“6 x 9” touches me because I know that Alleluia Panis started thinking about this story back in 2013. I know that the piece is informed by personal experience. Our cultural values oblige us to respect the privacy of our parents and other family members. This work honorably upholds that respect while it also brings taboo subjects into the light for our community to be able to see ourselves as we are, in all our complex facets.
Wilfred Galila’s video treatment draws the audience into an immersive dance theatre experience. Furthermore, he says, “the video is a representation of the minds of the inmates with whom the audience can have a vicarious relationship.” In this piece, Galila’s work delves deeper into the tension of 6 x 9’s subject matter, examining the inner workings of one who is confined against his will. To this process, he says, “the greatest challenge of being human is having a mind, a state that is both a blessing and a curse, determined and informed by the way one thinks and sees the world outside oneself as to whether one is ultimately free from the chains of society and ideology that binds.” One way he represents the inmates’ minds is through memories they are able to hang on to in order to survive. Thus, the video images provide rich back story about the characters. That said, Galila’s images masterfully compliment without distracting from the choreography happening on stage.
Composer Rachel Lastimosa’s (Dirty Boots) elemental, hip music corrals the audience with the inmates. Of her process in composing the entire musical score for 6 x 9 she says, “Collaborating in the creative process with Alleluia Panis and Wilfred Galila really solidified the music as being a cornerstone in the production. It allowed me to understand the characters, their motivations and arcs, so I could provide a soundtrack to their stories in a way that honored their memories and experiences.” Lastimosa’s music is brilliant in that, beyond her indie-soul/R & B connection, she draws from a wealth of knowledge and influences from jazz, hip hop, folk music, 20th century composition, electronic music and natural environments. “Modernity versus nature is a theme that the entire piece takes on, as it is set in the future. Tapping into pre-colonial Philippine history where animism molded ideas of creation, honoring their environment and understanding or connection to being, was a guiding force towards the latter in ‘Incarcerated 6 x 9’ compositions.” Moreover, Lastimosa’s sound treatments do more than punctuate the dancers’ choreography (and vice versa); they intentionally infuse into this intense subject matter, the haunting tension I alluded to earlier. “I created white noise and applied it to sections where distress, claustrophobia and the inability to escape (physically and mentally) were prominent in the characters’ narrative,” adds Lastimosa.
The intimate Bindlestiff studio lends itself well in allowing the audience to breathe in the amazing technical work of each of the ten performers: Jonathan Mercado (Ronoldo “Boying” Batongbakal), Ladislao “June” Arellano (Jesus “Hes” Gatpala), Johnny Nguyen (Ramon “Mon” De Los Santo), Earl Alfred Paus (Elizalde Quison), Cristino Lagahid (Paolo Gotanco) , Jose Abad (Nilo Cruz Smits), Alexandria Diaz De Fato (Lily), Isa Musni (Nikki), Frances Sedayao (Mrs. Gatpak), Noelle Campos (Scientist). Take time to savor each of these dancers whose bodies fluently speak the language that, if it had a name, would be called Deliberate.
There is an All-ness to Jonathon Mercado’s presence as (Boying); he internalizes the witnessed experience of incarcerated family members with close involvement. This is equally evident in the performances of the other leading dancers, Ladislao “June” Arellano (Hes) who says, “It’s very emotional. It’s something that I haven’t done in terms of dances that I’ve been through, so we dance through the perspective of storytelling and what is reality.” Johnny Nguyen (Ramon De Los Santo) adds, “these are stories that aren’t really told a lot; sometimes they’re lost in the narrative of the United States.”
From the choreographer’s point of view, Panis’ loves the process of “movement exploration and experimentation leading to the creation of particular movement vocabulary that will drive the narrative. In addition, she builds choreography based on the particularities of the dancer performing his/her/their character.
Alexandria Diaz De Fato (Nikki) describes her presence in 6 x 9 as “an archetypal feminine kind of guide.” She is first generation born in the U.S. but grew up training in traditional folk dance along with classical dance. She is grateful to Panis because through performing in her productions, has “worked through mixed feelings—the duality of being both American and Filipina—identifying with a sense of pride and a sense of shame, in both directions.” The work for me is a therapy and process of finding myself, of discovering ways that I can identify with what I know: to claim and embrace the treasures that I share.”
Alexandria’s sharing gives witness to and confirmed for me Panis’ gift of recognizing and being able to guide artists to connect to their own deep personal experiences in order to inspire what they express in their contribution whether it be dance, choreography, writing, film, or music.
Incarcerated 6 x 9 will get into you.
A third-generation Filipina-American, Lisa Suguitan Melnick is a professor in the Language Arts and Kinesiology divisions at the College of San Mateo, California. She is a correspondent for PositivelyFilipino.com. and the author of #30 Collantes Street (Carayan Press, 2015)
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