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Fernando Melo’s ‘Walk-In’ among highlights of Luna Negra program

Choreographer Fernando Melo rehearses members  LunNegrDance Theater for his new producti'Walk-In.' | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

Choreographer Fernando Melo rehearses members of Luna Negra Dance Theater for his new production, "Walk-In." | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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◆ Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.

◆ Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph

◆ Tickets, $25-$65

◆ (312) 334-7777;

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Updated: October 4, 2012 3:23PM

Luna Negra Dance Theater, the Latino-infused ensemble that was founded in 1999 and has been thriving under the leadership of Spanish-bred choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano since 2010, is one of this city’s true cultural treasures. The highly theatrical company, whose 10 exceptionally strong, distinctive dancers have both local and international roots, has developed a passionate following over the years. Yet not nearly enough people have made its acquaintance for the simple reason that its principal showcase is a single major concert each fall at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

This past year, the company instituted an annual spring choreographic series at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as a family-oriented winter series (slated for Dec. 1 and 2 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts), so its presence is growing. And shortly after it performs its “Reencuentros” (“Reunions”) program at the Harris (Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.), it will head off for an engagement in Spain, return for a brief tour in Wisconsin, and then travel to New York.

Nevertheless, if you don’t make the upcoming program you will have to mark your calendar for next year. And you will miss “18 + 1,” a world premiere by Sansano that celebrates his 19th year as a choreographer (he began as a boy), set to the mambo tunes of Perez Prado he heard growing up. You also will miss two pieces by Fernando Melo, an imaginative, playfully absurdist young Brazilian-bred, Swedish-based choreographer.

Melo will be represented here by both a revival of “Bate” (Portuguese for “Heartbeat”), his hilariously offbeat, ingeniously envisioned dance about macho men in lovesick mode, as well as by the world premiere of “Walk-In,” his whimsical, movement-propelled perspective on the human condition, set to the music of Schubert, as well as the sound of coins dropped into a vending machine.

Among the ensemble’s many exquisite dancers is Monica Cervantes, who grew up in Tarragona, Spain, worked with Sansano in Europe, and followed him to Chicago. A petite powerhouse, she brings a special fire to the stage (last year she created the title role in Sansano’s version of “Carmen”), as well as a fearlessness that might well stem from her training as a competitive gymnast, from the age of five to nine.

“I didn’t like the strictness and the competition,” said Cervantes, 31, the mother of an eight-year-old son who prefers drumming to dancing. “After I quit, I stopped all classes for a year and just enjoyed life. Then I returned to dancing — first jazz, and finally ballet. By the time I was 13, all I wanted to do was dance, and I headed to the Instituto del Teatro of Barcelona, where Gustavo also studied, though I didn’t know him then.”

From there it was on to a contemporary dance company in Austria, and then back to Spain to join Sansano’s Valencia-based TITOYA Dance Project.

“When Gustavo [Sansano] choreographs, he is very specific,” said the dancer, who also made a big impression with her own choreography this spring at the MCA. “He doesn’t take too much from the dancers, but once the piece is created he gives us freedom. His new piece is like a big dance party, and we’re all dressed in casual-formal tuxedos and tails.”

“For ‘Walk-In,’ Fernando [Melo] has used a lot of dancer-generated material,” said Cervantes. “He gave us specific tasks to develop — for example, one day he told us we should move another dancer as if he or she were a piece of furniture.”

Melo, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, and dances and choreographs with Sweden’s Goteberg Opera and Dance Company, explained the creation of his piece this way: “I started with a process and a detour. I knew how I planned to ‘get there,’ but not where I was going to go, which is an interesting way of doing things. I also had some ideas about the soundscape and set and props. But mostly I knew I wanted to examine the various mental states people go through during their daily routines. The departure point was the mundane, and that’s quite a challenge.”

Melo chose the music of Schubert because “composers of the romantic period allowed their inner feelings to speak. But I also wanted to bring more of a sense of real, contemporary life into the mix, so there are lots of other sounds and interruptions, too.”

“As for the title, ‘Walk-In,’ it came later,” said Melo. “It’s a New Age term for a person whose original soul has departed his or her body and has been replaced with a new soul. I think of it as being possessed by a spiritual or emotional state, but there is no narrative. I just like to create images and situations that charge the audience’s imagination.”

Note: This concert will mark the final Chicago performance by veteran Luna Negra dancer Veronica Guadalupe, a luminous presence who will continue to work behind the scenes.

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