Congratulate yourself on your foresight, perspicacity, and good fortune if you saw Moniquilla and the Moon Monster this past weekend at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. If you didn’t, you’ll have to wait an entire year to catch this wonderfully inventive narrated dance performance, geared specifically to young children, but equally appealing to a more sophisticated adult audience—from 3 to 73.
This second installment of the annual Luna Niños Family Series of the adventures of Moniquilla and friends presented by Luna Negra Dance Theater finds Moniquilla and friend Veronica at school one day when they realize that pal Matias is missing. After a little exploration, they realize that Matias has been abducted by the Moon Monster, who’s in search of the mysterious Book of Magic, and Moniquilla must enlist the help of former nemesis Nico (from the previous installment, Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter) to help save him.
The hour-long show flies by quickly as the story unfolds. A lively narrator (Renee Adams) begins by asking the children questions, and the stage begins to fill with moving sets, dancers dressed in matching parochial-style school uniforms performing classroom antics, eating food; a wild, red-haired teacher scribbling madly on the blackboard while her students run amok, cleverly animated cartoon-like video projections appear on drop down screens, a blue-gloved scientist creating a secret potion, and a trip to outer space. I was cheerily breathless trying to keep up with all the action and fast-paced music but the kids seemed to keep up just fine as the almost full house of 3 and 4 year olds and their parents sat mesmerized. No squirming, no crying, no exiting to the bathroom, just rapt attention. They showed their appreciation with long sustained applause and cheering. I asked my 7 year old which part she found boring or slow. She replied, “Nothing. I loved it all.” Then I asked which part she found the best. Again, “Nothing! I loved it all!” Out of the mouths of babes.
High-energy Moniquilla (Monica Cervantes) literally rushes and bubbles onstage with her megawatt smile and oversized red glasses as she and friends Veronica (Kirsten Shelton), Matias (Karl Rader Watson) and classmates go through their paces, from frantic arm-waving and cartwheels to leap-frog, playing catch with each others’ backpacks and filling the air with paper bombs. Eduardo Zuniga’s choreography and direction is a unique and creative blend of dance, starting with natural frenetic child-like movements of wriggling, spinning, skipping, hopping and wild running, stomping, elbow-knee-hand slapping, and rhythmic clapping. Even a game of cats-cradle came into play. The quirky moves combined a bit of ballet, modern and jazz in individual movement of classroom chaos that suddenly jelled into smooth unison. This all played out to an eclectic and clever mix of music from classical (Chopin’s Minute Waltz, Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance, Prokofiev, among others) to hard percussion and contemporary Latin fare. Then, just when you thought you’d heard it all, there was the trip to the moon accompanied along its trajectory into outer space by Rossini’s William Tell Overture! (Better known to the young, or young-at-heart, as the Lone Ranger music.) Here the Lone Ranger has been inventively re-imagined as the moon monster, looking like an adorable cartoon beetle replete with antennae, bug eyes staring out from what looked like the Lone Ranger’s mask. Once on the moon the music becomes eerie and slow as lots of monsters, dressed in black danced before a back-lit scrim, which emphasized their outlines and splayed fingers. The mood was joyous and playful--such fun to watch. The frenzy of movement and music was a perfect introduction for young people to the arts.
This new hour-long, narrated dance performance, was written, directed and choreographed by Luna Negra company member Eduardo Zuñiga, with illustrations by Patricia Marín Escutia, animations by Gustavo Suarez, lighting by Jared B. Moore, and a giant moving set designed by Zuñiga, this immersive and interactive multi-media adventure delights children (and adults) of all ages while serving as an introduction to the dramatic power of contemporary dance.
The on-going adventures of Moniquilla, presented in annual installments as part of Luna Negra’s Luna Niños artistic initiative, was conceived by Luna Negra Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano specifically to reach young audiences through a unique dance experience tailored to their needs. It succeeded beyond measure. This was a thoroughly delightful performance. I can’t wait til next year’s installment, which will combine episodes 1 and 2. Be sure to mark your calendars. And if you can’t wait that long, check out the upcoming adult Luna Negra performance which opens March 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The new program, Made in Spain, will feature three works by Spanish choreographers with music by the Turtle Island Quartet.
Founded in 1999 by Cuban-born dancer and choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, Luna Negra celebrates the richness and diversity of Latino culture through the creation of works by contemporary Latino choreographers and through intensive, hands-on education programs that encourage discovery and exploration of personal and community identity. Now under the leadership of award-winning Artistic Director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Luna Negra has risen to the forefront of American contemporary dance.
Photos: Jonathan Mackoff.
445 West Erie Street, Chicago, IL
(312) 337-6882 · lunanegra.org
Photos: Courtesy of Luna Negra Dance Theatre