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Luna Negra Dance Theatre

by Elizabeth McPherson

February 3, 2008 -- The New Victory Theatre, NYC

The Chicago-based Luna Negra Dance Theatre produces and presents works by Latino choreographers. The company of thirteen dancers is directed by Eduardo Vilaro, former principal dancer with Ballet Hispanico of New York.

Though The New Victory Theatre is known for its programming for young people, this performance was not tailored to that audience, meaning that the dances were accessible to the young viewer, but appeared to be choreographed for a general audience.

On this Sunday afternoon, Luna Negra Dance Theatre performed three works, each of which conveyed influences and flavors of Latino culture. The first dance, “Sonetos de Amor (Love Sonnets),” was choreographed by Pedro Ruiz. The dancers were mostly paired in male-female couples. The partnering was wonderfully innovative with unusual lifts and maneuvers in which the woman was fully a partner, and not just hoisted around. The only drawback to the unusual moves was that the dancers often took very obvious preparations. Antony Tudor is much talked about this year because of the centennial of his birth. He is known for having insisted that his dancers move without visible preparation. This choreography, or at least the coaching, would have benefited from heeding that dictum. The preparations forecast that something difficult was coming.  One other intriguing aspect of the choreography was the ephemeral lightness of the women’s arms in contrast to the strength of the rest of their bodies. It struck me as intending a message of some sort, maybe simply the duality of the women being both soft and strong.

Choreographed by Michelle Manzanales with choreographic input from the dancers, “Sugar in the Raw (Azucar Cruda)” stood out from the other two dances for the lasting images it instilled in this viewer. One such moment began with each dancer performing a baseball slide (á la Paul Taylor’s Esplanade) into an individual lit spot. The dancers then began performing individualized movements, tied together like variations on a theme, impassioned with personal voice. Manzanales has a wonderful way of moving the entire group together, but not together, by using canons and other choreographic devices.

The third dance “Quinceañera (Sweet Fifteen)” had a silliness that was not quite funny. According to program notes, it was inspired by the “rite of passage where a fifteen-year-old girl is symbolically escorted into womanhood by her family.” There was much to-do about wearing high heels that the “fifteen-year-olds” couldn’t yet walk in without bending their ankles at alarming angles. The most interesting choreography was actually for the men, the escorts of the young women. The men had an intriguing sequence of strutting, fixing hair, and straightening ties that connoted excitement, nervousness, and that slight awkwardness inherent in most teenagers.

Of the dancers, Ricardo J. Garcia, Vanessa Valecillos, and Jessica Alejandra Wyatt, stood out particularly for their mature stage presence and the ability to personalize the choreography. My attention was drawn to one of the three of them repeatedly.

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