It’s a Thursday evening and Post:Ballet‘s Robert Dekkers in is five places at once. He’s in discussion with his lighting designer, conferring with dancers, and bringing me up to speed about some of the collaborators he’s working with this season. He cues the music with his phone and the dancers run through DoBe:Family Sing-a-Long and Game Night, Dekkers’ newest work, (due to premier at the end of July), bodies playing off each other in a tangle. There’s humor, exaggerated facial expressions, even partnering role reversal, with the women doing the heavy lifting.The choreography includes elements of games like charades and red light/green light set to a score that revisits singing and nursery rhymes. Read More
Enrico Labayen’s holistic perspective informs every aspect of his work, to create dance that combines Mr. Labayen’s unique background of a firm base in classical ballet and modern American dance with his Philippine heritage. His dance both recalls the ritual and tradition of his Asian background and explores technology and Western modes of expression. Labayen Dance/SF, his contemporary ballet company, founded in 1994, is where it all comes to fruition.
Mr. Labayen began his dance career at age 13 in the Philippines before moving to the US, where he studied on full scholarship at the American Ballet Theater School, Ailey’s American Dance Center, Joffrey American Ballet Center and performed with many ballet and modern dance companies, including American Ballet Theater II, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Larry Richardson Dance Company, Eglevsky Ballet and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet.
Critics have hailed his work “hypnotic and mesmerizing” (Dance Magazine), “gutsy, earthy and emotionally hungry” (SF Focus) and a powerful and passionate celebration of female strength” (SF Bay Guardian).
I was able to catch up with Mr. Labayen in the midst of preparations for his company’s upcoming 18th anniversary shows, March 15-17, in San Francisco.
1. What was your biggest surprise/epiphany during the creation of your new work?
My beloved eldest sister died of pancreatic cancer a couple of months ago. She was 71.
She lived alone in Las Vegas. The day of her birthday, Sept. 13, doctors’ prognosis: pancreatic cancer stage 4. Happy Birthday!:=(
The first thing she said was, “No tears.” I cried privately. She never saw me shedding tears. I became her primary caregiver from the day she was diagnosed till she took her last breath. And I promised her that she would not be in pain, I made sure of that. Thank God for pain management doctors. Still no tears.
I have learned more in the process of seeing someone I love dying. I see the world and human beings differently. I see God and Buddha in everyone. A painfully beautiful, magical experience that has changed me forever. I can go on and on about the experience but this will turn into a novel.
My sister asked why I use Western music so much. I asked my violinist friend and his wife to classically arrange all of my sisters’ favorite folks songs and it turned out beautifully. LOVE SONGS is my personal experience about domestic violence commited against women and the innocent victims, the children. Hence, the work TEARS and LOVE SONGS came about.
As a creative entity that I am, this is my epiphany. Now is the time for me to tell and reveal my story. No more inspired by nor any political statement. I leave that to CNN. Art in itself is politics…no matter how one cuts it. At 60 years old, I am now revealing who I really am. My story and my life in restrospect is inspirational to those who came from my hopeless case.
2. Where do your ideas come from?
My works right now are much more about my story. No more fairy tales and “tripped out” ideas although it always worked beautifully but failed as far “kinesthetic” experience I lived through…ART was my escape to my own reality. Now, I am writing, so to speak about my kinesthetic experience… the quickest communication between human beings…better than words, it is action that is my “Truth”. My autobiography set to the language of movement not words. In metaphors and no hyperbole.
I grew up in – if you saw the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” – but not as lucky. Literally dirt poor with 12 siblings and no parents…they were there but much more of a hindrance and a burden that we kids had to bear. My parents came close to selling us to pederast and pimps. Third world poverty sucks. We have a perfect excuse to be criminals, prostitutes, thieves and murderers but my beloved sister guided us through and gave us discipline and responsibilities and that made us into honorable hardworking individuals who turned out to be successful as financial analysts, nurses, accountants etc… productive citizens contributing to the society we now all live in.
