“Is there gender in movements? Who makes the decision that this is a male movement, this is a female movement?’” asks dancer and choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino.
Tolentino is the force behind one of Vancouver’s most original dance companies, Co.Erasga, which launches its 14th season this November with Undivided Colours, a collection of dance works that explore, challenge and celebrate gender as defined by both traditional and contemporary Asian culture.
The show will feature acclaimed international performers Peter Chin, Pichet Klunchun, William Lau, Didik Nini Thowok and Alvin Erasga Tolentino. It will be the first time these performers have collaborated, and each brings a unique cultural perspective to the project.
For Tolentino, that means combining his Filipino heritage with the contemporary dance movements that have earned him widespread acclaim. His performance will feature the malong, a multipurpose garment worn by both men and women in the indigenous cultures of the Southern Philippines. It’s that duality that Tolentino wants to share with his piece.
“There’s no context on what’s male or female there — in Asia, that’s just very much part of the tradition — so I wanted to encounter what that is like in the dance and to see the body in that in-between place,” he says.
For William Lau, Undivided Colours represents an opportunity to challenge strict expectations of gender. Lau specializes in the dan — female roles traditionally played by male actors in the Peking Opera. His experiences as an actor have challenged the way he performs gender.
“Through our show, through the expression in theatre, we can inform contemporary society that it’s not that restrictive. There is possibility, there is variety, there is a range,” Lau says.
“Even within one culture, there’s a lot of division; there’s a lot of complexity,” he notes. “Sometimes it’s because of class; sometimes it’s because of social status — there’s many factors that can influence how one’s gender is expressed. Even though we’re all from more southeast Asian cultures, I think it will be fascinating to see the diversity, and to see some similarity.”
The dance performances will be accompanied by a weekend of symposia that feature not only members of the dance community, but scholars and artists with backgrounds in theatre, music and the visual arts. These gatherings will give both the artists and the audience the opportunity to discuss how their work informs the notion of identity and gender, on- and off-stage.