Strong dancers execute so-so choreography
|Luna Negra Dance Theater presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Luna Negra Dance Theater boasts a cadre of beautiful, flexible and diverse dancers. Their fall program Reencuentros (Reunions) and its three pieces (two of them world premieres, choreographed for the company) is a showcase of modern dance’s powerful potential. However, though the choreography is vastly more enjoyable than that seen in last spring’s program at the MCA, Reencuentros never really progresses beyond “potential”. The dancers are wonderful. The steps are simply fine.
The evening’s first piece, “Bate”, was created by Fernando Melo in 2005 for Sweden’s Göteberg Ballet, and was the only piece not to feature the entire Luna Negra company. According to the program, “Bate” was inspired by Brazilian soap operas and Samba, “where men express not only their love and devotion to women, but also their troubles and melancholy”. Dancers are first seen through cutout windows in a black screen, and a flowerpot with a vibrant red blossom plays a large part. The piece eventually culminates in a large shower of red petals, a gorgeous contrast with the dancers’ black suits. While Melo’s choreography is fun, and the score extremely catchy, the costume design, the arching bodies and the lines a bit derivative of Ohad Naharian’s beloved “Minus 16”, without the audience participation. As always, company member Nigel Campbell is a delight to behold, and Kirsten Shelton and Renée Adams provide a lovely feminine contrast in the male-dominated piece.
“18 + 1” is also very Naharian-esque. Instead of black suits, Gustavo Ramírez Sansano and Sergio Cordoba outfit the Luna Negra dancers in natty gray tailcoats and cropped pants. Perez Prado’s score almost had me dancing in my seat (I refrained, much to the relief of the woman sitting next to me) while onstage, the company’s collective energy spread like a fever. Sansano is Luna Negra’s artistic director and clearly knows his subjects well – “18 + 1” lovingly displays the vibrant ensemble. Sansano also takes care to inject humor at various points, which is refreshing in such a serious genre. Soloist Shelton strips off her jacket to reveal a bright red top and breaks from the chorus line in a joyful sequence that’s the highlight of the piece. Like “Bate” before it, “18 + 1” is nothing groundbreaking, but Sansano’s celebration of 19 years as a choreographer is a lot of fun.
The second world premiere, “Walk-In”, closes the evening on a confusing note. Choreographer Melo explains in his program note: “One definition of ‘walk-in’ is the notion of a person whose spirit has departed from his body and has been replaced by a new soul, either temporarily or permanently. In the same way that a body may be taken over by a spirit, a human can be inhabited by powerful emotions that influence his behaviour and the way he perceives the world.” The goal of the piece is lofty, and its length is excessive. Melo’s idea is well-represented in Markus Pysall’s set, which consists of a turquoise-and-beige background, a ceiling fan, a fluorescent light and a very realistic-looking pop machine that glows and pulsates with a soul all its own. Pysall’s costume design mixes drab greys with bright pinks and purples, giving the purgatory-like atmosphere an animated charge. I’ve never liked the device of dancing to voiceover recordings, and “Walk-In” doesn’t make it any less tired. However, the dancers aptly shine as they entangle in various twos and threes, manipulate one another like dolls and find various interesting ways to use a folding chair.
My feelings about Luna Negra as a company are mixed: I respect their work, I like to watch them dance but I don’t fully get why they choose the pieces they do. As their season progresses, from the Reencuentros opener to the closing program at the MCA, I look forward to solving this personal puzzle. Perhaps Luna Negra will surpass “good, not great” and gyrate, leap and flip over the line into “fantastic”. We shall see.
Photos by Cheryl Mann
Renée Adams, Christopher Bordenave, Christian Broomhall, Nigel Campbell, Mónica Cervantes, Céline D’Hont, Brenna Dwyer, Jozsef Forro, Veronica Guadalupe, Zoltán Katona, Noelle Kayser, Erin Kouwe, Patricia Marín Escutia, David Maurice, Delphina Parenti, Filipa Peraltinha, Kirsten Shelton, Karl Rader Watson, Eduardo Zuñiga
behind the scenes
Gustavo Ramírez Sansano (Artistic Director), Joanna Naftali (Executive Director), Mónica Cervantes and Veronica Guadalupe (Rehearsal Directors), Teri York (Production Manager), Jared B. Moore (Lighting Designer), Eduardo Vilaro (Founder); Cheryl Mann (photos)
Fernando Melo (Choreography/Costume Design), Bill Evans/Kronos Quartet/Dinah Washington/Fausto Papetti/Tom Zé (Music), David Stockholm (Lighting Design), Jared B. Moore (Lighting Recreation), Liz Rench (Costume Construction)