Belated Reflection: "Pieces of Her" After CORD/SDHS Conference 2013

This made it official ... we were in the Conference.

It's taken me a while to write about the Congress on Research in Dance Conference 2013. I wish I could say that I got swallowed by a magical whale, taken to a strange land far away island in the middle of the Pacific, and then left to die with a stack of Haruki Murakami books and coconuts -- later to be rescued by a Greenpeace ship only to have me work the deck for a boat-ride back to California. ---- But a las, I have no such excuse. The truth is I am just simply swamped with work: both in creatively and administratively. And I am eternally grateful for this busy work, and I am still learning about time management. I suspect this may be a lesson for life.

Here I go...

It's November 16th, and Natalie Marsh and I are walking around the conference like a couple of baby chicks fresh out of an egg. Everything was rich, everything was provocative, everyone was fascinating. We even got to see a couple of UC Berkeley PhD candidate students present (Naomi Bragin and Heather Rastovac).

The events of these two days still linger in my mind. There were discussions about technology, questions behind identity in the world of education and how that plays a part in the learning experience, the appreciation and integration of different arts outside of the established ballet. There was a talk about queer tango dances in Argentina. And on top of all the lectures and research being shared, there were free performances in the lobby for people to enjoy between presentations.

We rubbed elbows with dance critics, dance scholars, educators, and people from all over the world. People sharing work and exchanging valuable ideas about the future of dance, dance education, and art. Curiously, I noticed a theme of video projection in almost all the performances.

A series of free performances in the lobby. 

Me talking in front of intimidating dance scholars.

Me dancing in front of intimidating dance scholars.

My Reflection on the Performance
November 18, 2013

This past weekend I was at UC Riverside for a conference with the Congress on Research in Dance. I presented a solo for a dance I have been developing since April of this year, called Pieces of Her. The dance was to honor and bring to light my grandmother Luisa. I wanted to represent her on stage and express through Multimedia Art the various ways that a person's identity can be observed.

WHO ARE YOU? I asked myself this question earlier in the year because I felt as though the distance from my family in Perú and the sound of my voice was changing. My accent (which I fought to get rid of at the age of 12) is gone. So where do I live? I go to Perú, and I'm not fully Peruvian. In fact my family tells me not to speak in certain situations for the taxi man might charge more hearing my American accent. In the states, I can get by but let's face it there's nothing "traditionally" American about me. At some point in a conversation everybody seems to get curious about who the heck you are, who you represent, or who your people are? And sometimes people just straight off make assumptions without even asking. I've been called Philippina, Mexicana, Iranian, Indian, and when I curled my long hair years ago even Brazilian. Go figure! The confusion comes when I am around a certain group of friends. It happens! Our identities get challenged, questioned, and even sometimes replaced before we can even say -- Wait a minute!

This question then evolved into a desire to understand my history and culture. Fearing I could lose my Peruvianness (crazy right?) I went two generations back and focussed on my Mami (a term of endearment I call my grandmother, Luisa). She still lives in Perú, and she's battling skin cancer. 

Mami inspires me to do research on my identity when it comes to being Peruvian, understanding home, owning the relationship I have with my body, and being a woman. I have written down memories, anecdotes,  conversations, and this December I will be interviewing her in person. Mami makes me question who I am, and who I might have been had I not come to the States at the tender age of five. Unlike my grandmother and thanks to food hormones, I tower over my aunties in Perú, and I'm pretty loud compared to a lot of the women in my family. This makes me more "American." BUT----like my grandmother, I can be shy and be a worry wart. So you get the picture, this is what I do. Compare and contrast as well as write things down to move with them and see what happens to my body in the process.

What happened at the conference? 

Well I presented a solo with revisited choreography and some new themes. I re-edited the video I had cut together for The Garage performance September 4th and 5th. I did a powerpoint presentation and talked about the use of Multimedia Art and why I feel okay with multiple elements participating with each other on stage. I was asked about "layers of self" - and I talked about how it feels as though the video, the sound, the mask, the live performance (all present on stage) are layers of who I am split into multiple pieces. The experience feels like how it feels to be in my head, I explained. There is too much to discuss when someone wants to know who you are, especially when you are a brown girl. I finish with, I am okay with competing elements on stage, for now. 

But before talking to the audience and the power point presentation I gave a small performance. I danced a new solo segment. After rotating motions that help me center into my body as I wear the mask I go to the floor and mop. I mop the way my grandmother does everyday in Perú. Doing this act allows me to go into a new magical place inside of myself. I discovered this part of myself when I was showing my IMS Mentor, Peggy Hackney, the new solo performance on Thursday--two days before the conference. I could feel my body reveal something I had not felt alone in my living room. The room I was performing in was in fact the room where I had rehearsed in March, and maybe this allowed for my body to forget that in fact I was performing. This magical place inside of me means I forget that I am performing. My body reveals a moment my grandmother has felt before. As I raise my arm to protect my head from an invisible fist I feel a heavy presence pushing down on me, my legs know how to move, where to go, how to shift, my arm instinctively goes above my frontal bone (forehead), and I look upward at that heavy presence that looms as I mop the floor. I try to distract my thoughts from what's about to happen: I think about dinner, finishing the mopping, turning down the radio, changing the diaper -- anything to have an out of body experience as I tense up my muscles. My cells have done this act before, the act of protecting myself. I forget I am performing and relive a state of fear. These shapes I do with my body is something I have never had to do in my life here in the States. I have never had to protect myself from any mans fist, except in Karate class and even then my instructor was cautious. What I discovered was that somewhere in this research, through exploring my family's history, and my grandmothers journey---I have found a body memory in me. Now, abuse in my family is not something that I am proud of discussing out loud, but it was a reality for a lot of women in Perú. My grandfather was once a hot-headed man. And most of the people in our neighborhood back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and unfortunately even today have physically abused their wives. My grandfather would never do it now. He has, thankfully, evolved to speaking his mind. Still,  once he lived his life with regret and rage. The woman re-incarnated in me knows that his internal pain was expressed externally upon the one who loved him most, Mami Luisa. She would never leave him. She was fifteen. She was a mother.

In creating Pieces of Her I asked a lot about WHO I AM. What I did not expect, was that in the process my body would find itself revisiting a connected chain to WHO SHE WAS. There is a link between our blood, and our gender. Something that is inherent in ancestry, maybe, but definitely something that will help me claim the power behind survival and truth behind the traumas that the body can hold onto. We are not defined by the scars we carry, but by the invisible tissue of strength and love that binds us close together. The older I get, the more I realize how lucky I am to have women in my life who have sacrificed so much of themselves to see me get to where I am. To make sure I did not have to grow up in a violent environment. 

Look now, Mami, here is your arm and oh my how I can push back. Look here, Mami, this is your mouth and oh my how I can speak loud. See this, Mami, my legs…and fear not, for I know the power I posses. I can kick, I can embrace, I can stand because of you. I am here. Little by little, in this dance, I can find out who I am because of you.

Mirame ahora Mami, aqui esta tu brazo y mira como puedo empujar. Mira ahora Mami, aquí esta tu boca y escucha mi voz como puedo gritar. Vez esto, Mami, mis piernas…y no te preocupes, reconozco el poder que ellas tienen. Puedo patear, puedo abrazar, y puedo pararme por ti - yo estoy aquí. Poco a poco, en este baile, puedo encontrar quien soy gracias a ti. 

Pieces of Her, Spring 2013 Showing
Natalie Marsh, Rosa Navarrete and Daniella Aboody
Photo by Ariel Aboody