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Luna Negra artistic director resigns; dance company’s future in peril

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano stepped down Monday as artistic director LunNegrDance Theater. | BRIAN JACKSON ~ Sun-Times

Gustavo Ramirez Sansano stepped down Monday as the artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater. | BRIAN JACKSON ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: June 1, 2013 6:26AM

In what is a significant loss for the Chicago dance community, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the audacious and imaginative artistic director who has led the Latino-rooted Luna Negra Dance Theater here since 2010 — and transformed it into a company of great sophistication and experimentation — has stepped down from his post, effective immediately.

He is returning to Spain this week, and plans to focus on his choreographic work. According to a prepared statement, he also has expressed “a commitment to remain with Luna Negra artistically, moving forward in a project-based capacity.” But several of his finest dancer-collaborators, including Monica Cervantes of Spain and Eduardo Zuniga of Chile, have already left for home because of visa issues. And the rest of the dancers have been put “on hiatus.”

Last week, the company, which has been suffering from previously undisclosed financial and administrative problems for many months, announced it had canceled its spring program of new choreography at the Museum of Contemporary Art, including a planned commission with another Spanish choreographer. Meanwhile, its remaining dancers performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of “Maria de Buenos Aires,” which had its final performance Sunday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Luna Negra’s recently arrived executive director, Esther Jeles, announced the launch of an international search for a new artistic director. But Sansano — who, since taking over for Luna Negra founder Eduardo Vilaro has brought thrilling new choreography and visual design to the Chicago stage, and assembled a troupe of exceptional dancers from here and around the globe — will be a difficult act to follow. And the company he crafted is now splintered.

Luna Negra, whose latest budget was about $1.1 million, produced a major annual one-night-only concert at the Harris Theater. And Sansano tried to expand the visibility of the company by collaborating with the Museum of Contemporary Art, and creating a successful family series at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. A gifted choreographer (whose brilliant take on the Carmen story should have received far greater exposure), also showcased work by European and Latin American choreographers and developed the dance-making talents of stellar company member Monica Cervantes.

Michael Tiknis, managing director of the Harris Theater, is fervent in his support of the company.

“We have offered to do everything possible to keep Luna Negra viable,” Tiknis said. “During the past several years we have subsidized their rental of the Harris through our MacArthur Foundation Fund, we have helped them with technical support, and we offered to give them whatever dates they needed in the coming season. We also offered them a simulcast of Gustavo’s piece, ‘Carmen.maquia’, much like the one we did for the Paris Opera Ballet — which we had hoped to present this fall as part of the kickoff of our 10th anniversary season. It would have been a great showcase for the company.”

Sansano said: “There were differences with the board that couldn’t be resolved, as is the case with any marriage.”

Pam Crutchfield, a longtime supporter of the company, who was to help underwrite Luna Negra’s MCA engagement, has refused to serve on the search committee for a new director. And as she put it: “The truth is, these artists are irreplaceable.”

In a prepared statement, Sansano noted: “I have decided to leave my position as artistic director. It goes without saying that I am deeply grateful to the city of Chicago, the dance community, the press, and my dancers for giving me an unforgettable experience.”

Since its inception in 1999, Luna Negra Dance Theater has established itself as a significant and vital component of Chicago’s arts and cultural community. Founded by Vilaro, a Cuban-born dancer and choreographer now with Ballet Hispanico in New York, the troupe 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. Steering away from stereotypes and folkloric representations, the company performs works of contemporary Latino dance with energy, power, and passion. The company has commissioned and presented works by acclaimed Latino choreographers from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico and Spain.

To learn more about Luna Negra and its programs, please visit

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