flower pot has been replaced by a cascade of rose petals. The soap opera apparently has a happy ending.

Finally, in a nod to the past, a reprise of Vilaro’s complex and sensuous 2008 “Deshar Alhat (Leave Sunday”) evokes the culture and even language (Ladino) of the Sephardic News who settled in Latin America in the early 20th century. The haunting work, performed in sensuous red costumes, surges with languorous duets and pulsating ensemble numbers that suggest both displacement and tradition. As much as the movement, it’s the frozen tableaux that speak here, almost like snapshots of a lost tribe caught up in a moment that manages to brush eternity.

Rating: ★★★