“(Hi)story is moving”
by Moyra Silva
This essay intends to translate an empirical body of material, retrieved from dance and theater experiences, which reveal other ways of accessing and understanding memory. If our bodies storage unknown knowledge, when and how this could awake to allow us to discover what has been taught, but has been hidden. Through a personal narrative, this essay looks to give value to sense and body practices to recover and reconstruct identity. I write about myself research not looking for a voyeuristic desire regarding, I look for trigger others own subjectivity through mine. How through an individual experience, these body memories create connections and could be part of others?
The first time I realized this occurred 10 years ago, when I was performing a fan dance in a theater play. This experience became a trigger to find ways to preserve the traces and pieces of my maternal family, which has Chinese and Italian past. I wonder if it was possible for me to inherence a nostalgia from land, that I never knew? As anthropologist Zoila Mendoza writes, in post-colonial countries such as those in Africa and Latin America, dance is and was a means “through which people contested, domesticated and reworked signs of domination in their society” (39). (…) It also functions as a repository, a dynamic archive which holds and tells the collective narrative of cultural time and space”.1 In a country as Peru, where citizens are the result of the process of migration and miscegenation between Natives, Asian, African and Europeans, identity is an ongoing construction it is important to accept that we have many ways to tell our (hi) story. I use this word to combine between history (academic) and story (individual), in which dance, music, grandma stories, anecdotes and food play an important role. In contraposition to this, for many years we learned a male dominant form of History, academic, white and aristocratic men gaze avoid native, indigenous and female perspective. Nowadays visual art productions, as the documentary film “The Revolution and the Land” (2019)2 about the Agrarian Reform in Peru or Karen Bernedo’s curatorial work (Itinerant Museum of Art for Memory, 2012 or Emancipadas y Emancipadoras 3, 2019), revealed the need to retell our history through recollecting stories by introducing unknown or omitted characters. It is possible to think that this trend, it is only the beginning to continue developing this gaze in other art disciplines? Could I add my work as part of this trend?
In Lima, the capital city of Perú, most of the population is a result of migration from the other provinces, this caused unrooted familiar constructions, shaped with secrets and incomplete stories. As born and raised Limeña, who grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories, imagination became a way to construct my identity. My maternal grandma whom I call Oma4 has been medium that connects me with the past, her father came from China and died when she was 6 years old, his leftover are two photographs and some imported products from his grocery store in Cañete providence.
At the age of 26 years old, during rehearsals for a theater play, I performed a fan dance meanwhile a Chinese song was playing. At the beginning I was surprised and I couldn’t understand why I felt a special deep pleasant joy. It was like I always knew how to do it but I had never been taught. It was an anagnorisis, through performance my body remembered, at that moment my Oma’s oral storytelling and my corporal memory combined in my present moment and became real. As Micaela Callaghan explains the corporeal memory goes beyond our mind’s quotidian understanding “images of the past are remembered by way of ritual performances that are ‘stored’ in a bodily memory” (89). “5 An embodied dance and theater experience revealed me a way of accessing and understanding my memory. I also connected this experience with Anne Bogart’s story in her book “Director prepares”, she related a student’s experience in a Grotowski workshop, at the beginning of the exercises she couldn’t connect with her roots, “the other participants would access familiar patterns and codes from their respective indigenous backgrounds (…) After a great deal of frustration and fatigue, and much to her relief, at last, she touched upon her Jewish roots and from that source, she unearthed familiar codes of sound and movement deeply rooted in the Jewish culture. Her body Remembered”. Furthermore, in 2017, Ana Mendietas’s artwork inspired me to direct the performance “Caer es una forma”, the initial research question was who represents mother earth for me. Through one-year process, I realized that the answer was my Oma. This search continues in “Nave” (2019), an experimental theater play to explore an absence feeling of traditions and rituals in my family. I started a six months workshop working with my Oma, the initial question this time was what would be left of her in me when she will die? In the process, I explored different ways to communicate without using words because she is losing her hearing sense. I sought to maintain communication through physical contact (hands and hugs), imitating ourselves (mirror exercise) and dancing without music. I filmed her as she was talking to me, all these records became my documentation and material, I created a visual and sound file. After that I realize something, I move my hands when I talk like her. As a result of this, I started to create “TaichIris”6, a personal daily practice, I based on her hand’s movements when she spoke, within a structure of a Tai chi sequence as a device to combine our Chinese past. The non-verbal communication experience created a hidden heritage language, which could transmit to future continuity. In that sense, I developed a practice based on my body as storage of unknown knowledge with the intention to materialize my ancestor’s heritage in my body and create a sequence, which I could remember and share. This became part of the theater play and the public dance with me. I could create a contemporary ritual after many years trying to understand how to do it.
In conclusion, our body remembers and tells us (hi)story, through embodiment and ritual experiences we can construct a shareable individual and collective memory. First, I think is important to value these experiences as part of identity construction, the hidden (hi)stories in our body, which it has been accumulated without known. Second, it is important to accept the unknown as part of the process, I felt lost for a long period of time, it has been a ten years process, but my desire to configure myself was stronger. In my case, I seek to link the pieces through my artistic practice, for which the embodiment practice incarnate has been a cornerstone, therefore was not only an aesthetic gaze, it activated the imagination and intuition. Finally, fragment moments are reused and remixed into a new narrative and expression devices, which I think will transform and disrupt linear conceptions of time or how history is told to us. This personal study proposal is not finished, I keep working for a History, which included dance and storytelling. For me, the question about how individuals could reconnect heritage transmission cuts by materialized invisible heritage or reconstruct ritual practice, and then preserved and give continuity, it is still ongoing research. Through the incorporation of personal memories via oral histories and archival materials, embodiment practices contaminate others, bodies become an expressive device. The process starts from a subjectivity which will be transformed into plural subjectivities.
1 Callaghan, Micaela (M/C Journal, Vol 15, No 4 (2012) “Dancing Embodied Memory: The Choreography of Place in the Peruvian Andes. Retrieved from http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/rt/printerFriendly/530/0
2 Benavente, Gonzalo (2019) “The Revolution and the Land”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=argC1LULJRQ
3 Bernedo, Karen (2019) “Emancipadas y Emancipadoras”. Retrieved from http://ccelima.org/evento/emancipadas-y- emancipadoras/
4 German expression for Grandma, which is one of the few traces I adopted as I was 2 years old girl living for one year in Germany.
5 Callaghan, Micaela (2012) “Dancing Embodied Memory: The Choreography of Place in the Peruvian Andes. M/C Journal, Vol 15, No 4. Retrieved from http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/rt/printerFriendly/530/0 6 Silva, Moyra (2019) Recorded documentation for “Nave” https://vimeo.com/309939842
Bogart, Anne (2001) “A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre”. London: Routledge.
Callaghan, Micaela (2012) “Dancing Embodied Memory: The Choreography of Place in the Peruvian Andes. M/C Journal, Vol 15, No 4. Retrieved from http://journal.media- culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/rt/printerFriendly/530/0
Cool, Guy & Gielen, Pascal (eds.) (2014) “The Ethics of Art. Ecological Turns in the Performing Arts”.
Lo Iacono, Valeria (2019) “Dance as Living Cultural Heritage: A Transcultural Ethnochoreological Analysis of Egyptian Raqs Sharqi.”
Silva, Moyra (2019) “TaichIris” a recorded documentation during “Nave” process. https://vimeo.com/309939842. Lima.