These belong together. Small passages. Between cultures.
By Paschal Daantos Berry
It took 21 years of curiosity to return to country. Leaving the Philippines in 1984 as an eleven year old, created a chasm between cultures – one end of it being sanctified in nostalgia and the other immersed in the irreverence of the new culture. So to a certain degree, it’s unsurprising for a migrant in an Australian context to be always wrestling with the cross-cultural. To navigate around languages – both the literal and abstract means of communicating – builds ones sense of curiosity for working out a way into a new environment or into new friendships. I went through art school and acting school, looking for a “universal” language or artistic vocabulary. Trying to figure out what the galleries liked, what kind of acting resonated and later what plays were being produced. And perhaps the older I get the more I despise this notion of universality, as one quickly realises that in performance making, it is specificity and idiosyncrasy that prove much more interesting.
Excerpt from a travel diary. Makati City, Philippines. December 2015.
We have been gathered in a circle at the top floor of Papet Museo watching Ea Torrado’s Daloy Dance stake out their space. Saying hi to everyone as they sit down.
It’s absolutely hot and humid, the heat radiating out of the thick un-rendered cement and we are huddled together sitting on the floor.
I’m thinking. Shin splints. Bone on cement. Cement burn.
And it occurs to me that even my very Aussie subconscious has now yielded to thinking about insurance before the fucking art.
I think I’ve turned into a fear-ridden curator.
IPhone Notes entry. Quezon City, Philippines. May 2015.
In the arts we espouse and preach multiculturalism as a part of our ideals. But without playing the victim, I’ve always found this to be highly untrue. In our sector, we are quick to relegate “cultural works” as belonging to particular corners of our society – established and/or emerging migrant or indigenous communities. Our sector has always been good at marginalising the works of non-Anglo artists. And we find it easier to frame these works in multicultural programming, separate from the mainstream. When I was an emerging artist it was much easier to access these avenues – believing perhaps that this was a way into a much more stable practice. Thank heavens, for the Ethnic Council of NSW and the tireless work of people like Barry Gamba and Bruce Keller; Cheryl Yin-Lo at Downstairs Belvoir; and Lex Marinos at Carnivale. Thank god, for Performance Space.
The minute I realised that I wanted to create works that reflected the diversity of culture and forms of the Australia I knew, I felt liberated by the idea that I was not begging for an audience. That somehow I could find them and that I actually knew who I wanted to speak to.
IPhone Notes entry, entitled “ That Angry Guy”. Sydney, Australia. November 2012.
A. How do we fund the ANINO component? Is there budget for the creation of the lantern? Is there a Karnabal fee?
B. What is in it for the community? How do we contribute to their lives and not just create art out of their lives? Is this about awareness around specific community concerns and issues?
C. How do we resolve the inefficiency of translators? Where do we source a translator that understands how to interpret artistic language? And who pays for this service?
Excerpt from Facebook Messenger discussion around a collaboration between Japanese performance artist Natsuki Ishigami and Anino Shadowplay Collective. Manila, Philippines. December 2015.
It’s been strange developing a work and being convinced it would be text driven. Then having to rethink most of the ideas after going to Laguna and playing with Anino (Shadowplay Collective) at reducing the ideas behind the words, specially the abstraction. It’s at once frightening and invigorating working in this way. But then again I’ve never been that precious about losing gorgeous material. As with (my previous play) The Folding Wife I feel the text will again be more like a schematic. It can easily be erased and worked into a much more physical idea of performance. I can even see it as dance really. The city as fiction, brutal memory or as ephemera is a pretty rich source material.
I went into this wanting to write but I think this text will disappear altogether. Once again conceding to the much more powerful and reductive force of the image. Or the simplicity of a movement vocabulary. And yet again, there’s all this unspoken text piling up in the backburner of unused words!
Maybe I’m done with theatre.
Within and Without development journal. Sydney, Australia. January 2011.
My siblings and I were born Cebuanos. Our parents were Warays. My mother was a Marcos loyalist but changed her mind once in Australia. My father was on the Left side of politics. We were all multilingual. They both believed English to be the language of the future. We were raised on Walt Whitman, Lord Byron, John Keats and Wilfred Owen. My mother loved Nick Joaquin, a Filipino writer who wrote in English and was nostalgic for the Spanish era. She spoke English with a joyous formality. My father painted Byzantine style religious paintings with Latin inscriptions. We grew up hating the Japanese and being jealous of the Chinese.
As a child I was aware of borders. I understood geography. I observed that adults lived in coded realities and that they had elaborate funerals. I was aware of how you behave in front of your parents and how to behave in front of your maids. I was made to believe that I belonged to the educated middle-class. I was told that the Filipino is worth dying for and that it is a worthy death if you fought to have your own language. I was taught that Russia was Totalitarian. The U.S. was a Democracy. And the Philippines was…well, a Republic.
Identity and place has always been constructed around me or placed under my feet. My mother married an Australian – when I was 10 - and we moved to Ceduna, South Australia. I have not seen any of my Filipino relatives since 1984. We Facebook now. My step-father once told us that educating the Aborigines was a fruitless exercise. He was a boxer who adored Muhammad Ali but only when he was still Cassius Clay. My mother was an academic who specialised in Aboriginal Early Childhood Education. The white kids liked us. The black kids always high-fived us. We were more than just “tolerated” in a landscape of sporadic racial inflammations. My brother won Young Citizen of the Year for the region. Mom won the senior version. We were the perfect migrants. As siblings we sang four part harmonies at the senior citizens’ village. In public we spoke English. With mum we spoke Cebuano. Everyone spoke English if Dad was in the room. When Pauline Hanson arrived in our public consciousness, Dad welcomed her.
I loved my step-father.
I write, speak and think in English. My Cebuano is tolerable. My Tagalog is horrific for those who speak it. Spanish is a cloying spectre that I’d love to master. Sometimes I believe that theatre without scripted text is the future and that language really does get in the way of telling the truth. I enjoy dramaturgy for dance. Though dance has become obsessed with being theatre. Strangely enough the older I get the more affinity I feel for my Cebuano ethnicity – it probably has to do with burying ones parents…
In Manila I feel like an impostor. In Cebu I am a child looking for his footsteps. In Ceduna my Filipina mother and my Australian step-father are buried facing the sea, witnessing the sands claim the landscape. I write because it’s like an act of excavation. At university I failed archaeology. My worldly possessions are my white goods, my bed, a few suitcases full of drawings and words.
I own my language.
Co-published in Critical Dialogues, Issue 6, 2016
Excerpt from Border Language first published in Performance Space’s Translab Dialogues publication. Sydney, Australia. May 2010.