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Luna Negra's "Made in Spain" Captures Poetry of Emotional Chaos

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by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The body has its own language. And Monica Cervantes and Fernando Hernando Magadan -- the two young Spanish-bred choreographers whose work comprised Luna Negra Dance Theater's superbly danced "Made in Spain" program this past Saturday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, use that language in the most ingenious ways to suggest the complex, often wildly fractured and twisted inner landscapes of the soul.

The program opener, a revival of Magadan's 2009 work, "Naked Ape" (set to a mood-switching score of electronica and Bach, along with sequences of gibberish spoken by that brilliantly catlike dancer, Eduardo Zuniga) deals with this subject in mostly whimsical terms, though there is a dark, Beckettian quality to it at times.

The piece begins with a stage filled with a headless mannequin dressed in a gauzy white suit lit from within, as well as a number of other body parts of similar construction. Zuniga, in a black suit, pokes around for a soul in these odd figures and subsequently, to great comic effect, tries to manipulate a live body to life. Several superb duets -- danced by Kristen Shelton (a veteran of the company who is moving with more thrilling power than ever), the intense and charismatic Nigel Campbell, the elegant Renee Adams and the stylish Christopher Bordenave --also  explore the connect-disconnect of modern existence with a blend of angst and yearning.

Cervantes, a remarkable slip of a dancer who moves like a squiggle of ink, is a genuine poet-philosopher as a choreographer. Her spellbinding world premiere piece, "Presente," set to Max Richter's fascinating "recomposition" of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," begins with a frenzied series of walks and runs -- forward and backward -- setting up the notion that "Presente" is a meditation on the way the past continually pulls us back, the future propels us forward, and the immediate state of our being often gets lost in the emotional traffic in between.

Nothing is literal here. A man with all the marks of a child suddenly discovers a more adult form. A duet featues another man dragging a woman across the stage, only to have things move into reverse as she desperately clings to his leg. In one notably dramatic moment earth spills from a long, narrow sack of earth and a woman scoops it up, plants a garden and actually seems to be dwelling in the here and now. Ultimately, a woman, bare chested, suggests total vulnerability and a different form of "presence." Throughout the work you could feel the audience's attention riveted to everything that was unfolding.

"Royal Road," Magadan's world premiere piece, features a program note quoting Sigmund Freud who observed: "Music is the royal road to the soul." Fittingly, there was glorious live music onstage in the form of the Turtle Island Quartet, whose violinist, David Balakrishnan, composed the alternately stringent and folk-inflected pieces to which the dance was set.

Magadan's set design takes the notion one step further, as a giant "chandelier" -- comprised of pages of sheet music -- hovers over the quartet and is bathed in a golden light.

The dancers -- Cervantes and Zuniga (in a marvelous duet), Shelton, Campbell , Adams, Bordenave, Filipa Peraltinha and Karl Rader Watson --  are world class. And their dynamic shifts of mood and movement were finessed with great beauty and excitement.

Luna Negra, soon to celebrate its 15th anniversary (its "quinceañera"), has a loyal following that filled the Harris Theatre this Saturday. And it will stage its choreographic workshop at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in June. But my big wish for the company is that it finds a smaller venue where it can run multiple performances over the course of a single weekend, and word of mouth can actually have an impact.

And one additional suggestion for the company: A bit more variety in the programming of a mixed bill would serve the choreographers and audience better. One narrative piece perhaps, amid a slew of abstract works, would intensify of all the work on display.

And one additional suggestion for the company: A bit more variety in the programming of a mixed bill would serve the choreographers and audience better. One narrative piece perhaps, amid a slew of abstract works, would intensify of all the work on display.



by Hedy Weiss
Dance Critic/hweiss@suntimes.com

The body has its own language. And Monica Cervantes and Fernando Hernando Magadan -- the two young Spanish-bred choreographers whose work comprised Luna Negra Dance Theater's superbly danced "Made in Spain" program this past Saturday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, use that language in the most ingenious ways to suggest the complex, often wildly fractured and twisted inner landscapes of the soul.

The program opener, a revival of Magadan's 2009 work, "Naked Ape" (set to a mood-switching score of electronica and Bach, along with sequences of gibberish spoken by that brilliantly catlike dancer, Eduardo Zuniga) deals with this subject in mostly whimsical terms, though there is a dark, Beckettian quality to it at times.

The piece begins with a stage filled with a headless mannequin dressed in a gauzy white suit lit from within, as well as a number of other body parts of similar construction. Zuniga, in a black suit, pokes around for a soul in these odd figures and subsequently, to great comic effect, tries to manipulate a live body to life. Several superb duets -- danced by Kristen Shelton (a veteran of the company who is moving with more thrilling power than ever), the intense and charismatic Nigel Campbell, the elegant Renee Adams and the stylish Christopher Bordenave --also explore the connect-disconnect of modern existence with a blend of angst and yearning.

Cervantes, a remarkable slip of a dancer who moves like a squiggle of ink, is a genuine poet-philosopher as a choreographer. Her spellbinding world premiere piece, "Presente," set to Max Richter's fascinating "recomposition" of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," begins with a frenzied series of walks and runs -- forward and backward -- setting up the notion that "Presente" is a meditation on the way the past continually pulls us back, the future propels us forward, and the immediate state of our being often gets lost in the emotional traffic in between.

Nothing is literal here. A man with all the marks of a child suddenly discovers a more adult form. A duet featues another man dragging a woman across the stage, only to have things move into reverse as she desperately clings to his leg. In one notably dramatic moment earth spills from a long, narrow sack of earth and a woman scoops it up, plants a garden and actually seems to be dwelling in the here and now. Ultimately, a woman, bare chested, suggests total vulnerability and a different form of "presence." Throughout the work you could feel the audience's attention riveted to everything that was unfolding.

"Royal Road," Magadan's world premiere piece, features a program note quoting Sigmund Freud who observed: "Music is the royal road to the soul." Fittingly, there was glorious live music onstage in the form of the Turtle Island Quartet, whose violinist, David Balakrishnan, composed the alternately stringent and folk-inflected pieces to which the dance was set.

Magadan's set design takes the notion one step further, as a giant "chandelier" -- comprised of pages of sheet music -- hovers over the quartet and is bathed in a golden light.

The dancers -- Cervantes and Zuniga (in a marvelous duet), Shelton, Campbell , Adams, Bordenave, Filipa Peraltinha and Karl Rader Watson -- are world class. And their dynamic shifts of mood and movement were finessed with great beauty and excitement.

Luna Negra, soon to celebrate its 15th anniversary (its "quinceañera"), has a loyal following that filled the Harris Theatre this Saturday. And it will stage its choreographic workshop at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in June. But my big wish for the company is that it finds a smaller venue where it can run multiple performances over the course of a single weekend, and word of mouth can actually have an impact.

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This page contains a single entry by Hedy Weiss published on March 7, 2013 3:12 PM.

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