BY: Annielille Gavino
Art frees me to speak… the words dictionaries have no words for. It is a philosophy that has saved me from being lost...a spiritual act. Art tells me who I am. Through the process of creation, I discover more about myself and more about others. Art connects me to spaces that ground me: my community, my past and my purpose.
Dance is being Home. Free.
Dance is a place everyone can access regardless of backgrounds. As an immigrant, It is the only place where I can be free...free to express pain, anger, sorrow, joy and my truths.….. As a choreographer, performer and teacher, my job is to pass this on to my dancers, audience, students and community.
I am a foreign born Filipinx immigrant whose life work has been centered on decolonial art activism through research-to-movement performance practice. Using the modes of curation, chronicling, and dance making, I serve as a community “Ate” (meaning big sister ) and as a movement storyteller.
My entry to the United States is through the portal of what western dance academics coin as “Black Dance.” My experience in Black dance introduced me to the work of Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus who used dance as a tool for political and social activism. After working with Miss Dunham in 2003, her work investigating the Africanist presence in the Central to South Americas deeply inspired me. Her question, “What if African traditions in the New World were even better preserved in the dances of Afro-Caribbean?” is the same question I pose when I investigate my own cultural lineage and traditions.
Coming from a unique tapestry quilted together by my identities and career inspired by African American dance, I now use dance activism as a framework for reclaiming histories from its gatekeepers. Crafting research by using journalism and movement explorations as an important element in the process of composing an autoethnographic socio-political work became key elements in my process. For example, in 2014, I choreographed La Migra, Let’s Run, a solo performance materializing the personal to the political (drawing from historical laws demonstrating nativism in US history). In 2019, I curated a Filipino American history celebration at Philadelphia’s Asian Arts Initiative. This performance installation, Patawili, is a reenactment of indigenous celebrations from my island, Panay. This time the ritual was reimagined for modern times. Currently, I am creating a docu-series of Filipinx dancers for the Map Fund supported project, Babaylan Anthologies.
Dance is language.
Dance connects us all. It is the most universal language there is. Embodying these words can be the most powerful of poetry. Dance has allowed me to alter my language into many other languages. It is the gateway to other forms of documenting, making way for me to study my peoples dances and dances of the world.. My work as an ethnochoreologist has allowed me to document cultural practices through dance, written research and film. Through this process, I began to understand our intersectionality as humans.
I speak Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and even the languages of the West but I have not mastered any, as well as I have mastered the language of dance. Being Filipino native, I learned folk dances from various parts of the Archipelago. I learned the mountain dances of the Igorot from the North, the rural dances from the Central Islands, and the communal practices, rituals of the southern Maranoa people from the South.
It was not until I became a mother that I became more than a dancer; I found my voice as a choreographer. Using dance as an impetus for dialogue, I started making dances as a way to communicate with my daughter, raising questions and creating conversations. Wanting to connect her to our lineage despite growing up in America urged me to make works that exhibit lineage and matriarchal societal freedom and empowerment.
A mother teaches her children language, and through that language they can come to understand the world. I know six languages; I speak Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and the colonizer’s languages, English and a bit of Spanish, but I have not mastered any, as well as I have mastered the language of dance. It is my connecting language which I use to communicate with my daughter, my homeland, my community and to my ancestral past.
Dance is a radical shared practice.
My intersecting identities-- a Filipinx, immigrant of color, dance and teaching artist, community mobilizer, choreographer, multidisciplinary artist, and queer mother all inform each other. These identities affect how I navigate my dance teaching and art making. These body histories, identities, and roles have created a transference to how I teach dance and how I move around in the world. I believe that everyone has the ability to be an artist. Everyone has a story to tell. It is my job as a teacher to mentor students on the responsibilities of this art making process, to give importance to journey more than productivity, and to listen to histories mapped within our bodies. Through an ongoing global discourse, my work empowers students in the discovery of their body histories , ancestral voices and cultural influencers, and just like any research, they must properly cite them. As a teacher, my goal is to create emancipatory practice that replaces hegemonic diversity, and affirm the collective humanity of the student-teacher-community and the cultures and groups they represent.