Months into this dance research and yet still no sign of a breakthrough. Despite the pool of people we have working within our core group—the resident artist-researchers ourselves who have been patiently dealing with each other—and the myriad guest lecturers whose expertise we’ve had the benefit of learning from (although on occasion one wonders if what we learn from them is necessarily pertinent to what we are after), the most we’ve accomplished is aggregating a meager set ofmovement studies gleaned from admittedly insufficient excursions into a collective—or, more appropriately, a curatorial?—fantasy of what constitutes both “Filipino” and “dance.” Hoping that this aggregate—a kinesthetic patchwork of a monstrous iconography of movements akin to the work of any modernist bricoleur (could it have been anything else but patchwork, given the range of backgrounds of everyone involved)—could reflect the assemblage that is the Filipino, at least an aspect of this assemblage deemed culturally sexy enough for approval by our grant-giving benefactors. Hoping that the core group is even representative enough of the various strains of the Filipino to yield sufficient insight into both movement and the body, allowing us to even arrive at an inkling of this dreamed-of aggregate.

What is difficult is there are no barometers to measure how successful or functional this aggregate is: Who is to saymovement study X is not Filipino enough? How to tell that movement study Y is Filipino but only insofar as it is nativistic, possibly even borderline racist? Who is to say movement study Z could even constitute a movement study, considering that even the most everyday movement is socially choreographed (is walking Filipino? [can walking be carried out in such a way that it is Filipino?] is shrugging Filipino? [can shrugging be carried out in such a way that it is Filipino?] is blinking Filipino? [can blinking be carried out in such a way that it is Filipino?]), why pick this particular gesture be graphed as a movement study when something else could potentially be just as Filipino and just as choreographic?

But perhaps the breakthrough is performative: that is, it is enacted and not encountered, actively constructed and hardly discovered. One of the lessons—or luxuries—of what Ranciere calls the aesthetic regime of the arts. In a milieu where the injunction in artmaking is to make art out of what is not-art, is it possible that this is the breakthrough that we have stumbled upon—the realization that breakthroughs are constructed, that breakthroughs are performed? To make a breakthrough out of what is not. We can keep aggregating all we can, but it is up to us to set a limitation, a duration; like most works in the conceptualist canon, aggregation tends to be serialist, to be modular—it simply ends when a previously decided-upon procedure says so. Like On Kawara counting the days. But till when? Till the end of him counting the days. So when we set a timeline—5 months, for example—we don’t expect to chance upon, like manna from heaven, a breakthrough: instead we construct it, we designate it as such, like Kosuth’s analytical proposition: This is our breakthrough. Perhaps, by the same token, all this research into dance and into the Filipino may never lead us towards any discovery about dance and the Filipino. Instead, we are constructing the Filipino. We are constructing dance. It is contemporary if we say so.

And while  still  more than a number of steps away from breaking through our desired goal of finding a dance system that will reflect the spirit of our time and geopolitical situation, some recollection is definitely in order, most especially as we approach the end of our four-month-journeying of existing (even extant) corporeal landscape and realities. The residency has by far brought us to learn from each other’s body, meanwhile being respectful of the each dancer’s context, tendency and history and the work of those who have come before us. Four months is indeed not enough, especially if we compare the lifetime of work that other choreographers and educators have devoted in developing a system and dance philosophy. Ours is but a miniscule endeavor compared to theirs. Surely, one definitive system that will reflect the Filipino psyche in the time of global interaction, exchange and flow of ideas will not be easy to achieve. The only real step that can be done perhaps is to start, to initiate a bodily space that shall facilitate the convergence of conflicting traditions and history that is imprinted on our dancing and non-dancing bodies.

Yes, it has been decided that an extension is necessary, if only to clarify as well as quantitatively and qualitatively account for the changes each of the participants have undergone. But before we do so, we thought that a catalog of the movement studies and drafts accomplished would be a fitting way to close the first phase of the research. And before we let go of the members of UP Dance Company who have been so conscientiously and patiently working us, we need to make them do one last task, of course.

So what follows is a quick run-down of the seven movement studies developed by our core resident dancers Jed Amihan, Kris Legarda, and Jay Cruz, along with UP Dance Company members Erl Sorilla, Angela Sebastian, Nicole Primero, Chantal Primero, Sarah Samaniego, Al Garcia, Chaya Baris, Gianella Reyes and Marielle Baylocon.

