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Five Minutes With...

Ralph Escamillan

Dance artist and choreographer Ralph Escamillan is sharing excerpts of his new work in development whip, in an online DanceLab showing December 14-21. We sat down (virtually!) with him to ask about his company FakeKnot, the work, and his collaborators.

Tell us about your dance career to date.

My dance career now spans almost 10 years of professional dancing which includes 3 years of choreographing. Starting with street dance and expanding to a plethora of other dance forms, my experiences in a variety of different rooms has led me to see a blatant lack of people like me (POC, QUEER, Street Dancer) in predominantly white/colonial spaces. My goals now are to create more spaces to foster artists like myself, and to speak about stories that can connect to people like myself, so that I am not speaking by myself anymore.

How would you describe FakeKnot?

FakeKnot for me is an umbrella, under which I can utilize more fully my experiences through the work I create.

With the multitude of histories I carry, I find myself collaborating across many mediums and disciplines; I try to take a holistic approach to making. I think of the work I make as an echo of the past, taking note of other historical dance forms where content and meaning came through costume, set, sound and dance, and all played part and parcel to the creation process.

What inspired your new work, whip?

whip originally started as a costume collaboration with Lincoln Heller, for his new collection using bison leather. I proposed the idea of using the leather as an extension of the body, pulling inspiration from Vogue and Kabuki – Lion Dance, and the virtuosity of the circular head whips in these forms. As we continued to expand the costumes into a fuller concept, I leaned into the inability to see – which until now has informed the content and collaboration of the work.

Both dancers [Escamillan and Daria Mikhaylyuk] perform wearing hoods. How have you adapted to performing when you can’t see? 

Because we can’t see when we’re wearing the hoods, we have relied on sound to help guide us in space. I was really interested in types of sonar found in nature, and replicated this with a grid-like 4 speaker (quad) sound system that is used through the work. So we will be able to “see” through the sound.

Describe the roles of your key collaborators.

I perform the piece with Daria Mikhaylyuk. Our short but dense years of friendship have culminated into creating this work. Daria has been such an important human in my life during these times, and I truly cherish her rigor and tenacity to join me in this process. The leather hoods are by Five Left Leather – Lincoln Heller. I’ve known Lincoln since 2011 and continue a collaborative relationship together since then. This will be our third collaboration of sorts. Costumes are by Robyn J Laxamana. This is my first time working with Robyn, and we will be working again on my new all Philippine Diasporic work Piña. This will also be my first work with sound artist Stefan Nazeravich – and I am excited to have such a passionate composer for this piece.

New media and lighting is by Chimerik 似不像 Collective – artists Andie Lloyd (lead), Sammy Chien and Jonathan Kim. This will be my second work collaborating with Chimerik – and I appreciate them for their ability to let me dream and challenge how new media can be met with the body. Su-Feh Lee and Josh Martin are both dramaturges. Being an “emerging” artist still, I believe it is important having outside eyes during the creation process – especially as someone who is not only choreographing/directing but is also performing in the work.

If you didn’t have a career in dance, what might you be doing? 

I think I would be in design or another field of arts… before dance I trained as a chef, and was gonna pursue culinary arts.

What might people be surprised to know about you?

I don’t know how to tap dance… yet.

How have you adapted your practice during the pandemic?

My whole career has been about adapting, so I feel I’ve been quite prepared for this pandemic. Having a history of street dance, I honestly was not discouraged by the loss of spaces to dance – I think you can dance anywhere, and the pandemic has allowed me to see the places dance already lives.

What is your next project?

I’m currently in the pre-research process of a new work delving into my Philippine ancestry through the country’s most prized textile – Piña. This trio will consist of myself, Raul Lorenzo Raquitico Jr. / Buboy (Philippines), Danah Rosales (Toronto) and assisted by Tin Gomba. The project will also feature a fully Philippine diasporic design/technical team.  This research has let me deep dive into my ancestry and history, talking with a multitude of weavers, historians, dancers/choreographers, designers and textile conservationists. I hope to premiere this work in 2023.

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DanceLab Online Studio Showing
FakeKnot: whip
Monday December 14, 2020 | 5pm PST – Monday December 21, 2020 | 5pm PST
Free, registration required

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Supported through The Dance Centre’s DanceLab interdisciplinary research program.

Photos: Marchel B Eang and Ben Owens Photography