We did not make the same mistake that our parents did, remarkably my brothers and sisters are living the American dream. Their kids are serving the US Marines, reserve US Army and all 30 of my nephews and nieces are all college grads and an asset to this country, not bad for a desperately “dysfuntional” origins. I am very proud of all of them…it cost blood, sweat and tears to fight what was expected from where we came from.
Choreographers talk about relationship with each other in a “hypothetical terms” Now, I talk in “REAL terms”, from life experience that I have had plenty of, the good, the bad and the ugliest! Art soothes the savage beast in us all, that separates us from the animal kingdom.The best therapist, ever!
I can say nature, politics, blah, blah blah but as I have mentioned above, REAL LIFE in REAL TERMS experience from now on. My committed dancers…all of them beautiful human beings and as my story unfolded in front of them, they in turn told their stories…sexual abuse, addiction, etc… The group has bonded so tightly that it is not a dance company anymore…an extended family that is supportive, caring and loving of each other. The healing has begun for us all. This is where my ideas come from: revealing and exposing the truth. Saying things unabashedly honest but maintaining a sense of BEAUTY in the ugliest of all life experiences. I do not intend to create masterpieces; my intention is to create good and honest work that reflects REAL life according to my kinesthetic experience.
3. What excites you most about your current production?
Meeting new collaborators…composers, lighting designers, costume designers, set designers; not knowing that they also had experiences like mine and now they have shared their life experience with me. Honesty has become my mantra. My new works TEARS and LOVE SONGS excites me, the NEW me excites me. LIFE excites me. Discovering beautiful and young dancers from Westlake School of Performing Arts in Daly City, which has 80% Asian students and has produced young dancers who have won Silver medal and Gold medals in the Varna Ballet Competition and Prix de Lausanne excites me. The honing and mentoring of up and coming new choreographers from Mexico, Brazil and Russia excites me. The passing of tradition and leaving a legacy with these young artists excites me. This is the beginning of a new journey for me as an artist and THAT excites me.
4. You have a guest artist (Sandrine Cassini) for this upcoming production. What should we know about her?
Sandrine took my ballet class when she was in town. Not knowing anything about her professional background ( Paris Opera, Hamburg Ballet, etc.) my intuition told me that she was a good human being and a seeker of truth. Technically brilliant, artistically explorative, extremely musical and feet and extension for days!!! Impressive, but in my mind’s eye, those are just requirements. Even before she danced for me I had told her in our short conversations between classes that she must have been a Californian in her past life. She told me that the minute she landed in the Bay Area she felt she was home. She kept coming back and taking my classes. It was really hard for me to ask dancers to dance for me since my budget is so limited and I can only promise a stipend and a humble performance fees. Sandrine was telling me how much she loved my work, she had seen my company in two concert seasons and asked me if there was a place in it for her! Lo and behold, I have stunning world-class dance artists doing the lead roles in my new works. Again, that excited and challenged me…. Somebody in heaven I think loves me. Everything happens exactly when it has to happen. She has become my muse.
See SF/Labayen’s upcoming 18th anniversary
March 15 – 17, 2013
Dance Mission Theater
3316 24th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
Highlights include the US premiere of Enrico Labayen’ s “Rites of Spring” celebrating the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky’ s groundbreaking modernist work composed in 1913 & “Tears”, collaboration with Bay Area composer/musician Gabriel Goldberg plus new works from exciting choreographers Viktor Kabaniaev, Laura Bernasconi, Diane Lopes da Silva, and Victor Talledos and others.
French dance artist Sandrine Cassini, formerly of Bejart Ballet Lausanne and Paris Opera Ballet makes a guest appearance.
There’s a lot that goes into preparing for a dance performance. Everything that goes into making a show adds up to countless hours of rehearsals, choreography and refinement, not to mention the time it takes to design, construct and purchase materials for costumes, props and sets. But the work doesn’t end there- there’s a whole new realm to conquer: marketing and promotion. Press releases must be written and distributed, bios executed, promotional photographs taken and polished. Getting a single decent promotional photograph is often a job in itself.
