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Luna Negra's photo finish

The photo behind Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's new dance.
The photo behind Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's new dance.
By Graciela Iturbide

Creative inspiration can take many shapes and forms. In the case of Luna Negra Dance Theater’s Spanish-born artistic director, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, a single black-and-white image by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide sparked unexpected musings. In it, an indigenous Mexican woman is blurred as she appears to be racing somewhere against a paint-splattered wall. She’s holding under her arm what looks like a rooster. But Sansano, who has been spearheading the contemporary Chicago troupe’s excavations into the abstractions of the human soul, will not literally recreate the photo on stage.

In Not Everything – premiering October 1 at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park -- the choreographer imagines those first five seconds in which the woman may have received tragic news. The dancers represent the wildly firing synapses in her brain as they explode into a luscious pattern of springing, clutching, spiraling, reaching out and retreating. They even appear to obsessively sort and catalog their isolated body parts as if to assure themselves that the trauma has not left them un-whole. Then they realign to be ready for the next shock.

Sansano is conducting an exceptionally emotional scientific experiment on the internal reactions of the brain and the heart. The back story of the woman in the photo is painful and unsettling. But the work is not meant to relentlessly startle and depress. It’s a glimpse into the usual unpredictability of life. “It’s often at the point in which we feel like we have everything that something happens to throw us out of control,” says Sansano. Yet, despite those harrowing experiences, he believes “those are the moments that make us feel alive.”

Not Everything is one of two world premieres on Luna Negra’s Fall woman-centric program titled Mujeres. Fellow Spanish choreographer Asun Noales debuts Juana, rooted in the mad grief of Juana la Loca, the first queen of pre-modern Spain and the subject of impassioned political debate. Noales, however, takes an interior approach and prefers to depict the undulating depths of grief. This is no high-collared period melodrama. Luna Negra also remounts Mexican-American dance maker Michelle Manazales’ equally psychological depiction of trailblazing Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Titled Paloma Querida (Beloved Dove), this episodic diorama illuminates the many faces and moods of the notoriously impetuous, life-devouring Kahlo.

Luna Negra Dance Theater performs October 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Drive. Tickets: $25-$65. 312-334-7777 or More info:

Related story: WBEZ Radio Dance Segment



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