AUDIENCE REVIEW: Tabula Rasa Dance Theater's “Liquidus” Workshop
Tabula Rasa Dance Theater
Addended to the review in Dance Enthusiast last summer of Tabula Rasa Dance Theater’s presentation “One of Four” was a note raising alarm about the inflation of ballet-class prices at a time when dancers are facing extreme financial hardship. Regrettably this statement went unheeded—except, apparently, by Tabula Rasa Dance Theater itself. In October, the company invited dancers, aged 21 and over, to participate free of charge in “Liquidus,” a 3-week workshop, which would culminate in an opportunity to perform. Ten dancers joined the workshop, which met at Gibney and Ballet Arts, where participants trained in the morning with ballet master Simon Kazantsev and in the afternoon learned new choreography by Tabula Rasa Dance Theater’s artistic director Felipe Escalante. On December 4th and 5th 2021, in Ballet Arts’s Nureyev Studio, this newly formed “Liquidus” ensemble presented the results of their intensive sessions, an ambitious work in progress entitled “Star of Stars.” The piece formed the finale of a presentation that also featured three solos performed by Escalante and his company dancers, Noriko Naraoka and Winnie Asawakanjanakit. (These three TRDT pieces, two of them world premieres, will be reviewed in a separate article).
As the playbill, explained, “Star of Stars” is a tribute to the pioneering female astronomer Vera Rubin who, though insufficiently known today, “discovered that most of the matter in the universe is invisible Dark Matter.” Set to a symphony by Fazil Say, “Star of Stars” attained an unusual degree of professionalism thanks to the elevating presence of Naraoka and Asawakanjanakit, who appeared alongside nine workshop dancers. In the course of the show, complex groupings and pairings disbanded and re-formed in continuously inventive variations. Passages of the highly kinetic, occasionally acrobatic piece conjured up swirling galaxies, streaking comets, shining novae, and rotating orbs, sometimes all at once. In other sequences, the spiraling, skittering, and looping patterns across the floor evoked the arcing bands of armillary spheres, the anthropomorphic constellations on celestial globes, and the fine tracery of navigational sky charts. Like an ur-goddess of intelligent design, Naraoka, fingers splayed into delicate asterisks, mimed pulling the stars out of her open mouth and placing them carefully in the heavens. Asawakanjanakit, a transfixing performer sparingly deployed in this piece, executed her steps with an almost preternatural vibrancy. Though unfinished, “Star of Stars” does not feel incomplete. Like the Universe explored by Vera Rubin, Escalante’s talents keep expanding.
Escalante, a showman as well as an artist, added a surprise coda to his program. After a brief pause, with the spellbound audience still seated, the dancers suddenly sprang back on stage for an exhilarating improv drill. Parading in circular formation or propelled by their own private impulses, they brandished white flags at certain junctures, and carried signs inscribed with slogans such as “Support the Arts!” “Affordable Dance Classes in NY for All!” “Dance is For Everyone!” With his face obscured grotesquely by a gas mask, Escalante skipped about frenetically, beating a drum, raising his mallets like a conductor or a sorcerer, and swinging a baby-doll lassoed to a rope. The effect was both frightening and entertaining and served as a demonic-comedic counterpoint to the earnest exertions around him. Escalante’s last gesture was to fling, in the spectators’ direction, dozens of flyers from his jacket pocket, each sheet printed with the word “PROTEST.” The pages fluttered to the ground where they remained, untouched, now trash waiting to be swept up with other studio debris.
Review by Sylvia Susskind