1. Kris Legarda’s chest isolation study.

2. Erl in his and Chantal Primero’s chest and arm isolation study

3. Al Garcia executing Chantal and Erl’s shoulder isolation study.

4. Erl in his’ and chantal’s hip isolation study

5. Angela executing Nicole’s hip and torso isolation study

6. Kris’ executing his,’ Jed and Erl’s combined hip isolation study.

7. Finally, Kris again demonstrating his,’ Jed’s and Nicole’s combined hip isolation study.

To constantly speak about the burden of creating in our time is the burden of our time. To constantly reflect upon both the difficulty and the methods of our performing selves is the performance that is asked of us. To reference our reference to self-referentiality is the requisite for any responsive artistic action. To acknowledge the subject-positions we inhabit, inhibit and straddle between is the subject-position necessary of any artist working in contemporary conditions because we can no longer claim naivety if not for naivety’s sake. And even then, referentiality is inescapable or should we say, should be inescapable.

Let’s assume for now that it is both accurate and not too cynical to claim that “getting lost in the movement” is no longer possible, or no longer allowed, insofar as the convention of dance-making in the contemporary condition is concerned. For what point is there left in doing dance without knowing its provisional predicament, that a dance in art is dance insofar as it is called out as such – a tenure that can at any moment be abandoned, suspended as well as extended indefinitely. And what point is there to train one’s body if not towards achieving a deeper awareness of self and the bureaucracy of one’s self.

Legarda and Cruz on the limits of their bodies

Let’s say for now that none of the obvious propositions above are neither confusing nor redundant but only inexact proposals to come up with maxims that will guide both the uninitiated and those who’ve had their cherries popped. And while it is easy to assume that reflexivity and the responsibility to contextualize one’s actions should by now be commonplace maxim for any contemporary practitioner, every now and then we are reminded that in some parts of the world like here in the islands, the grasp of what working in the aesthetic regime remains as elusive as the next leader to lead this country out of poverty. Such is the condition that we constantly find ourselves in the position of constantly belaboring the notion of self-awareness and accountability of performing dance to dancers in this residency. If only to drive the point of dance’s potential to engage society politically.

Cruz in dialog with students from UP Dance Company, and on doing dance reflexively

As we reach the tail end of our four-month research process, near or far from a breakthrough, let’s say then that an inescapable inventory of maxims is in order. Assuming that this is not too exhausting a task or even potentially, at some level, already insipid on the threshold of the unnecessary pointless to keep on emphasizing to each other the need to: (1) take into consideration the material limits of the body; (2) acknowledge the material condition of the body and relations of producing body and its reproduction in dance and society; (3) investigate the psychology or logic of moving/movement; (4) access our immediate spatial and temporal limitations; (5) activate all our bodily and sensorial connections to the physical space and psychic space of our time; (6) and lastly, reach for the edge, even if the edge is already, was already known, unknown, predictable or unpredictable because no two experiences are ever, ever the same.

Jay Cruz working on hyperisolating his legs from a standing position

Kris Legarda stretching it where it matters most

Jed Amihan, mulling over the task at hand

And yes, we are all choreographed. And no matter how frustrating it is to realize than none of the products of our labor in this process is ever ours – our movement studies, our questions, our answers, our propositions, our agenda, our task-based motivation and inquiry, even our signature – insofar, as they are only results of the frame of this project. What matters is our submission to be in the middle of all the converging thoughts that has anything and nothing to do with dance.

Ramon Major discussing his weekly investigations to Jay and the rest of the team

Whether an accurate indicator of the general lack of healthcare services for many of us Filipinos, or symptomatic of the general predisposition of dancers to withhold pain and postpone any kind of physical rehabilitation that will interfere with work, or suggestive of not-so-anatomically sound approach to working with our bodies, or just a symptom of hypochondria, one thing was for sure. That most of us participants in the residency had some health-related issue that was either connected with the way we worked with our bodies as dancers or just part of having to deal with life in general. Whether the difference mattered much, or which one we had to put aside didn’t seem to matter at the moment. Perhaps it did, we just didn’t notice.

