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‘Luna Neuva’ sparked by superb choreography

'En BuscDe' LunNegrDance Theater  |  © MCA Chicago~Nathan Keay

"En Busca De," Luna Negra Dance Theater | © MCA Chicago~Nathan Keay

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When: June 8-10 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre, 220 E. Chicago

Tickets: $ 28

Info: (312) 397-4010 or visit

Updated: June 14, 2012 8:10AM

In the three years since he moved from Spain to Chicago to assume the artistic directorship of Luna Negra Dance Theater, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano has worked a slew of creative miracles.

Not only has he assembled a company of 10 supremely accomplished and expressive dancers with roots in the U.S., South America and Europe. But he has demonstrated his own superb gifts as a choreographer (including this past fall’s remarkable full-length work, “Carmen.maquia”). He has tapped the talents of other important Latino choreographers from throughout the world. And now, with “Luna Nueva,” which opened Thursday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre (a producing partner), he has initiated a showcase designed to explore works featuring unconventional movement styles.

The three works on the program — by Sansano, by Argentina-bred Diana Szeinblum and by Luna Negra principal dancer and rehearsal director Monica Cervantes — are at once strange, disturbing and compelling. The interpretations of these abstract but fiercely emotional pieces might vary widely, but they share a common language. And all three suggest a sense of the inner turmoil of individual existence and the simultaneous agitation generated by relationships between couples or among groups.

Szeinbaum’s world premiere piece, “Brasilia,” set to Pan sonic, the Finnish experimental electronic music duo, and others, is full of themes and variations of morphosis, and it might call to mind the creation of Brazil’s super-modern capital city in the late 1950s, or simply the forging of the modern mind.

It begins with the company clustered together on a rectangular white mat. Soon, two women remove the jersey pants and shirt of a man who eventually puts them back on only to have them removed yet again. Tiny Monica Cervantes dives down the shirt of another male dancer and then steps into his pants as he climbs out of them. Two men interact with each other as if they are the conjoined parts of a sculpture.

Throughout, the dancers, including Renee Adams, Christopher Bordenave, Nigel Campbell, Jozsef Forro, Veronica Guadalupe, Zoltan Katona, Joseph Kudra, Kirsten Shelton, Eduardo Zuniga and Cervantes (who at one point gets to engage in a great kissing sequence with Katona), seem to mold others even as they are being molded and remolded themselves. Frenzied solitary bursts are followed periodically by determined runs by some or all of the dancers, with some slip back into their separate ways before rejoining the group in a sort of momentarily peaceful solidarity. Once all gather back on the white mat, one of the dancers gradually peels up the very space they are standing on. (Szeinblum was on hand to take a bow.)

Sansano’s piece, “En busca de (In Search of),” was created for another company in 2008, but seems custom-made for Luna Negra. It also serves as a particularly brilliant showcase for Zuniga, a small, lean, quicksilver dancer of riveting intensity and fleetness who trained in his native Chile, danced with the Houston Ballet and Hubbard Street 2, and is absolutely riveting. He is “partnered” by the intense, solidly built Joseph Kudra, who serves as something of a push-pull doppelganger. And that ambivalence is set in motion at the very start of the piece as Kirsten Shelton stands inside an intriguing hanging sculpture of shelves (designed by Luis Crespo), struggling to free herself from its containment, but also hesitant to move out from under it — a situation echoed later by Cervantes.

Cervantes turns out to be as enigmatic and ingenious a choreographer as she is a dancer. Her new work, “Requiem,” begins as Renee Adams performs a powerhouse solo suggesting some sort of madness or near mental breakdown, and as strange catlike screeches fill the air. She is the fairly solitary figure throughout as Shelton and Kudra are continually locked in a push-pull coupling of need and rejection. Along the way, four ropes are pulled across the stage creating boundary lines of sorts. As Cervantes’ program note suggests “prayers, words, memories [and more] leave a trail through our existence.”

NOTE: Luna Negra has been invited to perform at the fabled Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts this summer, with performances July 18-22.

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