Luna Negra Dance Theater: “¡Mujeres!” | Preview
Three women of action inspire art in motion.
For the cover of its 1997 single “Vietnow,” from the album Evil Empire,chose an urgent image by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide titled Mujer Ángel. During “¡Mujeres!” at the on Saturday 1, the curtain will rise on a new work of art inspired by another picture from the same period early in Iturbide’s career.
Los Pollos, Juchitán, Oaxaca (1979) captures a woman hurrying past a mud- or paint-splattered wall in Mexico holding chickens under her left arm. In the Loop studios of, where Luna Negra Dance Theater rehearses, company director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano says he’s not generally moved by figurative art, especially not by photography, but something about that image started a story spinning in his head. He gets up from where he’s kneeling next to my chair, mimes grabbing a bundle with his left arm and runs toward the door as if there’s an emergency. He then stops, turns and strolls coolly back. “She just had to go, and what I wondered was, What happened before that?”
Ramírez Sansano performs this live trailer for his new work, Not Everything, very quietly. He doesn’t want to disturb fellow choreographer Asun Noales, director of Otra Danza in southern Spain, who’s drilling the dancers in a dizzying ensemble sequence from Juana, her new dance for “¡Mujeres!”
Watching Noales work with his company, Ramírez Sansano beams; they’ve known each other since they were 19 and 13, respectively. Three years later, they became roommates while training at the Institut del Teatre in Barcelona, one of Spain’s finest academies for the performing arts.
Juana refers to Joanna of Castile, queen of Spain from 1504–55 and nicknamed “Juana la Loca” for her emotional troubles, which most historians now attribute to clinical depression. When Ramírez Sansano invited Noales to contribute to a program themed on influential Latinas, “I didn’t want to choose a hero,” Noales tells me after rehearsal. The roiling, tormented movement in Juana—the dancers somersault backward and throw each other through space like rocks out of slingshots—is how Noales imagines the state of the medieval queen’s mind in a moment captured by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz’s 1878 painting, Doña Juana la Loca. The tableau, which launched Pradilla Ortiz’s career, shows the queen standing over the casket containing her husband, Philip I, who had suddenly died. She’s pregnant with their sixth child, and Spain is on the brink of crisis due to famine and plague. Noales adds that, like all of her dances, Juana is also inspired by the sea she watches every day from her home in Elche, on the Riviera halfway between Barcelona and Gibraltar.
The third dance featured in “¡Mujeres!” is a reworked version of Paloma Querida, The Broken Column (1944), used to introduce the work. “Now we go more chronologically,” she says by phone from New York. “It’s now the last solo that you see before the four Fridas come together.”. The piece still uses solos performed by different women to home in on periods from Kahlo’s tumultuous life; these solos are still based on some of Kahlo’s most well-known self-portraits. But after returning to Luna Negra to coach an almost entirely new set of artists in their roles, Manzanales felt that the solos’ order needed to be rearranged. The most tortured Frida, bound to a brace as in
Three portraits in motion take the Harris Theater stage for “¡Mujeres!” on Saturday 1.