TABULA RASA DANCE THEATER: EX UMBRA IN SOLEM
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
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
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Gabriela Estrada