Luna Negra Dance Theater is a contemporary dance company from Chicago that is making a name for itself by exclusively presenting the works of acclaimed contemporary Latino choreographers.
The works are bold departures from traditional Latino folkloric themes and together with the talent of the 10 dancers in the company, a very dynamic synergy has been created. This creative mix was evident in the program the company presented Friday night at the Duncan Theatre.
The first work, Sola Una Vez ,choreographed by Luis Eduardo Sayago, was an exploration of men looking for their perfect soulmate. The beginning setup was mostly theater as three men contemplated their idea of the perfect female. This included writing on a white board a list of necessary traits she must possess, as well as cutting oranges in half. A lackluster beginning.
After a while, three women in white dresses entered and the energy improved. The choreography began to define itself as each man chose a woman. Three duets ensued that were all set to a series of Latin American bolero songs. Joseph Kudra discovered Kristen Shelton in a strong duet. The movement vocabulary of sliding and strong initiation impulses satisfyingly filled the stage. The partnering movement vocabulary in the duet looked authentic and exciting.
This continued in the more combative and manipulative duet of Veronica Guadalupe and Eugene Peabody as they defined their relationship, which ended in a somewhat defiant stare. Stacey Aung and Nigel Campbell were beautiful in their duet, moving in unison with such clarity, and with such awareness of each other’s smallest nuance. It reflected the enviable togetherness of true soulmates.
The last section, danced by the three couples to the traditional wedding march by Mendelssohn, was strangely disappointing. The juxtaposition of the extremely familiar wedding processional music together with repetitious movement and uninspired choreography in this final sextet was just unfulfilling. Was the point that their marriages were unfulfilling?
The next work, Naked Ape, was created in collaboration with choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan and multimedia artist Harman Streetman. It explores, according to the program note, how the human capacity and need for physical interaction may be challenged by the insensitivity of new media and technology. The work was engaging most of the time with some memorable moments.
Visually, it was strong. Glowing, translucent sculptures of white suited torsos littered the stage. A quartet of naked-looking dancers, who actually were dressed in white undergarments, stood motionless. Robots? Humans? A curious wreckage, that Eduardo Zuniga, dressed in a dark suit, controlled by inserting his hand into a full-sized upright torso. The score was a fascinating fusion of Bach trying to be heard through some heavy “white noise” and urban sounds. Zuniga spoke in a gibberish language explaining and demonstrating his knowledge and power over the dancers. Without understanding a word he was saying, his “explanations,” especially those of body parts, were both funny and distressing.
Monica Cervantes and Nigel Campbell danced together in an engaging duet where the sound score almost sounded like urban animals. A second stunning duet followed danced by Aung and Kudra. Their action/reaction partnering was amazingly seamless. A lasting visual toward the end of this work was Cervantes slowly moving up the diagonal as Zuniga, still in his dark suit, hovered on the floor, sniffing at her like an adoring animal. It was a change of roles, and a powerful moment.
The last work presented was Flabbergast, choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the new artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater. Created in 2001 and set to music by Juan Garcia Esquivel, this ensemble work for all 20 dancers in the company was a throw back to post-war Madrid in the early 1950s. It is designed, again according to the program note, to be a choreographic exposé of one’s stereotypes and preconceived ideas about new and foreign places. Hence, there were suitcases.
However, if the note wasn’t in the program and there were no suitcases, this would not have been evident. There was a charming Hollywood movie quality to the dance with smiles, songs, puckered lips, tiffs over the same boyfriend, flirting between muchachas and muchachos, conga lines and cha-cha interspersed with well-danced solos, duets and ensembles that ended as all movies ended in the ‘50s: with a large, flickering THE END on the screen.
The audience was thrilled with the expertise of the dancers throughout the evening’s performance but they clearly would have been lost without the notes in the program about each piece of choreography. But even with them, they were still confused, as evident by the grumbling heard after each dance was over. Was it just a challenging program or was there a lack of cohesion in the works?
Lack of comprehension in dance is accepted if one feels there is cohesion, balance and purpose in the work. Many sections had this but they did not add up to a feeling of completeness, a sense of a whole. Still, there is a strong sense of artistry and purpose in the company and its mission. That is evident.
Luna Negra Dance Theater is a company to discover, to reflect upon and to look forward to seeing again because of its inherent talent and promise.
Luna Negra Dance Theater repeats this show tonight at 8 at the Duncan Theatre on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth. Tickets are $37. Call 868-3309 or visit www.duncantheatre.org.