Fall 2021 In Dance

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED KULARTS, the premier presenter of contemporary and tribal Filip- inx arts in the United States, during a home- coming in the summer of 2019. I’d been liv- ing in Los Angeles where I was working as an adjunct professor, teaching courses in Asian American literature and media. At that early stage in my academic career, I’d already begun to feel jaded about the fields of Asian Amer- ican and Filipinx studies—as a second-generation Fili- pino American, I struggled with the ways postcoloniality and decolonization had become trendy vernacular, easily thrown around and lauded, but much less easily enacted. For those of us in the Filipinx diaspora who wish to dis- mantle structures of neocolonialism, globalization, capital- ism, and racism, decolonization at individual and commu- nity levels is a necessary procedure. But, jargon and theory aside, where do we begin? I grew up in Daly City, just a 15-minute BART ride from Kularts’ homebase in the SoMa neighborhood, which was once a hub for Filipino working-class migrants and activ- ists, and is now perhaps more readily associated with high- rise lofts and tech startups. As a creative writing student invested in POC literary and arts communities, I had been involved with different projects led by Kearny Street Work- shop, a frequent collaborator of Kularts. In fact, it was poet and Kearny Street director, Jason Bayani, who had led me to the exhibit entitled PostColonial Survival Kit , curated by Kularts at the Luggage Store Gallery (also SoMa-based). Kularts’ press release stated that the exhibit “addresses the ways Pilipinxs have coped, survived, and adapted to the diasporic life that includes the challenges of racism, margin- alization, and the ways that colonization has affected the interpersonal, the familial, and intra-communal relation- ships.” 1 Bayani, whose poetry collection, Locus , had been published earlier that year, joined a lineup of other Filipinx poets, musicians, and dancers for an event entitled “Hip Hop as Survival Kit,” which was part of a series staged over the course of the exhibit’s run. Hoping to hear some of Bayani’s new poems and purchase his book, I arrived at the gallery early and walked through the collection of art- works, including video installations, sculptures, and paint- ings by artists from the US, Australia, and the Philippines. I was immediately taken by the work of Caroline Gar- cia, a Filipino Australian artist based in New York. Her piece, Queen of the Carabao , is composed of two videos projected side by side against adjacent walls of the gallery. Each projection shows Garcia mounted atop a carabao (a species of water buffalo native to the Philippines) at differ- ent angles, switching between passive aerial views of the back of her head and direct, face-to-face confrontation in the wide. She is clad in a traditional baro at saya top and high-waisted jeans, her long, black hair gracing her exposed neck and shoulders, her bare feet dangling on either side of

“ Man@ng Is Deity ” 2021 restaging: a re-imagination of SF’s dance halls/ nightclubs on Kearny Street/Manilatown.

the carabao’s ribs. She rides the beast in slow motion through her father’s ancestral lands in Pam- panga (the same province from which my parents hail). Volcanoes and gray skies in the distant land- scape frame her homecoming, past rows of corn stalks, dried husks gently swaying. She holds a rope in her palm that passes through the animal’s snout and toward the camera’s lens. Garcia describes the piece as a confrontation with “homecoming and cultural memo- ry.” 2 As beholder and object of the artist’s gaze, witness and some- how also participant to her mythic homecoming, I felt the pull of kin- ship and a ruthless untethering, as if I as audience were engaged in a slow, painful, interconnected dance with the work. The figure I saw was like me and unlike me, our separate bloodlines intersect- ing in the same ancestral land of our fathers. While our diasporic trajectories had flung us to oppo- site plots of the world, her work became integral to my research and questions around decolonial- ity and postcoloniality. When I began working with Alleluia Panis as an intern in the summer of 2021 (thanks again to

Bayani who had kindly put me in contact with her), I quickly learned that with every event or performance it facilitates, every artist or group it spotlights, and every film, dance, or visual art project it helms, Kularts is always creating opportunities for individuals of the Filipino diaspora to find each other, and in doing so, find agency and power through our shared histories. Founded in 1985 by Panis and two other artists as a dance and music performance ensemble formerly known as Kulintang Arts Ensemble, in honor of the traditional musical style, Kularts has evolved over the years to become a community-oriented organization whose work in arts programming and curation has facilitated Filip- inx diasporic communities across geographic and gener- ational divides to come together to produce art, convene, and dialogue. Panis’ ever-evolving vision for the future of creative work produced within and for the Filipinx diaspora has included curating art by local, regional, and international artists, bringing indigenous Filipino art- ists to the Bay Area to showcase their work and educate

US-born artists, and hosting a tribal tour to the Mindanao region to fur- ther expose diasporic Filipino artists to the work and tutelage of indig- enous practitioners. By fostering these collaborations and conversa- tions, Kularts has been a key player in steering and defining Filipinx

For those of us in the Filipinx diaspora who wish to dismantle structures of neocolonialism, globalization, captitalism, and racism, delcolonizations at individual and community levels is a necessary procedure.

Is Deity , which was first staged in 2019, centers around the character Valentino Pablo, one of the manong gen- eration of Filipino men who first arrived in the US as farmworkers after the US occupation of the Philippines. While the manongs provided essential cheap labor to the US, they were time and again denied both citizenship and humanity. By staging historically-based narratives inspired by real-life accounts from Filipinos living in San Francisco from the 1920s through 1960s, and using both contemporary and indigenous dance forms, Kularts edu- cates younger generations of Filipino Americans about the struggles and victories of their migrant predecessors.

diasporic art, intellectual, and cultural production. In a press release for PostColonial Survival Kit , Wilfred Galila, Kularts’ media director and featured artist, writes, “Our power lies in our various ways of being, and our embrace of our hybridity. By reconciling the postcolonial with our indigenous selves, we go beyond mere survival and towards a healing process and the manifestation of our utmost potential that lies dormant within all of us.” 3 KULARTS PUTS FILIPINX diasporic creative and intellectual producers in conversation largely through its live dance performances and film projects. For example, Man@ng


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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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