The root of the matter was this: Jay had been planning to organize an anatomy session way back in January. When it had already became clear that a little knowledge of the body’s anatomical organization would come in handy in developing the movement studies based on hyperisolation. With the view, that each of these studies were not only crafted mindfully but also created in consideration of the body’s “natural alignment” or harmonious organization. The session is supposed to acquaint the resident artists with the skeletal and muscular organization of their bodies so that they could approach it or their selves in a manner that was healthy and “safe.”

Yet, before we could proceed, our resource person Dr. Marian Alonzo who specializes in Behavioral Biochemistry decided it was best to digress a little bit in order to accommodate our many–, well, “physical complaints.” And of course as always we didn’t have enough time and so the anatomy session just had to be skipped. Instead Dr. Marian talked about a more holistic approach to physiology, suggesting that this is something we might find useful in our practice. In addressing the issue of hyperisolation for example, she proposed activating the area in the chest, particular channeling energy from the xiphoid process. The xiphoid process or metasternum is a small cartilaginous process of the lower part of the sternum, which usually ossifies or turns into a bone by the age of 15-29 when it fuses to the sternum with a fibrous joint. But unlike most joints this one is unmovable. Ironically, Dr. Marian shares in energetic medicine this vestigal bone that has no other medical function is considered as the seat of movement. She adds that initiating a movement through the vibration of the xiphoid process results to an embodied, full, healthy and safe way of dancing; dancing from inside the body to the outside. Further she says that the arms and hands are “loudspeakers of the body.” It is through constant movement and breath that the solar plexus, or the area of xiphoid process and sternum is continuously energized.

She continues by introducing the “four kinds of bodies” or four ways of looking at the body: (1) the physical body, (2) rhythmic body or the Etheric body, (3) the astral body and the (4) “I” or the ego which encompasses the whole body. And just like a machine, skeletal, and muscular organization of our bodies is very much affected not only by our inborn anatomy but very much so by the way we have been brought up and conditioned.

Jay Cruz working on his leg isolation study

Cruz speaks about “accessing the space” – the space, which is also the surface of the body itself; the internal space inside the dancing body or the vibrating energies and intensities that make the subject; the one immediately surrounding it or the context and history it is inscribed in and simultaneously inscribers; and the one which enframes the very frame by which the body and its experience of space functions. There is of course no infinity, but only an in/exhaustible network of connections, spatial associations and awareness linked not only by physiological pathways such as neural, muscular and even aural connections but also ontological, philosophical and dare say even spiritual connections.

As the residents become keener with their awareness of the immediate and peripheral spaces that they are working in and with they are also beginning to understand that an inside-looking-in approach necessarily corresponds to taking an outside-looking-in position. That is to constantly shift and inhabit subjectivities similar to what Cruz says as a 360-degree perspective on things. Such that having an intimate awareness of one’s body, of the intimate moving and vibrating energies inside the dancing body, is also to have a bigger awareness of one’s place and position in space (or in the world).  Through this perhaps one will arrive at the place where one acquires the capacity to see place oneself in space.

Cruz explains that hyperisolating functions as a transition to acquire a heightened sense of awareness not only of one’s body but the very space in which the body is placed. In extending one’s awareness and/or visual range, one is also able to extend the range of motion through space: shifting planes, shifting directions, crossing space, even shifting the idea of space.

At this point, the task is to develop new movement studies based on the principle of hyperisolating the legs while in a standing position, eventually moving multi-directionally in space with the arms. And while this seemed difficult for the residents at first they soon found out that accessing their individual dance and somatic backgrounds have become useful entry points to develop sketches and drafts. Cruz for example proposes some yoga asanas that may help them with the task such as lotus positions, half-lotus positions and hero’s pose. Discovering in the process the long line connecting his hips all the way down to the heels.

Jed Amihan on his leg isolation study

Meanwhile, the rest learn that developing a new study always entails retrospectively examining one’s previous creative process, continually question it and then perhaps innovate on old ones.

Every dance class is also always a lesson in survival. And while there is no escaping the aesthetic even when withheld and deliberately denied, a dance class is foremost a kinesthetic experience – a somatic practice with practical lessons in balance, posture, alignment, coordination and rhythm. Whether merely overlooked, taken for granted or obfuscated with aesthetic or even propagandist agendas knowing that the body is never really the ‘degree zero’ we want to think it is, it might always be worthy to go back to some naive premises. If only to break habit, if only to see our bodies fresh again. If only to acquire new insights and continue to believe in the new, if not on the very need to believe in the new, if not then on the need to rearrange existing convention and reconfigure them according to the necessity of our new conditions.

