Luna Negra Dance Theater Spring 2011 Program: Live review
With its impeccable presentation of three challenging dances at the Luna Negra Dance Theater joins the ranks of the country’s finest mixed-repertory contemporary companies, on par with New York’s (Emily Blunt’s workplace in ) and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.March 12,
While impressive, LNDT’slacked works that made clear the company’s new character. Not so with this triple bill: North American premieres Naked Ape (2009), by Spaniard Fernando Hernando Magadan, and Venezuelan choreographer Luis Eduardo Sayago Alonso’s Solo una vez (2004) are similar enough to show the focus of Ramírez Sansano’s taste while hitting ends of a range of decent width. [Stylistically, Ramírez Sansano’s own Flabbergast (2001), his first creation for LNDT and the audience favorite, lands gently within this span with a keen sense of humor.]
Program opener Solo is choreographically rich if conceptually scattered. Its prologue, in which three men (Nigel Campbell, Zoltán Katona and Diego Tortelli) fiddle with a blackboard and oranges, one’s head contained by a metal-mesh box, is too clever by halves. Standing at a food-prep island, Campbell divides the oranges and juices them; later, the trio dances in canon and attempts to re-match the split fruits. In light of its subsequent sections—three quicksilver duets and a finale to Mendelssohn’s wedding march—we get the picture, but there’s no satisfaction in the payoff. Its closing images, three couples stepping haltingly away into darkness touched by a cold, disinfectant violet light, suggest deep-seated cynicism about companionship. (Program notes: “Solo una vez is an exploration of the universal human search for one’s other half through the institution of marriage and finding that person who allows us to develop our self and to grow as an individual.” Sarcasm?)
But Sayago Alonso’s dance compositions are a joy, especially Tortelli’s third-movement solo. (Male dancers in this city should be aware of what Katona and Tortelli are doing with port de bras; happily, I saw many in the audience.) Solo’s duets, to boleros by Antonio Machin and Trio los Panchos, consist of similar actions rinsed with differing emphases. Katona and Kirsten Shelton—never better, reminiscent of Cheryl Mann—share a tough pas de deux, the couple that butts heads and delights in doing so. Tortelli and Veronica Guadalupe slip into syncopation, exploring spaces between the prior pair’s moments of impact (although they part curiously, with a faceoff). Campbell and Stacey Aung find new ways to be sneaky, hiding the mechanics of their duet’s Duato-esque manipulations, gorgeously relaxed within the whirlwind, open in the chest and neck.
“You do the best that you can, achieve as much as you can, with the deadlines that you have,” Hernando Magadan said to me after rehearsal January 8 at LNDT’s studios at Naked Ape’s debut at the TodaysArt Festival in the Hague. When Ramírez Sansano chose the work for LNDT and the Harris from a video, Hernando Magadan knew that meant readjusting Ape toward something it had never had before: a front.. He was referring to
Its premiere was danced by fellow members of Nederlands Dans Theater in a temporary theater-in-the-round in the atrium of Richard Meier’s stark city hall, one of Europe’s largest indoor public spaces, nicknamed the “ice palace.” The intense, one-week restaging of Ape in Chicago, former NDT dancer Sandra Marin Garcia assisting, was in essence a gut-rehab. “I counted this change [of orientation] but also counting that I work with different dancers,” Hernando Magadan told me in thickly accented English. “It’s very important to get to know dancers and their qualities and make use of that for the better of the piece.” He also added a character to Ape, played by Katona, who meanders about the scene in a sharp black suit (four other dancers wear crisp white costumes by Tomoko Inamura).
In his native Hungarian, Katona interrupts the dance’s flow with lectures “about evolution and how the body functions,” says Hernando Magadan, “and how our articulations work.” As Katona speaks to the audience, he poses the freeze-framed bodies like mannequins in a medical-school demonstration (one of whom, Aung, repeatedly defects). “I tell [Katona] to be like a teacher,” explained the choreographer.
This behavior seems absurd in the quartet’s luscious movement world. Katona is tuned into the wrong frequency, a clown for his jabber. (He’s a figure akin to the Mexican juggler in Crystal Pite’s Xspectacle/The Stolen Show; Marin Garcia now dances for Pite’s company, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM.) “There’s so much you can understand by the way [Katona] phrases his words, the accents and the volumes. A little window opens for the audience in how they interpretate [sic] that character, you know? Maybe they don’t get anything, but I give a little bit of responsibility [to the audience] anyway.”
Like Solo, Ape’s duets are the meat of the work. Mónica Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga and are complete and quick, Aung and Tortelli confident and explosive. Freestanding, starched white shirts and pants, lit from within, draw the dancers’ attention, a motif born in another work Hernando Magadan choreographed for NDT the year before. “Inside is a source of energy that’s alive,” he says after confirming phantasmagoric is a word. “Why do we move? What makes us move?” Harmen Straatman’s musical bricolage holds together the short, perplexing dance despite tapping sources as disparate as Bach, Jónsi and Alex.
As I understand it, Flabbergast is revised and extended from earlier incarnations. This was my first time seeing the dance fully staged but I can believe it’s had a once-over—it does not look a decade old, despite being costumed by the choreographer with retro street clothes and brightly colored vintage suitcases (think El Prat ca. 1980). It opens darkly on restless stasis. There’s some endearingly awkward singing-along to Juan Garcia Esquivel by a septet, background to another terrific solo turn from Shelton. The house lights come up briefly, then fade. Guadalupe and Renée Adams mince about, silly-smart, not silly-stupid.
Flabbergast is no more important—and no less vital—than a great house party in summer. It could go on, and we’d enjoy it, and seems to do just that when Zuñiga stumbles about the stage as if tipsy, looking for a lost set of keys. But then THE END appears projected in three-foot-high, chunkily serifed and italicized letters behind him. Abruptly, the show is over.
And one gets the sense that Luna Negra Dance Theater has only just begun.