Fall 2021 In Dance

Panis rejects indigeneity as a classification for her creative practice; at the same time, she refuses to relin- quish indigeneity as a personal or communal identifier, in the attempt to combat homogenization of the Philip- pines’ ethnic and indigenous diversity. In doing so, Panis complicates Strobel’s assertion of “finding oneself,” or a return to an authentic indigeneity, as a means to decolonization. For Panis, “finding oneself” means to locate oneself within many divergent histories and geographies, to understand an “authentic self” as con- stantly negotiated along varying politics and personal narratives. The dance and performance that Kularts curates and choreographs indeed intermingle past and present, the here and over there of the Filipinx dias- pora and of Philippine indigeneity. While Strobel’s study might simplify the process of decolonizing the diasporic self as finding oneself within an authentic indigeneity, Kularts’ and Panis’ overarching strategies complicate Coming Full Circle as a decolonizing guide—in all their projects, they aim to retell history through complex personal narrative and bring together indigenous and diasporic cultural producers to learn from each other. Kularts’ and Panis’ projects never minimize the differ- ences between a diasporic and an indigenous experi- ence, particularly in the context of dance practice, and

always emphasize the need for those of the Filipinx dias- pora to observe indigenous cultural practices, in order to understand our histories and our decolonial futures. At the same time, the work allows for diasporic tradi- tions and aesthetic forms to stand on their own, albeit informed by indigenous practices, while still honoring their own geographic and temporal contexts located within second-generation experiences. SHE WHO CAN SEE, Panis’ first dance film under the New American Dance Theater Series first released in 2018, is based on true accounts of second-generation Filipino Americans who claimed to have the ability to commu- nicate with spirits, a tradition carried over from indige- nous practice after several generations of migration and resettling in the US. The film is told through dance and is meant as a commentary on the ways Western contempo- rary society pathologizes such abilities, despite aboriginal cultures’ reverence toward them as sacred ancestral gifts. In her directorial statement, Panis writes, “On the larger perspective, this piece is a metaphor for our search of the authentic self. I hope to honor and reflect our expe- riences as contemporary people, who are navigating and searching for the right balance between our ancestral ways of knowing and the modern world.” 6

a response to recent debates over what constitutes authentic or orig- inal indigeneity, as Filipinos of the indigenous ethnic majority have come under fire for appro- priating or erasing Katutubo and Lumad indigenous cultural prac- tices. Panis points to how the Phil-

While Kularts’ roots lie in Indigenous Filipino dance and traditions, Panis is aware of the complexities that differentiate a Filipino American migrant/diasporic experience from an indigenous Filipino one.

Further, Kularts’ curated exhibits like PostColonial Sur- vival Kit bring together artists and performers, expos- ing local and global audiences to their work. The orga- nization regularly hosts panel series, which in the online format during the Covid-19 pandemic have become essential to maintaining community and collaborative thinking during quarantine. Kularts’ most recent series, Nursing These Wounds , put artists, poets, scholars, activ- ists, and nurses in dialogue to investigate the colonial underpinnings of Filipinx nurses in the US, to mourn the staggering loss of life that the Covid-19 pandemic has wrought upon Filipino communities nation-wide, and to demonstrate how art and performance allow Filipino nurses to have their humanity recognized. While these women are often relegated to media statistics or foot- notes to a larger field, Kularts has allowed them to share personal narratives in complex, formally experimental ways. WHILE KULARTS’ ROOTS LIE IN Indigenous Filipino dance and traditions, Panis is aware of the complexities that dif- ferentiate a Filipino American migrant/diasporic experi- ence from an indigenous Filipino one. In a conversation about how she classifies her artistic practice, she told me that she does not consider her work to be “Philippine” dance, as that would be disrespectful to regional prac- titioners who undergo rigorous study, practice, and dis- cipline that she as a choreographer and dancer who has lived most of her life in the US has not undergone: “Their work is not my work, and I don’t want to steal that fire because I am an American artist. But at the same time, Philippine dance, particularly indigenous forms, informs my work. It’s really from the diasporic experience that it is anchored on. I have to push the distinction because I think it’s important.” Panis also expressed anxiety about how artists of color in the United States receive an automatic assignation of ethnic or indigenous aesthetic or cultural form, which she views as an affront to the practitioners of Philippine dance. Of the diasporic distinction she makes in her own work, she said, “What I’m trying to do is express my own personhood, meaning I do have deep connections in Philippine culture, but most definitely I’m American.” Further, while Panis does not claim indigenous Philip- pine artistic practice, she does claim indigeneity at the personal level: “You and I cannot claim our indigene- ity. But you can’t take it away from me.” This comes as

ippines’ roughly 200 different ethnolinguistic groups have been homogenized not only by the Western imagination, but also by the Filipino diaspora. She continues: “I am indigenous. My people are not settlers, nor of Spanish or Castillian heritage.” In her claim to indigeneity at the per- sonal level and simultaneous refusal of indigeneity at the level of craft, Panis points to a tension that persists for the Filipino diaspora: we must at once recognize the Philip- pines’ vast diversity of indigenous groups, and remain vig- ilant of how our own claims to that indigenous diversity might commit a type of erasure. Panis’ remarks surprised me. I felt conflicted, particu- larly as I was trying to align my own definitions of post- coloniality at the individual, creative, and academic levels with my attempts to decolonize the structures I inhabit as a scholar, artist, and diasporic subject. Panis destabilizes notions of postcoloniality, decoloniality, and indigene-

ity, challenging theories in Filipinx studies that center authenticity and originality. For example, Leny Mendoza Strobel’s Com- ing Full Circle: The Process of Decoloniza- tion Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans describes the process of decolonization as a Filipino American’s return to indigeneity after a period, perhaps a lifetime, of inter- nalized colonialism. Characterizing this colonial mentality as a state of schizophre- nia, Strobel highlights a common saying among Filipino Americans—that they are “lost within themselves” ( Ang Pilipinong nawawala sa sarili ) as a result of colonial domination, debasement, and erasure of indigenous culture. The call to decolonize suggests finding oneself by undoing the psychological and social effects of Spanish and American colonization, and forging a strong Filipino identity. Strobel defines this process as crossing both time—“a pro- cess that makes the mythical and historical past available to the present”—and geo- graphical space—“to develop the ability to become a border crosser.” 4 She presents an actionable maxim for decolonization that emphasizes its temporal and spatial dimen- sions: “To decolonize is to ask: Where do I go from here?” 5

“ She, Who Can See ,” featuring dancers who appear as spirits dressed in white with face paint.


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FALL 2021 in dance 57




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In Dance | May 2014 | dancersgroup.org

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