Luna Negra Dance Theater defines its “Luna Nueva” programming venture as a focus on choreographers “whose movement, style and artistic voice extend beyond the conventional aesthetics of dance.”
“Conventional” is among the most subjective words out there, so I’ll cut Luna some slack. But to go by its inaugural, through June 10 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, “Luna Nueva” is probably better considered as the company extended beyond its own aesthetic conventions: conspicuously bionic dancers, quicksilver dispassion and high-concept, design-conscious environs.
Three shorts, two of them world premieres, are risky but not far-out. They’re most edgy in their astringency; this is not cuddly choreography. Closer Réquiem (2012) by LNDT dancer Mónica Cervantes features strong movement ideas assembled piecemeal. Rearranging the sequence of its scenes or score — some of Shostakovich’s Suite for Jazz Orchestra No. 2, buzzing bee–like noises and a foggy, prolonged Mozart “Lacrimosa” — wouldn’t affect the proceedings much. As the central figure among six, Renée Adams goes all-in, to her credit, on a dicey bet but Réquiem is promising, watched as an early work.
Opener En busca de (In search of, 2008) by LNDT artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano shows the source of her aesthetic. (Cervantes is Ramírez Sansano’s rehearsal director, like she was at the Spanish company he previously directed.) Remixed selections from Gustav Holst (The Planets) and Tchaikovsky (Marche Slave) set the mood, not the pace. Already virtuosic actions receive coloratura embellishments and even split-second gestures trill. Couples in duets dance together the way Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker’s lyrics interweave in “Burn, Don’t Freeze.” Echoing in movement the glut of detail found in contemporary film and video-game CGI, the Ramírez Sansano school of choreography is tailor-made for today’s eyes.
Few dancers can even execute steps like these, but Team Luna handles them well. Not only do the performers stay on schedule, a few even manage to play with phrasing and timing, especially Cervantes, Kirsten Shelton and Eduardo Zuñiga. The company wears costumes loaned from the one that premiered the work, IT Dansa in Barcelona; they look like what Miuccia Prada might design for lululemon athletica. Regular collaborator Luis Crespo contributes another collapsible, sculptural setpiece good for touring: a nine-tier, pane-and-chain hanging construction like a giant earring that does Eliasson-like things to an inky lighting scheme by Jared B. Moore.
If Ramírez Sansano makes dance that looks like today’s special effects — that’s relevant to contemporary culture in that it resembles and faithfully translates its qualities — Argentinean choreographer Diana Szeinblum makes work that investigates the effects of these qualities on the self. Her Brasilia (2012) is one of the freshest creations seen this spring. It’s alive through contrast and frank, sexy and strange. Its program note is this quote from Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector: “Brasilia is the image of my insomnia. In this you will see an accusation; but my insomnia isn’t beautiful or ugly — my insomnia is me…is my astonishment.”
A waking dream–like atmosphere takes hold from the start. The martial Joseph Kudra (who will be missed; he’s off to join Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet) is stripped of his pants and loose shirt while lying down on his side in front of footlights. He stands and dresses himself and then, matter-of-factly, these events repeat. Vinyl pops punctuate the tune from a wind-up music box, a fun little riddle for the mind’s eye, which sees both a physical music box and a phonograph. Stage left, dancers among ten not involved in the central action observe from a “runner rug,” a strip of white on the floor. (This onstage “offstage” area recalls Merce Cunningham’s Squaregame although that work is more playful than this dark, sexually charged, surreal world.)
Two dancers hold Cervantes aloft above Zoltán Katona, lying supine, and when they lower her closely enough, the two French kiss deeply without any observable emotion. There are fraternal duets with the slow-moving, competitive energy of arm-wrestling matches. There are elaborate, laborious moments wherein one dancer makes a portal out of an arm or a leg and another dancer shimmies through it as if spelunking. There are ceremonial stackings of bodies that recall Nijinsky and Nijinska and there are odd, actorly antagonisms that recall Pina Bausch. (Like Bausch, Szeinblum studied dance at the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen.)
Brasilia offers lightning-quick, too, but only in flashes. Humor is present, albeit slanted. When the dancers are in unison, it’s loosely woven. The diversity of movement types — athletic, patient, finely etched, wildly released, pedestrian, melodramatic — is tailor-made for tomorrow’s eyes.
It is thrilling to watch dancers who can conquer Cervantes’s and Ramírez Sansano’s pieces, which are so tightly defined and physically challenging one wonders where this school has left to go. Szeinblum’s choreography, however, leaves room to extend beyond itself in all directions.