Performing Arts: Dance
August 12, 2018
Expanding the boundaries of space and race, Mexican contemporary dancer and choreographer, Felipe Escalante premiered Ex Umbra In Solem at Gibney´s intimate performance space, The Theater. Making a statement against violence experienced by refugees in their journeys, Escalante portrayed the darkness of human insensitivity that persists as a byproduct of devouring instincts moved by need or greed.

As patrons were welcomed to the black box theatre flanked by columns and delineated by a luminous trail of irradiant red, orange, and yellow synthetic leaves, the only peculiar distraction was a lady in a black business suit, sitting at the stage right wing area immersed in her cell phone. A preview of Escalante’s Animula, Vagula, Blandula, a duet beautifully performed by him and Sevin Ceiker, opened the evening.

After an imperceptible transition, the young director of Tabula Rasa Dance Theater introduced his premiere through a seamless storyline of exiles' scenarios. The body of work presented its discourse through a wave of dynamic segments embellished by rapid trajectories conjugating sharp darting jetés with sliding retroceding penchés, into swirling renversés embroidered into larghetto moments awakened by minute rhythmic hand and facial gestures.

Escalante’s extraordinary musicality was highlighted by how he incorporated the sound of breath into gesture patterns, the respiratory sound of the aluminum leaves in the costume of the central female’s solo, plus enhanced musical climaxes such as a moment when the seven-dancer ensemble landed from a whirl of aerial sequences. Deliberately incorporating sound as a discursive statement, the program did include a warning about disturbing content and noises, particularly those evoking war.

As the numerous dance scenes went by, the wing area was also used as a dressing room for multiple costume changes, where the lady in the business suit sitting near the entrance remained while integrating her cell phone activity into comic-release performance. After a few numbers, other dancers joined her sitting comfortably in a row of chairs by the wings reading their phones while the rest of the cast continued on stage--an ambiguity that served as a point of inquiry and distraction.

However, as the works progressed, the cell phones became more integral in the choreographic proposal, notably in Felipe’s suffocating masked solo. The dramatic end of the premiere, where the lead dancer collapses after dragging herself, one hand reaching out with her phone, flipped silence into laughter. Surprisingly, the business suit lady left her chair to rescue the dancer’s phone and started taking selfies. Breaking protocol, the company came back on stage for the bow while immersed in their phones, barely noticing each other, and mindlessly taking a sort of bow, to return backstage to tend their phones while patrons hailed the innovative proposal and the accomplished dancers.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gabriela Estrada

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