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“Labayen Dance/SF 18th Year: A jewel in the Bay Area dance scene”

“Labayen Dance/SF 18th Year: A jewel in the Bay Area dance scene”


By Dr. Jacoby Racher, Ph.D

Labayen Dance/SF celebrated the company’s 18th anniversary at Dance Mission Theater March-15-17 with a plethora of different styles of dance from ballet to aerials to contemporary to dance theatre. Five young choreographers with the potential of greatness as Labayen mentors and guides them through the intimate art of choreography. Master Labayen’s is like aged wine compared with homemade beer the others presented. Choreographer Labayen’s work has layers of story lines while others have visual dancing.

Victor Talledos’ inebriated Desde lo mas Profundo del Corazon hasta el Limite de la Razon  from the moment it began told me a story and it was a rich well thought out emotional tangle! From the moment Ms. Leda Pennell was onstage I knew her entire story – she danced it out with such powerful music –  how incredible that piece affected me and Mr. Talledos  reminds me a great deal of a young Enrico Labayen!

Mr. Talledos as a dancer  is immense on stage – the other dancers need to consider themselves very greatly to have him as a fellow dancers as he is so generous giving them spotlight and I can see why as jealousy must exist when anyone sees what this man is capable of!  Amazing performer!  But you can see from him he is also amazingly generous man. His work is not fully aged as the Enrico!  Labayen’s work seems to have all the seeds and edges completed whereas you can see Labayen’s influence in his work as one notices that Talledos admires Labayen so greatly…but what a complex man he is and glad I only know of him peripherally on stage and the theater.

Viktor Kabanaiev Broken Strings danced fluently and beautifully by Hannah Hapin and the dynamic Eric De Bono, reminded me of the smelting process where they melt iron as it felt like a volcanic, strong, explosions

Laura Bernasconi’s Nourishment was like a mystery box as when a side opened to reveal the details it led to another mystery.  Ismael Acosta and the modern day Shiva of dance, Laura Bernasconi both incredible performers of course.

Malu Rivera-Peoples Organic performed to perfection by her young but serious Westlake School of Performing Arts Modern Dance Company. The choreography was true to form…sculptural groupings, generous unison work and the dramatic intensity was organic, dynamic movements grew out like grapevines from seed to blossoming.  The lighting for this work was so effectively as one struggles to see how an organism grows, underground, in the dark but seen and the breathtaking ending has Kira Fargas-Mabaquiao suspended to eternity in her last developee’ ala second. Tangerine Dream I knew the music added to the pace – Fabulous and I want more!! May I have more please?

Desolation – the dancers were great and the story Victor Talledos telling style was thrown off by the music – better music perhaps?  The choreography was great and was danced impeccably by the porcelain beauty of Ana Robles and her chivalrous partner Ismael Acosta.

French choreographer/dancer Sandrine Cassini’s Treize was clever in it’s choreographic inversion. Chopin’s Prelude #13 romantic music opened the duet between Cassini and Talledos responded with such intimacy and then radically changed both in it’s physicality and intent when the Radiohead music came on. A brilliant touch of seeing same choreography in another angle and looked entirely different. It is neither Kilyan-esque nor Forsythean but authentically Cassini.

Chrysalis with red dressed woman and her dog? Interesting art work and of course great choreography from Daiane Lopes da Silva? Jury out on totally understanding any of it though, dance-theater work can be random and absurd but clarity of intention is key and as abstract as the story line is, the title is deceiving. Michelle Kinny as the woman in red dress has her moments of hilariousness, the goggle ladies Keon Saghari, Courtney Russel, Karla Quintero performed the difficult movements with fluidity but it’s about the renaissance beauty of Ildiko Polony and the almost boneless and  exotically beautiful Yuko Hata were clearly a stand-out in Chrysalis.

Mr. Labayen’s Awit ng Pag-Ibig ( Love Songs) while it said it was for all the women abused and such was really about why women get into those affairs as well as an in depth introspective analysis of the abuser! The first part with the beating was just setting the stage for Labayen’s comments on those who beat as well as those beaten who then stay in such a relationship as to what that truly means.  Labayen have had personal experience here and it shows in the work.  The women: Jaidah Terry, Karen Meyers, Ms. Saghari and Ms. Hata painfully understood the symbolism of the work. Ms. Pennell and Talledos reminded me of Blanche Dubois and Marlon Brando characters in Streetcar Named Desire, both sexually and romantically involved but sure the violence was some sort of foreplay till you see Ms. Pennell touched her husband’s heart in the ending tableau, is it to make sure the perpetrator is dead or still hopeful?  Labayen’s final solo for Talledos in this piece was profoundly mournful, sorrowful and painful,  the use of the piano bench as home base/bar for Talledos became his tombstone with the cross imbedded on it.  An act of genius as only a master craftsman Labayen can think of.

Labayen’s Tears with the beautifully haunting score and cherubic vocals by Gabriel Goldberg was like a sonnet, as soon as I saw the cloth just hanging there I took it to be the door to beyond and at the end that seemed appropriate as well when all performers gazed to it as the lights came down. Once I saw Victor as the Angel of death pulling her silver white cord of life out of her belly I knew what the piece would be – and it didn’t disappoint when the Virgin Mary ( appropriately characterized by Ana Robles) in shimmering blue appeared.  She floated as did Victor’s angel. Ms. Cassini in the leading role went through a whole gamut on emotions, from serene, to struggle to the final surrender and ascension.

This is the only dance that I have seen in a long time that the use of aerial dancing on a tissue (expertly and pliantly executed by Ms. Hata) made sense. It gave the work a heigtened sense of drama and metaphor specially in last scene where Ms. Hata ended in a cross, Jesus like…flying and omnipresent.

 Now I see how Labayen processed his tears and his sister’s life as well as passing. It was immense! Thank you for letting us view you so emotionally exposed, vulnerable and naked. It was my favorite piece for the evening even though each of your other pieces were so beautiful to watch – ballet inspired for sure!

True to Labayen’s radical and imaginative nature, Rites of Spring was brilliant it it’s reading of the music, composed by Stravinsky in 1913, it is as modern and contemporary even now.  Rites of Spring was envisioned by Labayen as a baseball game. You can feel the diamond field, but it was an all female SF Giants team danced sur le pointe by three of Labayen’s strongest dancers, Sandrine Cassini, Leda Pennell and Jaidah Terry’s pointe work was seamless but the more experienced Cassini was flawless. Victor Talledos as the young man clamoring to get his baseball bat from the ladies danced with phenomenal abandon. He has grown so much with Labayen Dance/SF in two years and I expect to see him internationally and in the cover of major dance publications, soon!

The use of silhouette backdrop in Harry Rubeck’s inventive lighting was so effective as the top rows couldn’t see the male baseball player just the image on the backdrop. A perfect imagery to start the work.  It took me time to find where the image came from. I know with Rites of Spring I need to see it again and again to get it all – it was very mystical while the bat was wonderful symbolism and I must mention nice touch to put green on the red chairs. the color did not go unappreciated.

The words genius, radical, inventive, imaginative, refreshing and alive almost and most of the time used in describing Master Labayen’s choreography and ideas…it’s all true. No hype here, just saying and describing his work the way it is.

Now, I am wondering what Labayen Dance/SF, a jewel in the Bay Area dance scene and  Enrico Labayen can come up with to surprise us in the Fall Season 2013. Trek on down to ODC Theater in September for more of this company’s magic.

Dr. Jacoby Racher, Ph.D in Greek & Hellenic Studies and Performance Art at Yale University.

He is an independent writer/contributor /critic for art & politics publications in EU and North America

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