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Luna Negra Dance Company

'Eterno Despertar', 'Enamorados', 'The Last 12 Minutes', 'Quinceanera'

by Carmel Morgan

February 10, 2007 -- Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center, Memphis, Tennessee

Dancers from the Luna Negra Dance Theater, a contemporary Latin dance troupe, generated some welcome heat on February 10, 2006 at the Buckman Performing and Fine Arts Center in Memphis, Tennessee. The dancing was not the stereotypical flamenco, tango, or salsa one might expect from a dance company whose mission is to highlight Latino choreographers.  Instead, the evening’s performance introduced a rich mix of modern dance blended with Latin flavors.

First on the menu was “Eterno Despertar (Eternal Awakening),” a stunning work by Cuban-born choreographer Maray Gutierrez.  The faint sound of lapping waves set the stage for a tension-filled piece that showcased not only the incredible strength of the dancers but also their impressive artistry.  Two couples, alternating partners, hurled into one another with endless tugs and pulls, mirroring the ebb and flow of the sea.

“Enamorados (The Lovers),” by Pedro Ruiz, offered more familiar Latin fare.  This duet featured some Latin sizzle, complete with predictable hip swivels and sultry stares.  Accompanied by the rhythm of a guitar, Vanessa Valecillos and Ricardo J. Garcia engaged in a series of lifts and spins as they tempted and teased each other, a lovers’ passion beautifully portrayed.

Choreographer Ron DeJesus, who danced for seventeen seasons with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, presented a dark, thought-provoking work in “The Last 12 Minutes.”  A lone dancer in a short black dress faces the group with her back to the audience. Who is she? Who are they? Whatever their relationship is meant to be, it is full of strife.  Anemone-like hand gestures and lovely leg extensions added depth to the drama.  Shadows and shafts of light enhanced the various changes in dynamics and successfully evoked the other-worldly atmosphere.

The most entertaining work of the evening was the final piece, “Quinceanera (Sweet 15),” by Luna Negra’s founder and artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro. This piece perhaps best accomplished the blending of Latin culture and contemporary dance.  Wit and whimsy is seen throughout the work, which is almost equal parts theater and dance. Girlhood dreams and anxieties come to life through the vivid costumes: candy-colored tuxedo vests for the men and brightly-hued, almost clownish, layered tulle dresses for the women.

Luna Negra treated those anticipating traditional Latin dance to a show that shattered cultural stereotypes while still providing a taste of well-loved Latin spice.

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