First attempt at a five-minute movement postpartum

This performance is divided into two parts -- the first 10 minutes shall be devoted to roughly contextualizing the conditions by which this piece is being created; the second part, the last 5 minutes, constitutes the task specified in the title of this work -- "First attempt at a five minute movement postpartum."

At the risk of being redundant and autobiographic, let me start by saying that this is my first live performance since having a baby five months ago. Add to that another nine months of being pregnant -- sixteen weeks of which was spent negotiating motion sickness, a condition commonly attributed to traveling or being in moving vehicles but also a response to the threat of anticipated movement, in my case the anticipated movement of another body potential of movement inside my own; eight weeks of seeing my body change each day and feeling helpless not knowing what I am able to do and if taking a proper "leave" was in order, something I wasn't sure was possible as I have become one of those people who've despite several attempts to keep living and working separate, even tenuously can never seem to do so; twelve weeks chasing unpaid projects while scrounging for paid work from teaching, coaching and writing in dance to working as an assistant director for tv commercials, transcribing research interviews, and becoming a research assistant for a heritage project; and the last two weeks spent in anxious anticipation, finding a new doctor supportive of my decision to have vaginal delivery after ceasarian, battling unexplainable emotional outbursts and what Mother-speak often refer to as "nesting period."

So all in all that totals to 14 months of dance hiatus or work hiatus, a provisional term I’ve appropriated to refer to this period in which I haven’t been actively involved in making art/work but preoccupied with coping with the practical demands of life in general. Provisional insofar as defining something outside art which we comfortably interchange with the word ‘work’ has become more and more difficult to do, when even menial domestic tasks such as washing clothes, cooking, or cleaning the floor are also considered work. Provisional insofar as we free time, pleasure and amusement are only but, what Adorno calls, ‘the prolongation of work,’ -- activities subsumed under work. Don’t we relax, rest and take a break in order to do work again? Provisional insofar as work is defined as the amount of energy transferred by force acting through a distance in the direction of the force. Provisional insofar as alienation and defamiliarization from work is necessary to maintain the illusion that life is not all about work and no fun without play. Provisional insofar as play is also work. Provisional insofar as work is interchanged with play. But provisional more so as the choreographic is becoming less about the mere organization of movement and bodies onstage than the organization of the actual conditions constituting a performance happening on and off the stage, what Jacques Ranciere calls the distribution of the sensible. Taking into considerations those complexities, allow me for now to simply settle on that term dance hiatus.

It was during this period of stillness that I had much opportunity to reflect on my direction as a choreographer. In the past I used to do a lot of dancey stuff but some few years ago I proceeded on to doing work that called attention to the institutional frames that ontologically comprise a dance-work not realizing that that the first institutional frame of them all is the body. So, in this work, five months postpartum, I return to the body, to my body – a body possibly traumatized by the experience of birth and anomalous in the sense that this trauma is only vaguely manifested. In the Philippines 5,000 mothers die annually from complications associated with delivery; most of these deaths occur due to unsafe delivery practices in hospitals and other birth facilities. But for a country with a population growth rate of almost 2% every year this “loss” is unfortunately taken for granted what with the problem overpopulation plaguing the country for the last 30 years. A postpartum body is ordinarily undifferentiated from the rest.

"First attempt at a five minute movement postpartum" is a self-introduction -- an immediate reference not only to my current bodily reality but also an articulation of my negotiation between a discursive conceptual dance practice and a more ‘gestural bodily’ dance practice. Two practices that I feel have been somewhat unreasonably pitted against each other, if not here, then in the context of making dance in the Philippines. That is to say, that my work as a choreographer coming from the Philippines may not be considered as representative of what and how Philippine contemporary dance is being defined, done and written. Which is perhaps not really important for me to articulate but nevertheless necessary if only to tease out the dynamics of international cultural exchanges that unavoidably feed on the premise of “unity in diversity” a situation in which our countries (whether place of origin or place where one has decided to work in or consider as home) are ordinarily appended to our names.

So now let me proceed on describing the task at hand.

I will for the next five minutes learn from a monitor that's visibile to me in real time the movements from a dance sequence performed by a Filipino dance group called Lucky Twins on a famous television talent search entitled “Pilipinas Got Talent” or “The Philippine Has Got Talent” a Philippine franchise of the American show “America’s Got Talent.” The Lucky Twins are performing a 2-minute dance piece that they’ve come to call “contemporary dance.” Let me at this point share that there is now a growing trend of contemporary dance presentations in Philippine popular media with dancers are presenting pieces that appropriate the “look” of contemporary dance. Often these works are very emotive conveying narratives of love foregone, tragedy of a parent’s death, or undying pronouncements of romantic love. Often these works are derivative of either the style of local contemporary dance companies or reminiscent of “So you think you can dance” pieces seen on cable television or youtube. And more often than not these dances are conveniently tagged contemporary for their narratives and instrumentalization of "self-expression" and less for its investigation of the social relations that make up dance which what intrinsically makes any dance work contemporary.

Now, I will begin the second part of this performance, starting with setting my timer to 5 minutes. When the timer stops that is a signal that this performance has already ended.

Community dance hall dance

[props: a wide-open space approximately 60-100 square meters, live band + singer, sound system, at least a 100 people, at least a 100 chairs placed as perimeter of the dancing space]

1. A well-dressed host goes on stage, approaches the mic. S/he welcomes the public, calls the band onstage and properly opens the dance by inviting everyone present to dance.

2. The live band shall play popular dance hits for a duration of 90 minutes, everyone present is free to dance at any time. They may choose to do so by themselves, or with a partner or in groups of three of five.

3. Participants/public may request the band to play a particular song by approaching the host who will be stationed by the sound console. The song will be played at the minimal charge of 100 pesos and if the song is within the band's existing repertoire.

4. Participants/public who would like to take a break or simply hang around and watch, may do so by sitting at the sides.

5. After 90 minutes, the host approaches the stage and announces that the dance is over.

6. Participants/public exit the space.

-- end --