It’s no trade secret that contemporary dancers cross-train in martial arts. Not only does it encourage agility, endurance and strength but also a level of flexibility to a different logic in moving — dictated less by formal and aesthetic concerns but rather of a sense of urgency of either defending oneself against the other, or as our Jujitsu resource persons say: “aligning yourself with the enemy.” Or as one Eastern European director-slash-guru of sorts would say, “knowing what the other doesn’t know.” It was an interesting session, seeing the female dancers from UP Dance Company strut their way through the sequences and conditioning exercises in Jujitsu. It was also; well, strange to see pairs of dancers tackling each other with pointed feet, struggling to remain graceful despite the awkwardness of the positions.

Martial Arts is nevertheless also ‘art,’ with an extensive set of codified practices that follow particular cultural or historical traditions. Jujitsu literally means ‘gentle art’ and involves manipulating an opponent’s force either through angle or leverage. It evolved among the samurai class of feudal Japan as a means to defeat an armed or armored opponent without using any weapon or only a short one. “Putting out” an enemy was done through pins, joint locks and throws; techniques that harnessed an attacker’s energy against him rather than directly opposing it. These principles sound very similar to dance and some improvisation techniques that involve weight manipulation and partnering. And while it may seem that the elements of dance such as line, alignment, rhythm are borne out of expressionist concerns they have also evolved as technique, technique that can help one carry out a task with much efficiency and skill. Reason why every dance class is also a lesson in survival; a lesson in using our hands and feet.

Sometimes those hellish indolent Monday afternoons forebode of little precious breakthroughs — bodily memories we access and tap in order to keep what that dash of inspiration has once did for us — ‘activated’ and alive. And while its easy to slip into the habit of going on autopilot just because you found it once, the challenge of working here in the studio each day, despite the tempting option to instead sleep and enjoy a cold glass of tea or beer somewhere else perhaps by the sea, is to renew the faith in lost causes that is renewing the bodily and neuro-muscular connections that should be able to take us away, if not delay our descent into predictable veteran dictums. And most often than not those little breakthroughs come unannounced so it’s best be ready and present at all times lest one misses out of those rare ‘rewards.’ And sometimes too, those little breakthroughs not only come unannounced but also come in the most inconsequential details such as wearing a looser shirt in class, waking up on the other (wrong) side of the bed, a different brew in the morning, curling the toes, even taking off your socks while dancing. Of the former, some of us teachers will say: this is never inconsequential.

Consequential or inconsequential is perhaps not so important anymore. But Kris Legarda has definitely stumbled and accessed “new” bodily information he didn’t think he had. Thanks to little adjustments, and accommodations such as slowing down and dancing bare feet; channeling Isadora Duncan perhaps? I’m guessing not.

While Jay Cruz and the film team were out on the field interviewing Tanja Baumgarter on Eurythmy, we were left in the studio to continue investigations on torso and leg isolation, battling the near-impossibility of working under such imposing heat but also the impulse to abandon the “inspiration of an initial impetus” in the face of an impasse. Legarda who has been struggling with putting together his torso isolation study learned that a mere slowing down of his ‘moves’ revealed muscular articulations, connections, as well as new awareness of his body’s organization. In doing so, he is able to access potentials and possibilities without having to abandon his initial impetus. Now the next step is to expand this newfound kinesphere into space, whether in the studio or onstage. Echoing Tanja, who dropped by the studio briefly after her interview, shares that according to Eurythmy, one should be able to expand the experience of space either from outside of the body to the inside and from the inside to the outside. She also very briefly talked to us about the subtle differences of experience between moving with the material (physical) body and the etheric body; and how important it is to tap into both and not be stuck working with the material body.

Where this will lead Kris and Nicole into their explorations is yet to surface. As expected they have not only been battling ‘creativity’ and tasks but also the tenuous difference and ambiguous distinction between composing a dance or choreography and an “exercise” forced upon them during the course of this research. Surely there is no easy answer to this, and pursuing the topic may lead us to the uneasy singular reductions that not many artists are wont to do.