Tabula Rasa Dance Theater Explores Injustices of Mass Incarceration
Tabula Rasa Dance Theater explored the injustice of legal slavery in America with a world premiere at New York Live Arts. Joanna Fisher and Amy Fine Collins hosted the opening and a remarkable group of friends including Agnes Gund, a major production donor through her Art For Justice Fund and Darren Walker.
The Ford Foundation also awarded major support. It was an emotional evening that addressed mass incarceration as well as forced prison labor which is permitted under the 13th Amendment, allowing slavery “as a punishment for crime.” Guests included Candia J. Fisher, Kirat Young, Roger Kluge, Jonathan Marder, Martine Singer, Patrick Schwarz, Wim Vanlessen (Royal Ballet of Flanders), and Gene Meyer. Amy Fine Collins served as executive producer. Joanna Fisher underwrote a live music ensemble, Elad Kabilio’s MusicTalks.
The evening presented two works by Artistic Director Felipe Escalante; ‘Ars Moriendi’ and ‘Inside Our Skins’. For the first piece, accompanied by a string trio — lute, violin, and cello, artistic director Felipe Escalante danced a pas de deux inspired in part by the twinning patterns of Rorschach inkblots, ingeniously projected onto the floor at various moments of the ten-minute program.
Perhaps the most unforgettable sequence of the evening came in the second work when a cluster of four bare torso-ed men held a woman, shackled at the ankles, upside down. You could see her plaintive, pathetic, poetic legs and feet — which became as expressive as a pair of hands — making desperate, elegant, resistant gestures high above the men’s heads. The metallic clank and swish of the chains created a sorrowful symphony of its own.
Tabula Rasa Dance Theater is concerned with the pressing social and cultural problems of our times, and with the historical precedents for them. Tabula Rasa Dance Theater’s minimalistic, explosive, and provocative work is performed by a diverse company of 12 dancers, from 9 different countries. Founded by Felipe Escalante, his choreography incorporates elements from a variety of dance techniques and embraces the human body, in all its pain, beauty, poetry, and ugliness. Escalante believes choreography must elicit powerful and sometimes difficult emotional responses and transcend time and place.
The Tabula Rasa dancers are Noriko Naraoka, Jose Carlos Losada, Zoë McNeil, Simon Kazantsev, Sevin Caviker, Jonatan Lujan, Fiona Huber, Josep Maria Monreal, Winnie Asawakanjanakit, Anica Bottom, and Shannon Maynor.