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Luna Negra Dance Theater

By Lynn Colburn Shapiro

Luna Negra Dance Theater
The Harris Theater
Chicago, IL
September 26–27, 2008
Reviewed by

Lynn Colburn Shapiro

 

Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Ricardo J. Garcia

and Kirsten Shelton in

Eduardo Vilaro's Deshár Alhát.

 

Latin rhythms, balletic virtuosity, and choreographic depth combined in Luna Negra Dance Theater’s 10th-anniversary season opener, “Ciclos,” a provocative program that paid homage to the Latino heritage. From the percussive AviMar (a premiere by Francisco Aviña), to artistic director Eduardo Vilaro’s intensely emotional Deshár Alhát (also a premiere), to the lyrical arcs of José Limón’s 1956 There Is a Time, the 12 dancers performed with polish and artistic authority.


Movement mirrors sound in the surrealist dreamscape of AviMar, with haunting bells, a heartbeat, and mechanical sound effects igniting explosive group movement. Swiveling hips, flexed feet and punishing renversés rip bodies in and out of passionate couplings, evoking a mysterious world rife with sexual tension. The opening Magritte-like image—hands emerging from the waistbands of disembodied skirts—juxtaposes the human and other-worldly. We don’t quite know what we’re looking at until the skirts, with their flamenco flounce, evolve legs and finally hatch fully grown female bodies. Intensity builds through the men’s fiery surge of angular aggression and whole-body machismo, leading to the concealed entrance of a dominatrix ballerina wearing one pointe shoe and one combat boot, her macho consort barefoot and in red briefs. Their pas de deux, alternately passionate and combative, never lets up on athletic daring. Josh Preston’s stark lighting—floor to ceiling diagonal shafts—creates spectacular spatial focus for the driving ensemble movement.


In Deshár Alhát (“Leave Sunday” in the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino), ancient Sephardic prayers and poems, performed live by singer-guitarist-composer Stefani Valadez and her ensemble, help to tell a story of a community forced from its homeland. The work is Vilaro’s exploration of the Sephardic Jews who fled to Latin America in the early 20th century. The opening scene gives us a solo female dancer, her tormented body entwined in veils draped from above. The surrounding community, ghost-like in the filmy light, echoes her movement, the rhythmic thrust and retraction of an arm reflecting their shared longing. Vilaro paints a kinetic canvas lush with upper-body abandon, spiral turns, and an organic flow.


The company’s production of There Is a Time commemorates the 100th anniversary of Limón’s birth and celebrates his achievement as a Latino pioneer of modern dance. Limón’s genius for combining stunning spatial design with a unique use of energy, breath, and gesture is evident in this adaptation of the Bible’s “Ecclesiastes.” It uses the circle as a unifying theme to convey a profoundly moving representation of the human drama. Reconstructed and directed by Sarah Stackhouse, Luna Negra’s performance honors the timeless treasure with integrity and clarity.