Mónica Cervantes shakes with a soft hand and practically whispers an introduction. The petite Spaniard’s retiring manner belies her penchant for breakneck, in-your-face choreography. She’s in the studios of Ballet Chicago, on the 19th floor of a Loop building, working out the kinks of her new piece, a potent blend of power, speed and physicality. The opening sequence begins with a solo of nimble writhing to the sounds of Max Richter’s variation on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The dancer drops to one knee and spins like a compass beside a magnet.
“I like different dynamics,” Cervantes says after the run. “Not when it’s too flat. Like in real life, when it’s too flat it’s boring, so you need some ups and downs.”
In a later sequence, the dancers find their way to the corner of the studio before a burst of jetés. They’re violent in delivery and intentionally loud on descent, the weight of the dancers’ feet punctuating the wild score. Cervantes jots down a few notes. If not for her sharp scribbles, there’d be little to suggest the usual tics of a young, zealous dance maker. Her calm demeanor is more typical of her other identity: a studious dancer.
Presente marks the 31-year-old’s second work in as many years for Luna Negra Dance Theater, where she’s a company member. Her first piece for Luna, Requiem, debuted last spring at the Museum of Contemporary Art; the dark, audacious performance drew praise for its ingenuity and conceptual maturity. This year she landed in select company: Dance Magazine’s 2013 “25 to Watch.” Audiences understandably await her next move, and Cervantes seems all too aware. She notes Presente is inspired by her grandfather, though it could easily pass as a cautionary look at her newfound fame.
“It’s something that I’m working on in my personal life,” she says of the work debuting as part of Luna’s spring program on Saturday 9 at the Harris. “It’s the fact that we spend much time and energy thinking about memories in the past—nice memories, bad memories—and also about the future. The most scary part is to feel like you don’t know where you are going and suddenly forget about the moment right now.”
Garnering attention doesn’t sit well with Cervantes. The Tarragona native says, “I don’t feel myself as a choreographer. I’m a dancer.” Luna Negra artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, who sits in on my interview with Cervantes, demurs. “Being a choreographer is about choreographing,” Sansano says. “She’s choreographing now, she’s a choreographer.”
Cervantes says of choreographer: “It’s, like, a big word.” She claims she never planned to be one. This bit of creative freedom she’s enjoying comes courtesy of Sansano, who earned the “25 to Watch” distinction in 2012. After meeting Cervantes seven years ago in their native Spain, Sansano saw a piece she created and recognized an aesthetic similar to his own. When he took over Luna Negra in 2010, Sansano entreated her to join him in the States. Since then, Cervantes has thrived as a performer and continues to broaden her choreographic range. Despite her attempts to stay in the present, her most pressing issue appears to be her future.
“You can see when somebody can compose, you can see when somebody has taste,” Sansano says. Looking at Cervantes, he adds, “It’s just a matter of time.”