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Luna Negra thrills the eyes and ears

Kirsten Shelt(from left) Renee Adams VeronicGua­da­lupe MonicCervantes play FridKahlo “PalomQuerida.”

Kirsten Shelton (from left), Renee Adams, Veronica Gua­da­lupe and Monica Cervantes play Frida Kahlo in “Paloma Querida.”

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Updated: January 23, 2012 3:44AM

Haunting, haunted and hypnotic. That is the best shorthand way of describing the three intensely dramatic, aurally audacious, visually entrancing works that comprised Luna Negra Dance Theater’s Saturday night concert at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

The superbly danced program, under the umbrella title “Mujeres” (“Women”). captured the enactment of one primal ritual, one life of grief and loneliness, and one richly multifaceted life force. And each piece bore the distinctive imprint of this ever-innovative, Latino-infused, Chicago-based company — a troupe that, by the way, attracts an audience outfitted in some of the spikiest heels and most forward-thinking fashion this side of Manhattan runways.

The Luna Negra dancers are superb. But what really sets them apart is their flair for injecting a human element into often abstract narratives that suggest characters and situations in compelling but non-literal ways.

The evening began with the world premiere of Spanish-bred artistic director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s striking work “Not Everything.” In some ways I wish a copy of the Graciela Iturbide photo that indirectly inspired it (a Mexican peasant woman carrying a chicken to slaughter) had been printed in the program just to suggest the fantastic creative leap Sansano took with it. The stark setting of ­a white pathway — on which a woman (Renee Adams in black) and the sacrificial “bird” (Monica Cervantes in white) take a tense journey — is a stunner. So are the symbolic bloodletting, the frenzied chorus that follows it and the blood-stained canvas that rises in the end and suggests a contemporary take on a Goya nightmare. Adams and Cervantes are riveting.

A similar dark nightmare of body and soul unspooled in “Juana,” Spanish choreographer Asun Noales’ world premiere. A story of passion, death, grief, madness and, above all, isolation, it was inspired by the life of Spain’s first queen (danced with ferocity by Veronica Guadalupe). Noales gives us a woman who has lost her bearings with the death of her young husband (their push-pull relationship is revealed in a seamless dream duet between Gaudalupe and Joseph Kudra). Juana briefly tries to regain control but finally ends up confined and alone in a tower, suggested here by gauzy white panels.Set to an alternately mournful and wildly percussive score by Tomas San Miguel and others — with a chilling chorus of cries of “Juana” at a crucial moment — the fearsome chorus here suggests both Juana’s subjects and the inner chaos of her mind.

The program closed with a bravura performance of “Paloma Querida” (“Beloved Dove”), Michelle Manzanale’s enthralling, vibrantly reworked look at “the four faces” of Frida Kahlo, the iconic Mexican painter. Adams is her youthful, passionate incarnation in a red velvet robe. Guadalupe is the “indigenous” Frida in a folkloric costume. Kirsten Shelton has a sensational turn as the bisexual Frida, dressed in a man’s suit and making love to a chair. And Cervantes, in a corsetlike costume, is the damaged, yearning Frida. The ensemble, led by Eduardo Zuniga, Stacey Aung and Sayiga Eugene Peabody, was terrific.

Luna Negra should be seen on this city’s stages far more often.

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