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.