The Tabula Rasa Dance Theater comprising 12 dancers from 9 different countries, was founded in 2017 by Felipe Escalante. His brilliant and innovative choreography incorporates various dance techniques designed to celebrate the human body in all its pain, beauty, poetry, and ugliness.
From the outset, Escalante’s goal is to transform, inspire, and enlighten. His troupe’s provocative and topical performances reflect the pressing social and cultural problems of our times. In 2018, Escalante received a grant from The Ford Foundation to create “From the Shadow Into the Light”, which addressed the global refugee crises. “Inside Our Skins” 2019, focused on the injustices of mass incarceration.
Beginning Saturday, July 25th, and for three consecutive Saturdays afterward, The Tabula Rasa Dance Theater will perform “Liquidus”. The series of live digital solo dance performances inspired by COVID-19 and choreographed during New York City’s stay at home order. They are being live-streamed each Saturday, at 7 PM on their YouTube Channel.
The dancers are Jonatan Lujan (Argentine-American), Noriko Naraoka (Japanese-American), Winnie Asawakanjanakit (Thai-American), and Felipe Escalante (Mexican –American). Jonatan and Noriko are both COVID-positive. All four live in New York City, and like much of the artistic community, they are struggling to survive.
Amy Fine Collins is the Executive Director of Tabula Rasa Dance Theater. She is also a major supporter along with Agnus Gund, Joanna Fisher, Sharon Hurowitz, and others. In a phone conversation, Amy said that she once again organized the vibrant costumes for the upcoming live digital dance series.
There will be 16 costume changes in total. Included is a Koos Van Den Akker jacket that Koos made for Amy when she attended the CFDA Awards with him years ago. There is a jacket painted by Scooter LaForge, who has worked with Dior and Pat Field. And there are several Geoffrey Beene looks.
Amy told me that when Felipe saw pictures of her wearing Beene, he immediately felt a kindred artistic spirit with the designer. Geoffrey Beene was a patron of the dance, and he understood movement of the body and as a pre-med student, anatomy. As I pointed out in my recent article about Mr. Beene, the creator showed many of his collections on dancers leaping in the air wanting to emphasize their modern mobility.
Amy allowed Felipe to borrow anything from her personal archives. As she put it, many others with a similarly curated collection would not allow that, but Amy states hers is a “working collection.” “It’s precious, but I don’t treat my clothes like snowflakes.”
For the upcoming performance, Felipe Escalante will be wearing a quilted and pinstriped vintage Beene jacket. Noriko Naraoka will be wearing a vintage Beene jumpsuit with a trompe l’oeil white collar and a black wool crepe dress that buttons up the front, all from Amy’s collection. Noriko originally wore this dress for the 2018 performance of “From The Shadow Into The Light.” For the same performance, Felipe wore a Geoffrey Beene vintage dress Amy found on a shopping expedition. It was Felipe’s idea to wear it backward.
Felipe chose the name of his company, “Tabula Rasa,” which is Latin for “blank slate”; the idea is that we are born without built-in mental content. Therefore, all knowledge comes from perception or experience. The suggested price of a ticket for each performance is $3.63 allowing all those who would not usually afford to attend a performance to experience dance.
Why 63 cents? On average, incarcerated people in New York State earn 63 cents an hour. Their 2019 performance, “Inside Our Skins” called attention to the ongoing and still legal practice of forced labor, permitted under the 13th Amendment’s exception allowing slavery as a “punishment for a crime.”