The Washington Post
Luna Negra Dance Theater at Strathmore
By Rebecca J. Ritzel
Monday, March 22, 2010; C05
If the arts ever recover from this recession, pray that more dance companies make performing with live music a priority. Until then? Seek out and savor nights like Friday, when Luna Negra Dance Theater unveiled a commission from Strathmore. In a collaboration to remember, the Chicago troupe shared the stage with the Turtle Island Quartet and jazz clarinet legend Paquito D’Rivera.
Since 1999, Luna Negra (“Black Moon” in Spanish) has elegantly fused Latin and modern dance traditions with pointed humor and stellar technique. Last August, founder Eduardo Vilaro left the company to take the helm of New York’s Ballet Hispanico. As a parting gift, he saw his collaboration with the quartet and D’Rivera through to the end.
“Danzón” opens with a Latin jazz overture, and when the dancers come onstage, it’s as if a Havana nightclub floor has been cleared just for them. Vilaro’s choreography is mostly interpretive, memorable more as a scene than sequence of movement. The finale is a sublime mashup of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Salt Peanuts” and “Night in Tunisia.” When D’Rivera came out onto the floor to scat, dancer Hamilton Nieh shimmied along as his duet partner. Likewise, during the lengthy final violin cadenza, the men took turns performing improvised solos. The other four musicians onstage watched in awe. So did the audience.
“Danzón” was the center jewel on a program that opened with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s 2009 work “Nube Blanco” and closed with Vilaro’s 2005 classic “Quinceañera.” “Nube Blanco” translates as “White Cloud,” a clever reference to the female dancers’ puffy crinoline skirts. Up top, they wore nothing but black bras overlaid with netting. The whole piece is a postmodern flamenco, a saucy, stomping romp.
“Quinceañera,” by contrast, is all about awkward innocence. Vilaro reconstructs the memories many Latinas share of their 15th birthdays — a blur of hormones and puffy, pink dresses — and creates the perfect coming-of-age ballet. With less skilled performers, the result would be a silly mess, but Luna Negra’s dancers are also convincing actors. This was the ideal evening of dance to attract a broad audience, so it was disappointing that the house wasn’t sold out and the crowd more diverse. Strathmore deserves all the praise in the world for staging “Danzón.”
Next time, hopefully, the center will be a little more savvy with its marketing.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.