An interview with Alvin Erasga Tolentino about ‘Shifting Geography’

From Feb 18 – 22, The Cultch is happy to present the world premiere of Shifting Geography, a new international dance creation choreographed by Alvin Erasga Tolentino (Co.ERASGA ,Vancouver) and Rafaële Giovanola (COCOONDANCE, Bonn, Germany). Using Vancouver and Bonn as inspiration, Shifting Geography  explores the body as a geographical metaphor with which to inquire about one’s origin and pathway.

In preparation for the world premiere we’ve caught up with Alvin Erasga Tolentino, Co.ERASGA’s founder and co-choreographer for Shifting Geography, to get some insight about his collaboration with COCOON DANCE and his company’s residency at The Cultch.

Q) Could you tell us how your passion for dance started?
It all started in my native land of the Philippines
when I was introduced to cultural dances in elementary school. Since then my dance journey has taken on a path beyond my imagination.

Q) We know you studied ballet in Winnipeg for two years, what made you change to modern dance?
Well in fact, I was already trained in modern dance before I entered the ballet world, but coming to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet was one of the best pieces of training I’ve had giving me a solid foundation in dance technique and it also allowed me to choose which dance form I wanted to fully dedicate myself to.

Q) Shifting Geography is a co-creation with German dance company COCOONDANCE. Could you tell us how this collaboration first came together?
My relationship with Rafaële Giovanola, Artistic Director of COCOONDANCE began through an introduction by Martin Inthamoussu – a former dance member of COCOONDANCE. Martin and I met in 2005 after meeting at a dance festival in Venezuela. We also collaborated on a piece of work for Co.ERASGA in 2011 that was featured at a festival in Bonn, Germany hosted by COCOONDANCE. Needless to say, meeting Rafaële then provided the inspiration and initiative to create Shifting Geography.

Q) What was it like working with Rafaële Giovanola on this project?
Challenging, as we both have our own aesthetics, ideas, and vision. However, we are also very generous to one another. The creative process has reminded me of the importance of working without ego. It’s integral for collaborators to meet creative challenges by building trust with fellow dancers and doing our best to create the best work possible.

Q) You and your company had a residency at The Cultch, this past July, could you describe for us this experience and how this helped develop your upcoming show?
I was thrilled to return to the historic performance space at The Cultch since I have performed in the space so many times during my years of dancing for other companies since the early 90s. The residency this past summer provided my company and the creative team of Shifting Geography a chance to have a performance space that facilitated the direction and imagination of the work that we were developing. We opened several creative processes as well to the public during the residency providing insights into the creative process and conversation with the artists.

Q) What can audience members expect from this production?
Bringing together onstage six fabulous dancers with native roots from Spain, Taiwan, Canada, Germany, Uruguay, and Romania. The debut of Spanish composer Pablo Palacio. To present dance as a sense of search where the body describes the shifts of state and feelings. Dancers observe this transformation in and out of the body in between performance mode and in the act of being presence. The body becomes the geography of states.

Q) What does it mean to you to be an active member of the Philippines community and a dancer with this heritage?
Filipinos are now the third largest minority group in the country, I am happy to represent contemporary dance to the widest community and to share my work and embrace the multi-racial that makes up diversity in Canada. I honor being Filipino to know my roots, culture, and history but I exist and practice as an artist to provide creativity for all.

Shifting Geography by Co.ERASGA and COCOONDANCE runs at The Cultch from Feb 18-22 at the Historic Theatre. Tickets are from $18 and can be purchased online at: tickets.thecultch.com, or by calling the box office at 604.251.1363.

Shifting Origins: Let’s Dance! Let’s Talk!

Alvin Erasga Tolentino (Artistic Director of Co.ERASGA)

For the next two-and-a-half weeks, members of Co.ERASGA and COCOONDANCE will be conducting a residency at The Cultch’s Historic Theatre to workshop their upcoming presentation of Shifting Geography. This transcontinental dance piece will have its world premiere on February 18, 2014 and is one of the most unique shows of our 13/14 season.

