Ralph Escamillan dances with memories of youthful joy for new work

As part of NEXT: New Dance in Development, he will be joined by performers Simran Sachar, Rina Pellerin, Marisa Christogeorge, and Daria Mikhaylyuk

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      To create for the present, dancer and choreographer Ralph Escamillan needed to revisit his past.

      “I’ve been looking into my history to find what is new,” the Vancouver artist says.

      Escamillan spoke with the Straight by phone before a two-week residency at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

      He and four other choreographers have been granted access to the resources and technical expertise at the state-of-the-art facility, as well as a chance to livestream their works in progress.

      This was made possible through a project called NEXT: New Dance in Development.

      Around the time Escamillan heard about his residency, he was travelling and also working with emerging choreographers with the Toronto Dance Theatre. This was a bit of a departure for the artist known for his previous solo work called “HINKYPUNK”.

      “I’ve been working with larger units already, so that became a kind of catalyst to want to continue this exploration of what it means to work with more than one person in the space,” he said about what he is bringing into NEXT.

      Escamillan recalled that as a younger performer, he grew up with companies that had a lot of people on-stage.

      “But it was also a reason why I kind of steered away from it when I was starting to make my own work, to find what my vocabulary is and what my interests are,” he said.

      As a teen, Escamillan trained in street and commercial dance genres, which he is now tapping for his new creation in development.

      “My idea for the work that I want to create is a research on unison, meaning dancing at the same time to the same beat, a hyperprecision, which is something that comes from my earlier days,” he said.

      Escamillan specifically recalled dancing for Fresh Groove Productions and Kill The Lights Co., two Vancouver companies known for hip-hop, freestyling, breakdancing, and other related forms.

      “It’s such a big part of my history and my training and my technique as I was growing up before I found contemporary dance,” he said.

      There’s also something else other than dance that Escamillan finds in going back.

      “When I think of moments of joy, I think of youthfulness. I think of those times when I was younger,” he said.

      Back then, he did things like travel to Los Angeles to visit family as well as take classes with the best commercial dancers in the city.

      “I feel that commercial dance and also street-dance style continue to push innovation in the sense of finding newness, which is what contemporaneity is all about,” Escamillan said.

      David Cooper

      For the NEXT project, Escamillan said, he will be joined by performers Simran Sachar, Rina Pellerin, Marisa Christogeorge, and Daria Mikhaylyuk.

      He and Mikhaylyuk have a duet in “whip”—a production by Escamillan’s company, FakeKnot—which premiered this fall in Montreal.

      In “whip”, Escamillan said, there is a moment when he and Mikhaylyuk dance in unison while they are completely blinded by leather hoods.

      “We’re able to do it through sheer practice and rehearsal and understanding the music,” Escamillan said.

      It’s that skill of mastering the pattern of music without seeing other performers that he also wants to explore with the NEXT project.

      “In a way, they don’t necessarily need to see if they know the music and the counts and everything,” Escamillan said. “It becomes like memory, more so than a reactiveness.”

      Escamillan is also working with lighting designer Jonathan Kim and costume stylist Robyn Jill Laxamana.

      DanceHouse and 149 Arts Society collaborated on the NEXT project, with support from the National Arts Centre.

      The four other choreographers chosen for the November 29 to December 13 residency are All Bodies Dance Project artists romham pádraig gallacher and Lance Lim, Shion Skye Carter, and Zahra Shahab.

      The participating artists will livestream their works in progress on December 15, starting at 4 p.m.

      NEXT is also supported by Canadian Heritage, through the federal agency’s COVID-19 support measure; the Canada Arts Presentation Fund program; and the Support for Workers in Live Arts and Music Sector Fund.

      As Escamillan readied for his residency, he told the Straight that one of the things he hopes to find early on during the process is “togetherness”.

      “I’m always thinking about relationships: not just between people but how I am around objects and space and music,” he said.

      DanceHouse and 149 Arts Society, with support from the National Arts Centre, will present NEXT: New Dance in Development as a free livestream at 4 p.m. on December 15 livestream. For details, visit dancehouse.ca. Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter @carlitopablo.