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Created Equal: Airdance plays with gender roles in Opus Series

Airdance

Opus Series

February 23, 2019

Focus Room, Green Sun

Makati

· Contemporary Dance

Review by Joelle Jacinto.

Airdance’s participation this year at the 2019 Fringe Festival was a mixed bill of works confronting sexuality and gender issues, presented at Green Sun on Chino Roces Ext, Makati on February 23, 2019. Airdance’s current programming has been to produce one artistic show of all new work in the first half of the year, and another in the second half that features previous repertoire. The second show for 2019 featured both new and old work by Christopher Chan, Joshua Bajado, Carlos Deriada Jr., and artistic director Nicole Primero.

Brian Moreno, posing in his The Masculine Drag

Photo by Nicole Primero

Some of these pieces were presented at the Chiang Mai Fringe Festival in Thailand in October, while Primero’s Delight/Delirium was performed in South Korea in December as it was a finalist at the 2019 Seoul Choreography Festival, performed by the choreographer and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr. I was unlucky to have missed this October show, but I did see the Opus Series in February at Green Sun.

Just a quick note on the venue: Green Sun is one of those performance venues that weren’t really built for theatrical performance, but have been reconfigured accordingly. As Airdance is quite used to turning unassuming places into performance spaces, it would have been nice to have Green Sun turn into a regular performance venue to allow the South crowd (South, in reference to Metro Manila) better access to North-based artists. New management seems not too keen on this happening, though, so I’m hoping we can find even more alternative spaces.

Opus Series started with Brian Moreno’s The Masculine Drag. It begins like a photo shoot, with lights flashing sporadically on a darkened stage as the smartly-dressed Brian strikes several masculine poses. He takes off an article of clothing and continues to pose, slowly becoming an unintentional striptease - he is not teasing as he undresses, doing so very matter-of-factly. As he strips down his pants, he reveals that, underneath his menswear, he was wearing a dress. His poses gradually become dance movements, mostly of the genre he calls “Old Way Vogue” (Airdance, Opus Series performance programme, 23 February 2019), and his transformation into this masculine drag is complete.

This work is fascinating to me and, ultimately, the most satisfying of this evening, especially when it was a night where your sexuality is supposed to be confronted. I know that there are other dancers playing around with Vogueing as movement vocabulary in their work, and I have seen some really impressive hip hop Voguers in both freestyle and choreographed settings. I don’t know whether Brian’s technique is actually good but I think it is divine how he performs it, still with the cold, mechanical aloofness as when he was merely posing, but now with an alarming presence.

(After the show, I gushed like a kpop fan to Moreno about how much I like his work and co-audience member Prudenciado sneered at me and said I missed Moreno’s full-length one-queen show just a week prior, and I indeed felt like kicking myself. Note-to-self: follow Moreno on FB as any true kpop fan would.)

Justin Diolazo and Angelique Baccay in Beauty Balaga's 1c5p

The evening was filled with alarming presences, actually, though some not as alarming as others. Most alarming was Angelique Baccay in Beauty Balaga’s 1c5p, where she is sitting provocatively in sheer lingerie, but with white gloves and stockings, walking her fingers up and down herself - arms, body, head. Scattered around her were the Airdance men (Moreno, Ian Nick Tiba, Justin Diolazo, Marvin Peralta and Joshua Bajado), wearing only boxers, who would stand around, convulsing after executing a movement phrase then suddenly rush towards her, surrounding her and rubbing themselves against her body, while she stares at the audience with a frightening deadpan. I realize that this is so signature Beauty Balaga, but somehow also super fresh as it is transferred onto other dancing bodies. The year before, Balaga had spent several months in residency with Airdance, under Prudenciado when he was still their artistic director, and they had developed this work from its original iteration.

Clockwise from top (faces only): Brian Moreno, Joshua Bajado and Marvin Peralta

in Beauty Balaga's 1c5p

Still, I cannot help but imagine Teatro Ambahanon, Balaga’s home company in General Santos, performing this, especially as TA is notorious, errr, known for having hypermasculine dancers. As the Airdance version had some softer dancers, I feel that it was still effective in that it didn’t matter what a man looked like, they can still be threatening in whatever shape or form, especially when they are half naked and rubbing themselves against you. That Baccay looked like a softer, less intimidating girl than Balaga does makes the whole picture more compelling. You really do expect her to fall victim to these men eventually, and actually dread the ending. But as she strips off a glove and stocking by herself, and giggles as the boys finally, menacingly, rush to her before the last blackout, you then question yourself, wait, who exactly is the victim this time?

Balaga likes to play around with gender roles in her work, as does her TA colleague Jodel Cimagala, making me realize that one need not be feminist, or a woman, to make politically-acceptable (if not exactly entirely correct) statements. Some may find 1c5p unnerving, maybe even offensive, but I like how it makes you think about empowerment from a different perspective.

Joshua Bajado as the Most Beautiful Treasurer on the Face of the Earth

Other perspectives of empowerment are seen in the works of Fechie Babaran and Joshua Bajado, who both offered two works, each with totally different themes, although both did present solos they danced themselves that seem quite autobiographical. Bajado reprised his Ang Pinakamagandang Treasurer sa Balat ng Lupa (The Most Beautiful Treasurer on the Face of the Earth), which is always a crowd pleaser, and always makes us cry. But surprisingly, more touching was his new work, CUREiosity, a solo that he made for himself about self-discovery, but transferred onto the body of Justin Diolaza, one of the aforementioned softer bodies from 1c5p. Diolaza has a beautiful quality of movement that makes this solo even more poignant. You can actually believe that this is his own self-discovery and his pleasure in it, his acceptance of it, was quite beautiful on its own. He was mesmerising to watch and I felt a bit sad when he was done.

Fechie Babaran in her Pekeng Bakla

Babaran’s autobiographical work was Pekeng Bakla (Fake Fag), which has her posing and strutting in heels and a red dress on a catwalk, like an extension of Moreno’s photo shoot. Throughout, she did look very gay, and the point was No, I’m actually a woman. I felt the juxtaposition of Pekeng Bakla and The Masculine Drag was brilliant, with one trying to repress femininity and the other appearing gay while trying to express it. I believe Airdance can do a full-evening show expanding on these two pieces and I already want to book my tickets.

Her second work features Tiba and Jenica Taveres, Airdance’s two technical virtuosos, in Switch/No Change, which explores the idea of everything a man can do, a woman can do better. Throughout the entire work, these two dance up a storm, propelling themselves through vigorous movement combinations with astounding acrobatic tricks. And true enough, Tiba does these very well, but Tavares does not back down and does them right beside him with the same tireless energy. As the dance comes to its end, I realize it is not a statement about whether girls are better than boys, but rather, they are equal.

Ian Nick Tiba and Jenica Tavares in Fechie Babaran's Switch/No Change

All photos by Nicole Primero

It was a fitting end to a show with so much to ask about gender roles, that no matter how complex sexuality and gender is, it could also be this simple. And yet, nothing is so simple as we can see from the efforts that Airdance had shown that night. Not simple, no. Perhaps even exceptional.

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