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We are thrilled to co-present FakeKnot and the world premiere of PIÑA at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts May 4-6. We sat down with Artistic Director Ralph Escamillan to talk about his life of dance, why he started FakeKnot, and PIÑA.
How did you first come to dance and why did you decide to start FakeKnot?
It was fair to say I was surrounded by dancing at a very early age as my family comes from the land of entertainers, the Philippines. My earliest memory of dance was when I was around age 8-9 at a family wedding. I vividly remember dancing with my pinsan (Tagalog for cousin) and there is a photo that my mom has of this night. And it wasn’t until later in my life I found out my mom wanted/ would have been a dancer if she was allowed to pursue it – so I feel that I have continued on my mom’s dance career that she could never pursue.
I started a company because I wanted to craft my own work and found that as much as I love/still love being an interpreter for someone’s work – I equally find the same joy creating my own creations. FakeKnot has become my place to explore, emulsify, and weave the many worlds I belong to – with a focus on creating worlds/spaces where dance can be grown. I now also see my work with FakeKnot as a place to extend what “performance” is for the audience, and how we create a multitude of paths for people to see/understand the nebulous and frankly esoteric world of “art”.
What are the main elements/themes in your choreography to date?
My work is about understanding what this “human experience” thing is – and for me it boils down to history, archive, and knowledge exchange, as the lifeblood of the work I’m interested in making. I think coming from Street Dance and Ballroom, I’m also thinking a lot about the “context” of the work we create, how the audience sees work, how the performance is positioned in space, and what value of the work we have if it’s not connected to a larger anchor of people/community. Clothing/fashion inherently play a key role in this as a way to communicate, like it has done for eons, to connect and describe before we even hear a voice or propose an action.
Tell us about your piece, PIÑA.
PIÑA is my third full-length work, exploring the queen of Philippine textile, piña – a fibre that is extracted from the leaves of the red Spanish pineapple. I was interested in learning about the sheer fabric that makes the barong and terno garments that are synonymous with the Philippine images I was exposed to growing up in Canada. Learning later the extent of the fibre’s connection to the Spanish Galliant trade, as pineapples were brought by the Spanish, it piqued my curiosity even more as a fibre that inherently embodies the colonial histories of the Philippine people.
You spent time in the Philippines with artisans and weavers in preparation for this piece, tell us more about that experience
I spent time with Carlo and Raquel Elisrio of Raquel’s Piña Cloth in Aklan, Kalibo in July 2022. We have been chatting since 2020 on ordering fibre for the show, thanks to the connection of HABI Fair Philippine Textile Union, and was so happy to finally meet them and their weavers. It was a very humbling experience seeing how the fibre was extracted, knotted, warped, woven, embellished, and the community of artisans and really everyday people that are at the heart of it. I was also told that the weaving order was responsible for supporting 3 families for a year during the pandemic, which made me really happy to know that through redirecting art funds that we were able to support these families. The piña weaving community is shifting heavily right now as it solidifies, unionizes and finds ways to protect and regulate the practices, and it was very interesting to see someone as young as Carlo (I believe aged 23 at the time) taking the helm of his family’s tradition into the future with care.
How does your identity as Fiipinx/queer fit into this piece?
I would say at this moment I personally use the “Filipino” moniker, but as a queer person creating work using my Philippine diasporic experience – I think in essence my “queerness” fits into the piece in my approach to space building. In the idea that “queerness” has the capacity to see further than the current constructed narratives in society, I see how I approach my work similar to this. Entering the work with a “fiesta” in the lobby full of karaoke, food, and lights, in contrast to the very minimal black theatre proscenium, offers the audience to feel the contrast of being thrusted in the extremes of space that parallels my experience of queering of space.
What is your next project?
My next work surprisingly will go back to a solo, with paper, that is all I have at the moment…
The Dance Centre presents the Global Dance Connections Series
May 4-6, 2023 | 8pm
SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Info and Tickets
Photos: Rydel Cerezo and Felix Yuen
Presented with SFU Woodwards Cultural Programs
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