Dance Mission Theatre, San Francisco, CA
July 23, 2010
Choreography for narrative dance must be representational. Plot, characters and their relationships are important, but alone, insufficient. The movement itself must convey the story and the message. It has to mean something. Enrico Labayen gets this and he is able to translate it onto the stage. Labayen Dance/SF's new evening length production, "Carmina Burana: Revisited", is packed with choreographic motifs that speak of his narrative concept. They celebrate the complexity and vastness of the female being: power, strength, allure and just the tiniest bit of vulnerability.
The idea of second position was a recurring theme in Labayen's choreography. We saw it in plie, on straight-leg and in the air (extensions in ecarte). This stance is one of the most powerful in dance; it provides a large base area where the dancer is solid, strong and commanding. Labayen's use of this boundless position reflected an equally authoritative quality in his seven female dancers. Bent elbows were another predominant motif, that served a dual purpose. At times the women looked as though they were being 'hung' by their elbows; almost like puppets. And, in other moments, the bent elbows took on more of a bird-like quality with an aura of freedom. With one simple position, we were provided insight into two states of being: control and abandon. A third repeated sequence occurred in between the different vignettes. Once the dancers had completed their variation, they would walk forward toward the audience with a piercing glance, and then slowly turn upstage and walk away. They were a little bit like models on a runway. Definitely confrontational, yet at the same time, seductive.
Without a doubt, the stand-out performer of the evening was Crystaldawn Bell. Her two solos were absolutely astounding; every movement merging seamlessly with the next. Hers was a presence of calmness and elegance combined with strong technique. From her penchee arabesque to her backwards fish roll to her circling shoulders, every step was lush.
"Carmina Burana: Revisited" was divided into 21 short scenes, 10 in the first half and 11 in the second. The idea of these movement-specific segments was interesting, though the transition between each was much too abrupt. It gave the work a halting, stop/start feeling that I think can be improved upon. Also, the unison dancing needs to be more exact. This particular evening was the premiere of "Carmina Burana: Revisited" so I imagine that the synchronicity will better gel over time.
Successful narrative dance requires that its choreographers go 'all in'. Labayen Dance/SF has done it with "Carmina Burana: Revisited". Enrico Labayen has reminded us that if you are going to tell a story, tell it everywhere - in the dancers' eyes, in their walk, in their glances and most important, in their movement.