IMPRESSIONS: Felipe Escalante and Tabula Rasa Dance Theater's "Oedipus Rex" at New York Live Arts

IMPRESSIONS: Felipe Escalante and Tabula Rasa Dance Theater's "Oedipus Rex" at New York Live Arts
Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram

By Deirdre Towers/Follow @deirdre.towers on Instagram
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Published on October 6, 2022
Tabula Rasa's"Oedipus Rex";Photo:Steven Pisano

Choreographer/Dancer/Costume Supervisor: Felipe Escalante

Featured Dancers: Grace AnnePierce, Jonatan Lujan, Robert Valdez, Grace Bottom, Rachel Heinkel, Freeda Handelsman

Music: Deco Doreen

Lighting & Scenic Designer: Christopher Annas-Lee

October 1, 2022

Felipe Escalante ignored the adage to never share the stage with children or dogs in his adaptation of Sophocles’ 2600-year-old tragedy, "Oedipus Rex."  His company dissuaded him from including a seeing-eye dog for the blind prophet, Teiresias, but they couldn’t stop him from introducing Victor Hugo, an adorable, well-behaved robotic dog, mid-way through his show.
man with goggles, surrounded by lights, red light rays emitting from his palm staring at a robotic dog
 Tabula Rasa; Photo: Steven Pisano
Escalante is fascinated by artificial intelligence (AI), light/dark dualities, textures, existential questions, and sexual urges. He and his 16 classically- trained dancers strike every pose, and  leap, and turn with clarity and bravura. A handsome man with a strong profile, Escalante dances with the masculine strength of a Russian performing SPARTACUS, another ballet inspired by the ancient Greeks. Set in a nightclub in 2020, The Thebes, the production has enough costume and set changes to rival the Radio City Rockettes. 
At the top of the show, 13 dancers appear, their backs to the audience. Escalante is at the center, holding a silver disco ball on his shoulder.  Arms and hands make jagged, taut gestures as the group struts slowly upstage where lighting tubes flicker in rhythmic patterns. The neon sign of THE THEBES hangs above a ound booth manned by Deco Doreen.
a chorus of dancers in silver thorny costumes and glasses hold their cell phones
 Tabula Rasa; Photo: Steven Pisano
A twist on the Greek chorus, the dancers clad in silver, thorny, reflective unitards,  glide light from their cell phones over their curved bodies as they move forward in unison. Later the chorus appears on stage right with everyone holding their cell phones over their heads, resembeling  jeweled crowns.
In the talk-back, Escalante said  that he had grown up performing the Yaqui dance of the deer in northern Mexico. He wanted to mix up his choreography with all the influences he has absorbed - classical, modern, flamenco, folk, and the energy of clubs, which he loves. 
a chorus of dancers in a blue lit room, white neon lights lay on the floor in the background,some dancers hold large disco balls others dont, a central figure stares out at us holding a huge disco ball with red lights emitted from his waist band
 Tabula Rasa; Photo: Steven Pisano
His most voluptuous dancer, Grace Bottom , as the Sphinx (the murderous monster who induces Oedipus to seduce his daughter Antigone) appears with the head mask of a deer and long hair growing between the legs of her leotard.  The red hair of Oedipus' mother/wife Jocasta ,the dynamic Graceanne Pierce,  flies free (unlike the rest of the cast’s skull -tight coiffs) until she is trapped in an undulating cage suspended by four men who move the the structure about like puppeteers. Pierce's many solos resemble Escalante’s with developpés, jumps a la seconde, and pirouettes. Freeda Handelsman, Antigone with a blonde crew cut,  is the standout in this cast for her gamine, emotional projection.
Blue light background a central figure in silouhette red beams of light rise from the figures head and eyes surrealistically
 Tabula Rasa; Photo: Steven Pisano
The joy of creative invention in this ambitious production overpowers any desolation that one might expect to experience as the witness of  incestuous encounters. Created during the pandemic, Escalante’s "Oedipus Rex" is a metaphor for our strange times, when we all intermittently must turn a blind eye to the sick truth around us and cling to art and technology to lead us out of the dark.  The youthful excitement and innovation of this futuristic epic emits a beacon of hope. 

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