Luna Negra Dance Theater is such an imaginative and unique Company that it's never at all surprising when they do something new and forward-looking. Their collaboration with the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago was a program of three exceptionally strong premieres, combined in a program called Luna Nueva which means, "the New Moon". It was a superb choice as the title for the program; in the pre-electrified past of almost every culture on Earth, the new moon has been a powerful and enchanting symbol of change. Luna Nueva's explicit purpose was to showcase works by choreographers "whose movement style and artistic voices extend beyond the conventional aesthetics of dance".
The three works, "En Busca de" by Artistic Director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, "Brasilia" by Diana Szeinblum, and "Requiem" by Mónica Cervantes, each successfully explores aesthetics that are imaginative and unencumbered, and each does so with design and composition that are engaging and impressive. Much like the moment of change at the new moon that the program is named for, each work implies something new, each in a unique way, and together they present a feeling of immediate promise.
Besides being a time of change, though, the new moon is also a time when most of the world cannot be seen clearly; unlike the full moon which shines through the entire night, the new moon sets immediately after the sun, leaving the night unlit except perhaps by starlight. Change, like darkness, can be fraught with uncertainty; one of the main reasons why audiences are so often uncomfortable with new forms of performance is that they are so difficult to present with the same assurance as tried-and-true ideas. This is precisely why Luna Negra is so effective; in the Company's Luna Nueva performance, as soon as the lights came up, the evening was fully illuminated by the confident presentations of three gifted choreographers, and by the commitment and energy of the Luna Negra dancers.
Ramirez' "En Busca De", the North American premiere of a work he created for IT Dansa in Barcelona, showcases his trademark ability to utilize every aspect of production. Movement, set, costume, sound design and lighting are fused into a coherent, vibrant progression to express Ramirez' vision. His movement design is more precise, often more staccato, and much more energetic than most of what dance presents, but the impression is not really of an exploration of new idioms, rather of a voice that knows what it wants to say, and of an artist who can do so with a richer and broader vocabulary than most. Diana Szeinblum's "Brasilia" manages to present a completely different sense of what is new; the work is a carefully developed architecture whose visual richness takes its audience on a dream-like voyage from vivid scene to vivid scene. Set to the dramatic textures of Mozart and Shostakovich, Mónica Cervantes' "Requiem" brilliantly crafts an interlocking series of character development and interwoven movement, while her carefully designed trajectory fully engages an audience.
Although the impression of the evening was of a superb dance performance rather than of an educational event, there was nevertheless a lot to be learned from Luna Nueva. From the carefully curated sequence and breadth of the three choreographic voices the program showcased, an audience could learn with what detailed precision Artistic Director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano understands Dance. From the astonishing commitment to each detail of choregraphic vision that the Luna Negra dancers bring to every moment of the evening, an audience could learn what depth and energy they can expect from anything else these artists perform. Most of all, an audience could walk out of the ideal setting that is the MCA Stage knowing that as soon as they find out about another Luna Negra Dance Theater performance, it will certainly be worth seeing how they light up the darkness next time.