Luna Negra Dance Theater

March 28, 2009

Luna Negra Dance Theater
The Harris Theater

Chicago, IL

March 28, 2009

Reviewed by Lynn Colburn Shapiro

Drowning in ruffles: Jessica Alejandra Wyatt in
Nube Blanco, a world premiere by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photo by Kristie Kahns, Courtesy Silverman Group.


A celebration of Latina choreographers marked Luna Negra Dance Theater’s 10th-anniversary season. The company of 12 brought wit, psychological depth, and technical mastery to the four pieces on this diverse, provocative program.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s world premiere, Nube Blanco (White Cloud), the highlight of the evening, blends flamenco footwork, modern dance, music, and speech. The piece opens to the sound of dripping water and rusty hinges. A male soloist in sleek black slacks, white T-shirt, and red shoes interprets the sounds with mechanical gestures that meld into a flamenco motif. A chorus soon joins him––the men dressed identically, the women in black dresses with white flounce––with a stamping, clapping, and snapping score punctuated by their own voices. When one couple flings off their shoes for a steamy dance dialogue, the rest of the ensemble, framing them, maintains the classical Spanish flavor. But before long, they, too, are swept into barefoot abandon by the melodies of singer Maria Dolores Pradera, swelling into broad, swinging arcs of torsos, heads, legs, and arms.

A hilarious quartet of men shouting “Uno, dos, tres, quatro,” in turn, creates a rhythmic circus of movement that escalates to fever pitch, culminating in one dancer’s mimed pistol shot to the head and collapse to the floor. In the finale, humor mixes with the surreal as one woman, drowning in ruffles from chin to toes, struggles to conform to the ensemble’s movement. The piece comes to a raucous end as she flips upside-down, her costume obliterating her, a bare leg emerging vertically from the sea of fabric in a final gesture of defiance.

In Nancy Turano’s Carmen, Act I, from 1998, three soloists create a multi-layered psychological portrait of Bizet’s famous diva, converging periodically as each other’s alter ego. Kirsten Shelton’s attack and intensity highlight Carmen’s volatility and smoldering anger. Vanessa Valecillos portrays Carmen’s sensuality, all seductive extensions, luscious arches, and lyrical adagio passages. Jessica Alejandra Wyatt is an older Carmen, whose descent to the floor in a stunning back arch speaks of disillusionment and despair. All three meet in a dramatic death, and all are reborn as one unified Carmen to laughter echoing over Bizet’s “La Vie Est Gaie.”

Sugar in the Raw
, choreographed by rehearsal director Michelle Manzanales, follows an intriguing progression of relationships, from revolving, tightly-wound couplings, to isolated individuals, to the energy and freedom of full ensemble movement. Manzanales combines literal gestures of work, love, and play with captivating upper-body weightlessness and floating arms.

Maray Gutierrez’s Eterno Despertar (Eternal Awakening), beautifully danced, is the least distinctive work of the evening. She mirrors Madredeus’ music with flowing sequences that, while pleasant to watch, never crystallize into a central idea.

The program’s many delights include superbly entertaining performances and substance that leaves the audience with something to think about, a testament to Eduardo Vilaro’s discerning direction. Vilaro will be leaving Luna Negra to become artistic director of Ballet Hispanico in New York. It is Chicago’s loss, but we wish him every success.