Luna Negra Dance Theater April 4, 2009
By Glen Creason
Maybe locals should pay closer attention to the astute promotional material from the Cerritos Center which described the Luna Negra Dance Theater as “sensational,” “sophisticated,” “powerful” and lots more. The teasers got my attention and I went out on Saturday evening not knowing what to expect and was blown away by the show that surpassed sensational and inspired the “should have been bigger” crowd to rarely seen cultural heights. The creation of this troupe is a wonderful idea that has been brought to deliciously colorful life by a small group of highly committed and extraordinarily talented artists in Chicago. The concept is to preserve the works of Latino master choreographers and perform these works in a beautiful balance of ballet and modern dance locally and nationally. This night’s program traveled from 1956 to the present but crossed many genre lines in music, movement and choreography. This kind of thoughtful material is timeless. You don’t have to be some kind of dance afficianado to love this show since it grabs you from the first appearance of these fresh and joyful young dancers and does not give you time to realize this is supposed to be high culture.
Luna Negra is truly an ensemble and that includes the entire company since the lighting, direction, dancing, eclectic music and brilliant costumes are just parts of the delightful whole. Of course, you can have a great game plan with not so great players but Luna Negra does not have a single weak link in the chain. Every dancer on the stage was flawless and together they are just transcendent. The opening piece “There is a Time” by the legendary Jose Limon was an appropriately thought provoking and all-involving performance that expresses the stages in life all in less than a half hour. Hamilton Nieh took it from the cradle to the grave with the movement of “a time to be born…” Elise Drew was pure joy in “a time to laugh…a time to dance” and Vanessa Valecillos and JP Tenuta were wonderful as lovers in “a time to embrace...”
The second part of the evening was jocular and playful, eliciting laughter from the audience and cheers of delight throughout. “Flabbergast” with music by Esquivel and dialogue from a Spanish comic film was bursting with color and energy. This was followed by another humorous and quirky exposition “Nube Blanco” featuring the beautifully balanced singing of Maria Dolores Pradera that was the perfect counterpoint to the off balance but lyrical dancing that was flavored by flamenco. Last on this fine menu was “Batucada Fantastica “using the sounds of the brilliant Brazilian percussionist Luciano Perrone and eight solo dances that were all sensational. Elise Drew once again was a standout, showing incredible charisma and grace that was nicely juxtaposed between the muscular athleticism of Bobby Briscoe, the measured elegance of Jessica Alejandra Wyatt and the caffeinated modern slants of Sara Roberts. Luna Negra is just one of those under sung little shows that you wish you could drag everyone to and then watch their mouths hang open in awe.