Last winter, Tabula Rasa Dance Theater—the fledgling Manhattan-based contemporary-dance company—was rehearsing for its third season when the coronavirus lockdown hit. An ambitious spring program, Border of Lights, was canceled, the company lost crucial revenue, and 9 out of 11 dancers caught the virus.
Felipe Escalante, T.R.D.T.’s founder and artistic director, was distressed, he says, not only by the way “corona had pushed the performing arts to the precipice” but by how the pandemic had left his dancers “unemployed, alone, and hopeless.” Overcoming his own feelings of isolation and inertia, Escalante developed an inventive new solo series, Liquidus, choreographed expressly for the confining conditions of sheltering in place, while also taking them on as subject matter. “The title refers to the fluidity of the dancer’s body,” Escalante explains, “and its capacity to drip, slide, shape-shift, and dissolve.”
Liquidus is choreographed expressly for the confining conditions of sheltering in place.
Tinkering in his apartment with found objects, Escalante constructed collapsible acrylic boxes and improvised moody, pictorial lighting effects. Then, in a mask and gloves, he delivered his makeshift props and costumes curbside to four of his dancers. Via Skype, he trained them to perform inside the transparent boxes, now installed in their apartments. Some of Escalante’s pantomimic, sensual, and visceral movements hint at the darker aspects of lockdown, such as alcoholism and domestic violence. Yet the work allows for humor too.
In one solo, Escalante leaps and gestures inside his box, nattily dressed in a jacket, vest, and tie. But from the waist down he is disrobed—“like a businessman in a Zoom meeting,” he notes. Escalante also performs with a menagerie of stuffed animals (both plush and taxidermic); gyrates upside down in briefs between barley-twist candlesticks; gapes blindfolded among stacked rare books; and puffs on a Dominican cigar, behind whose thick spirals of smoke he seems to vanish, “just as dancers,” he says, “have now faded away from the stage.”
The 16 ingenious solos that form Liquidus will likewise disappear soon after they are livestreamed on YouTube, over four consecutive Saturday nights, at seven P.M. E.T., starting July 25. “Ideally, dance shouldn’t exist as a virtual medium,” laments Escalante, whose Liquidus series was supported by a modest Ford Foundation grant. “It is meant to be a human, physical experience. Mediating art entirely through a smartphone ultimately disconnects us from each other.” —Amy Fine Collins