Luna Negra at the New Victory Theater

On Saturday night, a friend and I saw Luna Negra Dance Theater at the New Victory Theater, a venue that is supposedly “New York’s only theater for kids and families”. That being said, the performance was appropriate for the venue – it was mild and mostly upbeat with lots of smiles. The dancers had solid technique and looked comfortable with the movement, but even the strongest dancers can’t make bland choreography look good.

Founded in 1999 by Eduardo Vilaro, Luna Negra blends ballet and modern with Latin and Afro-Caribbean dance forms, and showcases the work of contemporary Latino choreographers. The first piece, called Sonetos de amor (Love Sonnets), presented several brief duets for a man and woman. There was very little distinction from one sonnet to the next, and the piece lacked a sense of flow. Based in ballet technique, with the occasional Latin or jazzy flare, the choreography as well as the music were uninspiring, but the audience seemed to enjoy the dancers’ high extensions and lifts.

Azucar Cruda (Sugar in the Raw) was the most thought-provoking piece on the program. It sought to reveal the “raw beauty” in each of us, according to choreographer Michelle Manzanales. In the program notes, she explains that the piece is “an exploration of who we are in our purest form…It can be coarse, jagged, even unsightly…” Standing under spotlights, each of the dancers conveyed an internal struggle as they extended their limbs and crawled or pushed through space, and then suddenly curled into themselves. Although the dancers moved as an ensemble, the pools of light around each one suggested loneliness and isolation from the others.

The final piece, Quinceañera, explored the quinceañera event in which a 15-year-old girl transitions to womanhood with a big ceremony and celebration. I assumed this would be an entertaining and light-hearted piece, depicting a young girl arguing with her parents, obsessing over her dress and make-up, and running amok with her friends. To the contrary, Quinceañera portrayed a deeply conflicted girl undergoing a painful rite of passage. The partnering sequences seemed more reflective of a grown couple struggling through a marriage than of a fifteen-year-old girl dancing with a boy for the first time. And with grown dancers wearing heavy stage make-up, the dancers were not believable adolescents. The piece was about a woman’s mid-life crisis much more than her “sweet fifteen” celebration. Overall, it was not a memorable or particularly stirring evening of dance.

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