Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Labayen Dance/SF - Spring Season 2012

Photo: Andrew Faulkner
"Revivals & Premieres" - the choreography of Enrico Labayen
with guests Brendan Barthel, Frederick Gaudette, Daiane Lopes da Silva & Laura Bernasconi
ODC Theater, San Francisco
April 21st, 2012

The juxtaposition of old and new in dance performance is very special.  Any opportunity to honor choreographic past while simultaneously looking toward the future is a rare gift to share with any audience.  Labayen Dance/SF's spring program at ODC ("Revivals & Premieres") offered a unique and exciting chronology, pairing four new works alongside 2010's "en-Gulf-ed", "Glass" and 1996's "Cloth".  The evening was a triumphant testament to this modern dance company's eighteen-year history.

Six shorter compositions comprised the first half of the program, four of them choreographed by Artistic Director Enrico Labayen.  "en-Gulf-ed", Labayen's response to the Gulf Coast's environmental catastrophe, is stunning.  An ode to Pina, the stage was covered in dark green trash bags that were transformed into moving water by Jose Ma. Francos'  lighting design.  From beneath the set, a single dancer (guest artist Daiane Lopes da Silva) emerged; her costume adorned with the same trash bags.  Her trudging movements challenged the space around her as she searched for a way to extend out of the muck; a living being forced to exist in oppressive surroundings.  Fittingly, the work was without resolution, as is the case with environmental disasters - we often do not know what the true consequences will be.  Labayen's new work, "Alone", followed dancer Laura Bernasconi as she slowly and methodically navigated a rectangular-lighted pathway.  The short, minimalistic work celebrated the beauty in simplicity - as Bernasconi walked, the arch of her feet and the articulation in her metatarsals astounded and amazed.  2010's "Glass" took on the multi-faceted dimensions within a single entity, wherein individuality reigns supreme.  The choreography itself chased a true fusion of genres with a modern take on traditional, and at times almost classical, technique.  The second section featured Jillian Davis, a statuesque dancer who easily adapts to any genre.  She has an overwhelming presence on stage though in "Glass", her arms were a bit distracting; almost a mis-match/disconnect between her upper and lower body.  "Cloth", choreographed in 1996 and the winner of The Isadora Duncan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography, was by far my favorite piece of the evening.  Labayen's dance for two men (Victor Talledos & Brendan Barthel) was not what we expect from a duet, and in a good way.  Pas de deuxs tend toward romantic attachment, whether the pairing is between two women, two men or a man and a woman - this is what we look for when any couple is dancing together.  But, relationships are so much more than that and "Cloth" spoke to tension rather than affection.  It had an edge to it where, for whatever reason, these two men were obviously keeping each other at arm's length.

Premieres by guest choreographers Laura Bernasconi and Frederick Gaudette rounded out Act I, each speaking in its own way to the idea of two becoming one.  Bernasconi expressed her concept in "Marriage Song", a duet danced by Talledos and Lopes da Silva.  And, Gaudette's "For 2", elegantly expressed a complete notion of soul mates - the good, bad, easy, difficult, playful, sorrowful and joyful.  Reflecting a detailed understanding of love, dancers Jaidah Terry and Gaudette were well-matched - the electricity between them palpable. 

The world premiere of "Kulang Ang Dasal" comprised the whole of Act II.  A five movement, haunting narrative work, the piece combined different groupings of the entire company while images of children in concentration camps were projected on the back scrim.  Every aspect of the piece emphasized and spoke to Labayen's interpretation of imprisonment.  The cast were costumed in striped leotards and the choreography was constrictive.  Dancers continually tried to reach out and extend, only to be pulled back to the place where their movement had originated - they simply could not get out.  With imprisonment at its core, "Kulang Ang Dasal" journeyed through human emotion.  What stood out to me was how the dancers seemed alone even amidst a crowd around them; a solitary sadness weeping from the performance space.  The unison sequences were technically challenging - the cast of fourteen attempting double promenades in attitude all at the same time - a bold move from a bold choreographer.     

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