I had the perfect location in mind. Scouting for a the perfect photographic background is yet another job in itself, so it was good to have that part taken care of in advance. However, the location was deep in the midst of a busy shopping center which meant we’d have to photograph there sometime during off hours, specifically extremely early. Since one of us (who shall remain nameless) is not an early morning person, there was a certain amount of wheedling, pleading and cheerleading (you can do this! we must seize the opportunity!) that lead up to my 6:45am arrival to pick up my partner in crime, Mymuna. While it was a little bit painful to spring into action with the sun as our sole companion, it was nothing a little coffee couldn’t rectify.
And we had some killer costumes. Man, were they stylin’. Several of the construction crews that drove past said so (probably on their way to Starbuck’s four doors down). But don’t get me wrong, the guys weren’t lecherous, merely appreciative- I didn’t feel the need to shower after they said what they said.
We were a little antsy anyway, with the limited amount of time we had to work with before the stores reopened and the masses descended. We worked quickly and diligently to get ourselves costumed, feathers strategically placed, pointe shoes properly affixed, the camera set up and ready to go, and we basically had the place to ourselves.
Until we didn’t.
Just as we had gotten into position with the shutter on the camera ready to click away, a work truck pulled up and parked right behind us a few feet away. I hoped they would move on in a matter of moments, but it soon became clear they had no intention of leaving anytime soon when they unhinged the back gate of their truck and began unloading heavy equipment. We couldn’t figure out what they were up to until one guy unfurled a long hose with a fierce-looking nozzle.
They were going to pressure wash. Technically, they were pressure-washing us right out of the picture. Our picture. The one we had so diligently (and painfully) prepared for.
Long moments passed. They completely ignored us as they continued to go about their business (which is interesting in itself since we were pretty hard to ignore in red and black corsets, pink pointe shoes and black tutus. Not the sort of things you see every day). Mymuna and I looked around, then back at each other. We threw our remaining scattered items into bags, grabbed the camera and tripod and moved down to the next part of the emporium… which we realized was also probably due to be pressure washed shortly after the previous location… which meant we had an even more limited window of time to create a photographic masterpiece. The pressure was on… both literally and figuratively.
Sometimes when life lights a fire under your feet it’s just the thing you need- that ubiquitous cosmic cattle prod, that jolt to create. The end result is an adrenaline-filled thrill ride.
I’ve become compelled, at age 44, to start a dance company. After decades of following other peoples’ visions and performing their choreography, it’s a welcome relief to do things my way for a change. There is no director monitoring my every move, which means less pressure in some ways, and more pressure in others. For just as there is inherent freedom in doing your own thing, every responsibility is also yours, from choreography to costumes and planning to publicity.
It has been about ten years since I’ve last performed, although I’ve never stopped dancing since I started forty years ago. I took a hiatus from performing from the time when my daughter was born through the preschool years, and in the last few years, the desire to perform again grew. And grew.
Finally, opportunity knocked when I was invited to participate in Trails and Vistas, a live outdoor performance in Lake Tahoe where the audience happens upon various performances during a docent-lead hike. Another friend had been involved for several years, and I had always loved the idea. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to join in, and promptly called another friend (and fellow mom) who was also itching to perform, and we immediately went to work. Our company, named Terpsichore D’Amour, was born.
Thus far it’s been an interesting journey. Our choreographic process has been both organic and extremely democratic. There are pieces that we have come up with separately and others that have arisen out of experimentation and discussion. As I was watching the film of yesterday’s rehearsal (we’ve begun filming every rehearsal so we can see what we’re doing and what might need fine-tuning) I realized that the piece is such a cooperative effort that I can no longer even remember who contributed what. And the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t matter! We are dancing purely for pleasure and we are both old enough and experienced enough to have left ego out of the equation altogether.
Trails and Vistas is happening on September 17th and 18th,. We’ve finished choreographing (mostly) except for a few minor adjustments. We have placed our costume order. For now, we continue to work. Luckily we have plenty of time for polishing our first piece, giving it every chance to be the best it can possibly be.
In the meantime, we’re working on our promotional materials (more on that soon) and looking ahead. We hope that our dance company will grow over time and that we will be able to share our love of dance with varied audiences, particularly school children.
Starting Terpsichore D’Amour is one of the more wonderfully terrifying things I’ve done.
Trails and Vistas 2009: