John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, WI presented Luna Negra Dance Theatre in November 2012.
This Arts Midwest Touring Fund—supported engagement featured a public performance and K-12 informance and performances over three days.
For more than four decades, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has presented performing artists from around the world for three-day to five-week residencies and performances. Artists they have presented includes Ragamala Dance Theatre, Thodos Dance Chicago, David Greenberger, Pat Graney Company, Gibney Dance Company, Compagnia TPO, Sachal Vasandani, and Compagnie Jant-Bi. The mission of their performing arts programming is to nurture innovative explorations of evolving traditions and contemporary forms in order to provide access to diverse audiences. It is achieved through the organization’s five presenting and a commissioning series.
Since its inception in 1999, Luna Negra Dance Theater has established itself as a significant and vital component of Chicago’s arts and cultural community. Founded by Cuban-born dancer and choreographer Eduardo Vilaro, Luna Negra celebrates the richness and diversity of Latino culture through the creation of works by contemporary Latino choreographers and through intensive, hands-on education programs that encourage discovery and exploration of personal and community identity. Steering away from stereotypes and folkloric representations, the company performs works of contemporary Latino dance with energy, power, and passion. Luna Negra makes its home in Chicago at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park and tours nationally and internationally.
Luna Negra Dance Theater was in residency at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center for three days in November 2012. During this time, the company conducted two public performances, three informances for school-age children and adults with memory loss, and one outreach activity to high school students in a rural community.
Luna Negra very carefully considered the theme of “Family” in their residency, a theme that was integrated throughout the Arts Center’s current exhibitions, education programming, preschool, and more.Luna Negra company members demonstrated movement phrases and led improvisation during the Informances. As the students participated, it was rewarding to see them pull their teachers in and encourage them to dance along. Staff commented that Luna Negra company members clearly knew how to read the audience and refined their approach in response to the energy and reactions among them. Particularly when working with students and young children, the company was very cognizant of who was in the room (i.e. preschool age versus high school age students) and adapted theatrical elements in performance, participation, and their discussion about the work accordingly.
One of the highlights of the engagement was the pre-premiere of “Luna Niños”, the company’s new family-oriented narrated performance piece. While not originally set to be included in the residency, artistic director Gustavo Sansano thought it was important to perform. Students responded with a number of enthusiastic comments:
“I liked the simple props and how they were creative and quick to set them up when they used them.”
“I like the way the moon monster danced.”
“I liked the whole show because they were dancing as hard as they could.”
Staff members were especially excited to note that many audience members came from outside the Sheboygan area, with one group of audience members traveling for four hours to attend. The performances were well-received with audience quotes including:
“It’s inspirational to see, like if you have a dream you can do it.”
“It’s so different, it’s simply moving.”
“I loved the music, what a unique performance, incredible.”
“What a rush.”
One of the Arts Center’s community partners, the Hispanic-American Information Center (HAIC), worked with them to generate excitement about the residency and encouraged participation from families of Spanish-speaking immigrant communities. Jose Araujo, their program director, distributed tickets for participants to attend Luna Negra’s Family Series performance. The question and answer session within the Family Series, as well as the visit with the dancers and artistic director in the lobby after the performance, enhanced the audience’s experience with insightful discussion on what it means to be a Latin-inspired dance troupe. Araujo, who attended the performance with program participants, said they were pleased to see Hispanic culture celebrated through Luna Negra’s work.
“Everybody enjoyed it immensely; they thought the dances were fantastic, full of energy and great pizzazz. The parents were very impressed with the educational segments and how well their children responded to the show.” — After school/parent involvement coordinator at Sheridan Elementary School
This engagement was a Star Project that engaged an artist from the Midwest, engaged an immigrant community by partnering with Hispanic-American Information Center, and provided access to a geographically underserved audience by partnering with Manitowoc Lincoln High School in Manitowoc County.