Luna Negra Dance Theater's Spring Program Review — Telling Stories through Dance

Luna Negra Dance Theater’s spring program on March 12 at the Harris Theater showcased what the 11-year-old company does best. Proclaiming itself to be Chicago’s premier Latino contemporary dance company — which it undoubtedly is — the company’s real strength can be found at the end of its name: theater. Above all else, Luna Negra’s accomplished dancers and risk-taking choreographers excel at telling stories.

To tell those stories, Luna Negra relies not only on the movement and music that make up most dance performances but also on the human voice and on props — everything from a chalkboard to a juice squeezer in the spring program. The result is elegant dancing deepened by nuanced communication.

Stacey Aung and Zoltan Katona

Nowhere was that storytelling clearer than in the first piece, “Solo una Vez” (“Only One Time”), one of two North American premieres in the program. Created by Venezuelan choreographer Luis Eduardo Sayago Alonso in 2004 for the National Theater Mannheim in Germany, “Sola una Vez” opens with three male dancers — Nigel Campbell, Zoltan Katona and Diego Tortelli — contemplating their future spouses.


On a chalkboard headed “REQUIREMENTS,” Tortelli adds to the already long list of traits he hopes to find in a wife: fluency in Chinese, graceful handwriting, chef skills and, of course, a killer body — unfettered. As Tortelli scrawls on the board wearing a birdcage over his head to demonstrate his closed thinking, Campbell wields a knife to slice open oranges: in Venezuela, love is said to be a search for the other half of the orange. Katona propels himself back and forth on a wheeled platform, as if he can’t make up his mind where he will go.


Their dynamic changes with the entrance of three female dancers: Stacey Aung, Veronica Guadalupe and Kristen Shelton. As the Latin American bolero music by Antonio Machin and Trio los Panchos amps up, the dancers pair off, with an especially affecting pas de deux by Aung and Campbell. The choreographer, like the newly dating couples, takes fewer risks in this section, but in the final section, set to Felix Mendelssohn’s wedding march, the realities of marriage set in: the dancers flex their feet, literally kicking up their heels, signaling that married love may not always be pretty but can be joyful.

Luis Eduardo Sayago's "Solo una Vez": Nigel Campbell (top), Zoltan Katona

Second up and also a North American premiere is “Naked Ape,” created by Spanish choreographer Fernando Hernando Magadan in 2009 for the Nederlands Dans Theater. Described as exploring “how the human capacity and need for physical interaction may be challenged by the insensitivity of new media and technology,” “Naked Ape” depicts that disconnect through sometimes dissonant music, an electronic mashup of works by Erik Truffaz Murcof, Johann Sebastian Bach and Jónsi and Alex. The human dancers are disconnected from their work attire: empty spot-lit white suits by multi-media artist Harmen Straatman that stand on their own as if super-starched.

Clad in filmy white garments, dancers Mónica Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga join Aung and Tortelli as the humans befuddled by technology. When Katona, wearing a black suit, encounters the dancers, he seems unconvinced of their humanity. Babeling at length (in his native Hungarian?) about these strange creatures, Katona manipulates their bodies, like a pathologist examining corpses. Exploring soullessness can be a soulless process, and “Naked Ape” is a coolly intellectual piece, expertly danced. With no overtly Latin elements, it remains disconnected from the exuberance of the other pieces.

Fernando Hernando Magadan's "Naked Ape"

Luna Negra’s spring program ends with “Flabbergast,” choreographed by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, who became the company’s artistic director last fall. The 33-year-old Spanish-bred choreographer created “Flabbergast” for Luna Negra in 2001 and expanded it for this tenth anniversary presentation. Inspired by Ramírez Sansano’s first visit to America, the piece depicts the experience of entering a foreign culture. Clutching multihued suitcases, the bemused travelers seem to cover as much ground with their eyes as with their feet as they take in the new world around them. In casual, colorful clothing, the entire troupe of ten dancers — including Renée Adams and Hamilton Nieh — dance to the music of Mexican bandleader J uan Garcia Esquivel while chattering nearly nonstop about their experience. With its vibrant Latin pulse and movement, “Flabbergast” reminds the audience of the feeling of discovery.

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's "Flabbergast"

Photos by Cheryl Mann

For more information about Luna Negra Dance Theater, visit or call 312-337-6882.

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