The Dance Brigade
The Great Liberation Upon Hearing

Dance Theater Workshop
219 West 19th Street, New York City
July 7–9, 2011

A Review by Virginia Dillon

The Great Liberation Upon Hearing, a dance drama based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, begins as a lama figure swoops onto the stage and we hear the words, “What we do in this lifetime will influence our lives to come—this the law of Karma.” I was concerned that this might be a precious or academic performance, but he swept me along with him through experiences that unfolded in a most organic and magical way, to the point that I was overwhelmed and caught up in it. 

The first figure to appear after the lama is Krissy Kiefer, who resembles Bette Midler in her garb (yellow platform stilettos and a lab coat, scissors stuck in her hair), in her clear and direct speech, and in her demeanor as she lectured us about reincarnation over the head of a pig. That the pig’s head was real, having been obtained from a local butcher is an example of the attention to detail in every phase of this production.

Folawole Oyinlola ~ Photo by Anastacia Powers Cuellar

Cross-fade upstage to a beautiful couple on a raised platform: he (Ramon Ramos Alayo), black with dreadlocks, she (Tina Banchero), blonde and garbed in a slinky, shiny, white sheath—both exquisite dancers—evolve through traditional eastern shapes and acrobatic forms in a sexy duet. It is after this that a group of seven fabulous dancers enter and they, the lighting, slides, videos, and sound all add to the hypnotic spell that continues to increase in intensity to a climactic scene of Taiko drumming.

There are many “wow” moments in this piece: a lady swinging onto the stage high on a trapeze, a video of an escalator ascending and descending during a talk about reincarnation, and the spectacular dancing had me uttering wow’s throughout. The dancers leap and jump and fly through the air, and then slink and crawl upon one another and then pound drums with beautiful movements in synchronicity. There are seldom less that two things happening at the same time, but the lighting leads us to what we should concentrate on at any given moment, and I found the three-ring circus effect exciting.

The whole performance is done with meticulous care, mixing mystical and secular images, humor and drama, the sacred and the profane—just like life— a very well lived life.