Enrico Labayen, whose Labayen Dance/SF performs at Columbia’s Miller Theater Wednesday through Saturday, has always been in a hurry. At 13, the Manila-born dancer-choreographer couldn’t wait to get away from home. Dropping out of school and leaving 12 siblings behind, he made his way to New York and threw himself into ballet. A short, powerfully built dancer, he performed in the ABT rep company and others, until San Francisco’s Alonzo King induced him to join his Lines Contemporary Ballet, where princes did not have to be tall and slender. In 1991, back in the Philippines, he founded the LAB. ProjektGroup-USA. He had learned he could go home again; lab in Tagalog means love.
Since that time Labayen has produced some two dozen works. The pieces, some of them for ensembles as large as 14, seem to just flood out of the diminutive choreographer, who still performs with his ballet-trained dancers. Between small tours to Europe and Asia and as many as three Bay Area seasons per year, the wide-ranging Labayen looked unstoppable. In New York he’ll show Damas, a tribute to Asian motherhood; Another Butterfly, set to Puccini’s “Un bel dì”; and two signature works—Cloth, inspired by the Song of Songs, and Puirt a Beul (to Gaelic music, this won an Isadora Duncan Award for best choreography).
Six months ago, an MRI he underwent to check on headaches that had plagued him for years showed a brain tumor. Instead of seeking treatment he continued work on Bach Cello Suite #1, created for King Hussein of Jordan, which premiered at the Amman International Theater Festival and will complete the New York program.
“New York is where I started my career, and that’s where I’ll end it,” he explains. After the Miller performances, he’ll disband the company and go home to the Philippines to take care of “the thing.” First he’ll try Asian, then Western medicine. “I also believe in miracles,” he says. “Besides, everyone has to die sometime.”