Lillian Barbeito’s Made a Trifecta of a Pivot, Launching Three New Dance Projects At Once
You won’t find Lillian Barbeito pressing the pandemic pause button. For this Los Angeles dance maven, this has been a time to ask big questions, examine the status quo and take action.
“How can we provide structure to keep people teaching and choreographing in programs for dancers, not to maintain their physicality but to grow and evolve, and help shape what the future is going to look like?” wondered Barbeito, after shutdowns began in March 2020.
A New Online Dance Platform: HAVEN
Barbeito conceived HAVEN in April 2020, launched it that July, and had programs up and running by September. So far, the online platform has hosted a revolving selection of experiences, from choreography and dance mentorships to very specific workshops, along with niche long-range projects like Al Blackstone’s storytelling workshop, where students created a dance memoir that will live on the site.
The Black Lives Matter movement contributed to Barbeito’s sense of urgency. “With such a huge upheaval in people’s consciousness around race, I had to question ‘What is my part in this?'” she says. “I knew I needed to find a way to support Black artists, whose voices need to be heard, seen and celebrated.” She has kept that promise; so far, HAVEN has featured Austyn Rich, Jakevis Thomason, Qwenga, Kyle Abraham, Gabrielle Sprauve, Samuel Melecio-Zambrano, Mikaela S. Brandon, Carlton Wilborn, David Maurice, Dr. S. Ama Wray and others.
In describing the HAVEN vibe, Barbeito makes it clear that teaching a dance via Zoom is not the idea. “Each offering has to be non-formulaic,” she says. “We offer intimate sessions limited to 12 to 14 people. Students are seen, heard and given individual feedback, and they range from high school age to retirees.”
For instance, HAVEN dance mentees acquired an 11-minute solo choreographed by Ihsan Rustem and staged by Ching Ching Wong that they intentionally dedicated to an important person or group of people in their lives. One student performed outside for her grandmother at her independent-living facility, while another danced in the Grand Tetons for her mother. Eventually, some of these films will live on in the HAVEN Haus Gallery, which contains highlights from all of the programs. Wong says she’s been energized by the project: “I end every meeting with Lillian dreaming bigger and thinking the impossible is possible.”
Other projects are structured more like artist residencies, such as Brianna Mims’ The Book Project, which deals with deconstructing the symbolism of suits in terms of patriarchy, gender identity and professionalism. The yearlong project culminates with the publication of a coffee-table book, with text by Mims and photos of repurposed wearable art pieces (crafted from suits) that dancers will wear at a live dance performance directed by Mims.
Developing key partners is another priority. In March, HAVEN teamed up with Teagan Reed for the inaugural pro.noun dance festival to celebrate LGBTQIAP+ dance artists with a collection of somatic and technique classes, and seminars.
A New Ensemble: Ballare Carmel
As for the new ensemble, Barbeito says it will be project-based. Although it’s too soon to announce the dancers involved, she’s proud to announce that the group will be intergenerational.
This September, she’ll hold an ensemble workshop/audition. “It will focus on what dancers have been not able to do, like partnering and contact improvisation,” says Barbeito. A soft launch of Ballare Carmel will follow on September 18, with a new duet by Rustem at Hidden Valley, an Institute for the Arts.
Martin Linss, Courtesy Barbeito
A New Festival: Carmel Dance Festival
Although the festival launches in July, the idea has been percolating for the five years since Barbeito started traveling to Carmel, California for family vacations. She observes that although the area has so much to offer in terms of vineyards, dining, theater and music, there was no world-class professional dance. “I got to know people and found out what they wanted, and the answer was often ‘We need more things to do.'”
She already had planned to move there with her husband and family. “We are moving there 10 years earlier than we thought,” she says. “The pandemic was the accelerator.”
Michelle Reid, Courtesy Ballet Hispanico
She moved forward full throttle with the festival after seeing Stephanie Martinez’s work on her new Chicago-based PARA.MAR Dance Theatre, booking the troupe for a weeklong residency. “The puzzle pieces started to come together around PARA.MAR. The company is off the hook,” says Barbeito. “They are everything a contemporary ballet company should be, with exhilarating movement, and such unpredictable choreography, you experience so many things just in one piece.”
The festival includes four outdoor performances from PARA.MAR over three days at Mackillie Farm, and two community master-classes. Barbeito has set variable ticket prices with family-friendly affordable matinees, along with premium evening performances with wine tastings and hors d’oeuvres.
This fall, HAVEN will shift to a hybrid model with online courses continuing and in-person programs taking place at the Hidden Valley Inn in Carmel Valley. In October, HAVEN partners with the BODYSONNET collective for a workshop called Dance Future Forward, to help high school juniors and seniors apply to college dance programs. “We will coach seniors on audition skills, interview skills, resumés, essays and audition videos,” says Barbeito.
For November, the festival commissions a new work—created by Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz muse Clémentine Deluy—for Ballare Carmel for dancers “40 and better” (Barbeito hesitates to call them “luminaries” because she is one of them).
HAVEN wraps up the year with Embodiology with Dr. S. Ama Wray, which will introduce principles drawn from Indigenous performance methodologies to develop a mind–body practice.
Charged with optimism about her ambitious trifecta of endeavors, Barbeito says: “I truly want to catapult us into our futures. It’s not about just surviving, but thriving. It’s been so much fun, like a creative fountain. We are investing in lighting other people up, and continually asking the question ‘What’s possible?'”