Rehearsal shot from ‘Shifting Geography’

Shifting Geography is the product of a collaboration between Vancouver-based choreographer Alvin Erasga Tolentino and Bonn (Germany)-based choreographer Rafaele Giovanola. Alvin is the founder and artistic director of Co.ERASGA, a contemporary dance company in Vancouver. Similarly, Rafaele is the artistic director of COCOONDANCE Company in Bonn, Germany where it all started. Alvin took up a two week residency at COCOONDANCE studio, where he and Rafaela began work on Shifting Geography. The dancers in the performance come from a wide range of backgrounds. Shifting Geography is as diverse and dynamic as the dancers whose collective roots span over four continents.

A shot of Alvin Erasga Tolentino in 'COLONIAL'

The Cultch was lucky enough to have an in-depth discussion about the creative process of choreographing for Shifting Geography with none other than Alvin Erasga Tolentino himself.

In your blog, you mention a “shift” from doing solo work to group work, what kind of changes took place emotionally and physically as you transitioned from dancing alone to dancing with others?

In my blog, I talked about coming from one-and-a- half years of dealing with solo work and performing in the last creation for Co.ERASGA, then transitioning to a new work for an ensemble for the 2013-14 season of the company. This shift of being the creator while working with six dancers in front of me is a shift in working relations towards dance…within the essence of dynamic presence, from much more solitude to  being with a group of dancers. I will not dance in the work but mainly co-create a full-length work. My role really in this piece is choreography and being the artistic director.

Emotionally, I am an observer of what goes on in the process and in dealing with the characters of the dancers to journey in the work with some intent.

Physically, I make choices that I feel will benefit and challenge my choreographic approaches and methods as well the performative capacity for each dancer and their experiential investments to the work.

What was the collaborative process in choreographing this dance and how did you incorporate both of your experiences in the piece?

The collaborative process involves Rafaele and I coming up with the material. We are also the ones who make decisions about the final product. The six diverse dancers who we work with provide the blood life to the dance within their physical means and presences.

If you had to describe Shifting Geography in one word, what would it be?

Presence.

The inspiration for Shifting Geography seems to be rooted in the transformations that take place when one encounters new places and cultures. How do your experiences from dancing abroad inform the dance and the heart of the dance?

Well, it starts with the fact that the work is a trans-continental project between Canada and Germany, Vancouver and Bonn. Two international dance companies taking risks to co-create and share resources and dancers. I think that we are looking at a very global perspective and economic sharing method and bringing an array of dancers that are also rooted to other parts of the world.

As travelling artists, we often encounter shift of changes within the environment. So the question that is posed becomes: how does the body react, adapt and function to these immediate changes in order to live the present experience, to function and re-configure within any given cultural space? Is the body with the mind or the other way around? I think this is the premise of our research; how these shifts affect our body, the way we think, and our emotions.

What component of the piece are you hoping to develop the most during your residency here at The Cultch?

We’re hoping to observe the environmental space and allow the creative work to response to it through physical expression. To locate our previously gathered materials from Bonn and see how they develop while here in Vancouver. This time, we also get to look at the performance space, giving us the chance as choreographers and dancers (also working with the lighting designer) to assess how the work and movements can breathe in the performance arena.

This show will be a hit with those who are “well-versed,” so to speak, with dance (especially contemporary dance). Do you think this performance can be accessed and understood by the general public? By those who do not dance, or who have only done a little bit of dance?

Absolutely. I think the capacity of dance speaks a lot, mainly because we work with a recognizable medium: the body. The body speaks across experiences including the mundane, abstract or narrative.  Our hope is to reach artistic depth that can garner communication or simply allow the audience to be able to relate emotionally so that experiences can be shared. Both universal and deeply personal experiences.

What can the public expect from co.ERASGA’s “Let’s Talk” sessions?

A chance to speak to the artists in depth, casually, and informally. To learn about their origins and their discovery of dance, how the practice has taken them to the present and their connection to dance continuing as a part of their life.

Single tickets will be available for Shifting Geography on August 6, 2013 and subscriptions are on sale now. Join us for a series of FREE artist chats, hosted by Co.ERASGA, on July 31, August 7 & 14: 4:30- 6 pm and get 50% off tickets to Shifting Geography!