A feisty gypsy girl enchants a soldier. Smitten, he helps her escape incarceration and is forced to desert the military and join a band of smugglers. The gypsy eventually breaks his heart, leaving him for a celebrated bullfighter. In a jealous rage, the soldier kills the gypsy. That, in a nutshell, is the story of Carmen, the famed opera and ballet that has enthralled audiences worldwide since 1875. Luna Negra Dance Theater's artistic director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano re-imagines the classic for a world premiere, one-night-only event next weekend.
The Spanish-born, gay choreographer took over the reigns of Luna Negra in 2010 from founder Eduardo Vilaro and has taken Chicago audiences by storm. If you haven't seen the new Luna, you're missing out. Sansano's long, lean frame betrays the lightning-fast, quirky movement style that is his signature, but his wide smile and infectious laugh are easily seen in his humorous, passionate and all-too-human choreography.
The Picasso-inspired Carmen.maquia will be the first full-length production ( at just more than an hour, with no intermission ) for Luna Negra, but Sansano, 34, has created many evening-length works during his international career. "Normally the companies in Chicago do three pieces," he said after rehearsal at the company's shared State Street studios. "I wanted to propose a different system for the show. I thought it would be interesting to have a full-length experience and see how we will react and how the audience will react." If the Chicago premiere in 2010 of his work Toda Una Vida, set to Maurice Ravel's Bolero is any indication, the reaction will be rave reviews and standing ovations. Sansano tackles another famous score this time with Georges Bizet's Carmen. The familiar music has been heard everywhere from Europe's largest opera houses to children's television shows like Gilligan's Island and Tom and Jerry cartoons. For this show, Sansano uses multiple stylistic versions and adds in other Bizet compositions to layer the plot themes.
Luna Negra's production for 14 dancers, while abstract, follows Carmen's libretto closely. Sansano enlisted Spanish artists Luis Crespo and David Delfin to collaborate with the sets, lighting and costumes. The three young men set out to re-envision the classic tale of love, heartbreak, betrayal and freedom with an all-white aesthetic and Picasso's Carmen artwork in mind. "What we're doing is the same thing with different eyes. We're not changing the scenes or the perspective," said Sansano. "That was the challenge for me, to not do whatever I wanted, but to tell a specific story. Carmen is a piece of music and a ballet that's always been in my eyes. I don't know how many times I've seen that story told. When I see something done so many times, I think, 'how would I do that?'" Add the fact that this season's theme for Luna Negra is the "Year of the Woman," and everything came together.
With a blushing smile, Sansano didn't want to talk about his current relationship, stating it was too soon, but admitting he hoped it was the "beginning of something really nice." So why does a man on the cusp of love want to tell a story that ends in betrayal and death? "I think the story today still speaks to us, but in a different way," he said.
"We don't kill anyone for the pain of love, but we do all feel that pain and what it means to give yourself to somebody and it isn't reciprocal. We all know Carmen's side. One day you love somebody and then one day, for some reason, you don't feel that way any more. Something similar was going on in my life when I was putting the story together," he added. "Life gives you inspiration."
Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Carmen.maquia at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$65; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.lunanegra.org .
On stage this weekend:
Alejandro Cerrudo ( another Spanish choreographer gaining international attention ) presents his world premiere of "Little Mortal Jump" at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St. As the resident choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Cerrudo creates a number of new works for the first and second companies, as well as various contemporary groups around the world.
In addition to the premiere, Hubbard Street will perform two audience favorites from last season: Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal's Too Beaucoup and LINES Ballet director Alonzo King's Following the Subtle Current Upstream. Hubbard Street performs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 15-17, and 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 18. Tickets are $25-$94; call 312-334-7777 or visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com .
Israeli contemporary company Batsheva Dance Company performs two pieces at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Saturday, March 17, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 18, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30-$90; call 800-982-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com/auditorium.
Lastly, a mixed bill of modern works is featured in the Chicago Moving Company's "Dance Shelter 2012" at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse at 3035 N. Hoyne Ave. Choreographers featured include Nana Shineflug, Atalee Judy, Rachel Bunting, Ayako Kato, Karla Beltchenko, Sarah Gottlieb, Lindsay Reich and Suzy Grant. It will take place Thursday and Friday, March 15 and 16, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$15; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/229140 or buy at the door.
Vicki Crain also writes a Chicago-based dance blog at www.rogueballerina.com . Send items to email@example.com or Andrew@WindyCityMediaGroup.com .