Luna Negra adds spark to Latin dance


Photo by Kristie Kahns

By Carolina Astrain

When many people think of Latin dance they think of folkloric genres like the Cuban rumba, Colombian cumbia or Spanish flamenco. But as important as those rich regional dances are, there's much more to Latin dance nowadays.

Luna Negra, an extraordinary dance company based in Chicago, aims to challenge conventional notions about Latin dance by fusing those regional dances into a contemporary vision. The ensemble performs Saturday at the Page Theatre in Winona, and Tuesday at the Ordway in Saint Paul.

Watching a Luna Negra performance is almost like watching a silent film acted out by dancers moving to a romantic Spanish soundtrack. The dancers' moves exude a classic and hypnotic quality, rich with nostalgia.

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Founded in Chicago 12 years ago by Cuban-born dancer and choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, the dance company works to counter stereotypical notions views of contemporary Latin dance.

When Vilaro left Luna Negra in 2009, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano took over as the new Artistic Director. Originally from the province of Alacante, Spain, Sansano has an international reputation. He has been commissioned to create works for companies including Spain's National Dance Company, the Hamburg Ballet, Budapest Dance Theater, Ballet Junior de Genève and Nederlands Dans Theater II.

"I'm really happy because the city has really embraced the change," Sansano said. "There's been a lot of curiosity around Chicago on what's been going on with the group."

The Luna Negra show this season includes four very different acts, but only three will be showcased at each performance.

Bate or "heartbeat" in Portuguese was choreographed by Fernando Melo. Much like a Brazilian soap opera set to samba, the dance tells a story about how a man keeps his love for a woman hidden beneath his macho attitude.

"This is the first piece he's done for the company," Sansano said of Melo. "We premiered it last season and it's a really fun piece."

The group will perform Bate in Winona and Saint Paul.

One of the more conceptual acts is Naked Ape, choreographed by Fernando Hernando Magadan. The piece explores the connection between man and his animal instinct. To see Naked Ape be sure to catch the Winona show.

At the Saint Paul show, instead of Naked Ape, the Luna Negra dance company will perform Paloma Querida, or "Beloved Dove" in Spanish. The dance is choreographed by Michelle Manzanales. The Chicago Tribune described the dance as a "visual masterpiece."

The finale for both shows will be Flabbergast, a dance choreographed by Sansano, who dedicated it to his mother. It was the first piece that he created for Luna Negra in 2001. Sansano describes it as a Latin Chorus Line.

"It's all about having fun and dancing to the music we used to listen to during the holidays in my little town in Spain," Sansano said.

Since 2001, Flabbergast has been, "expanded and refined" according to another Chicago Tribune review by Sid Smith:

"There's thought behind the playfulness, Sansano's shrewd choral arrangement in three lines a motif that opens the dance and later returns. But structure cleverly underscores 'Flabbergast,' never getting in the way of its artful, inviting hysteria."

Luna Negra also aims to soon reach younger audiences with Luna Nueva (New Moon), which features avant garde dancing, and Luna Niño (Kid Moon), which presents dances to storylines similar to those of Harry Potter and Peter Pan. These projects are still as Sansano described it, "in the oven."

For Sansano, Latin dance is for everyone.

"I'm not the type of person who believes in 'right or wrong' way of dancing," he said. "We don't want our audiences to just be Latinos. We want everybody from the community to be a part of what we do."

Editor's note: MPR's Carolina Astrain writes occasionally for State of the Arts. Her editor is David Cazares.