Knowing Bodies with Tin Gamboa

By Grace Jenkins

Photo Credits: MariaClara Project

Tin Gamboa was the featured artist at the 144th Artist-in-Residence Salon, which was held at VACS founder Keiko Honda’s house on April sixth. I had the pleasure of attending this night of creativity and conversation. Tin is a contemporary dancer who was born and raised on the ancestral land of the Austronesian people, in an area commonly known as Manila in the Philippines. She is currently based in the traditional land of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations that is now known as Vancouver.

At the salon, after a potluck dinner and some socializing, the salon attendees gathered around Tin, who sat in the middle of Keiko’s living room, wrapped in a colorful malong, which is a part of traditional Filipino clothing. She began by speaking about dance, why she does it, and what it means to her. Tin first got into dance when she was six years old and her parents put her into lessons. She feels like dancing connects her to her ancestors. She spoke about how she believes that the body knows things that language alone cannot express, and about how these things can be communicated through dancing. After she finished speaking, she showed the audience three films of dances she created.

            The first video that she showed us was titled Gestures and was filmed in Vancouver and Zambia It featured many close up shots of hands moving, dancing, and shifting positions. One hand reached up to the sky, playing with the light of the sun. Some of the hands were playing in sand, with the footage occasionally reversing so the sand twisted and moved like it was alive. Interspersed with the hands was footage of people dancing – a group of people in a church in Zambia, and someone tap-dancing on a board in the middle of a city. Tin explained that the hand movements were recreated from the positions she saw people’s hands were in as they were leaving church when she was visiting Zambia. Tin is very interested in hands and feet. She feels like her connections to her ancestors are in her hands and feet.

            Next, she showed the group a video titled In the Dirt that she put together with her boyfriend, Forest, for a contest, In the video, Tin slowly rises from a mound of soil in the middle of the forest. She slowly stretches up towards the sky, and then sinks back down just as slowly, the footage reversing to make it seem like the soil was covering her like a blanket. Tin explained that the video was about craving a connection to the earth.

            Tin described how she and Forest created the film. They actually found the dirt that that was covering Tin for free on Craigslist. They had a bit of trouble figuring out how to best execute the rising-from-the-earth concept. At first, they tried covering her in the soil while she was leaning back, which Tin described as a very “jarring” experience, as it was covering her face so she couldn’t breathe properly. The way they ended up doing it in the final video was by having her face down, with her arms around her face to create a pocket of air. Doing it this way was a much more “comforting” experience. When Forest and Tin went to film the actual video, they were under a severe time constraint, as they had to finish filming before the sun went down. They ended up only having time to film two takes. Tin ended up liking the first take the best, so that became the final version. The ethereal music that plays in the background was played and composed by Forest on the violin.

            The third video that was shown was a trailer for an upcoming (at the time of the salon) event that she was a part of, called Maria Clara. According to the project’s website, “Maria Clara has become a byword in Filipino culture for the traditional, feminine ideal.” This project was focused on working with  Filipino women to reflect on the question of “who is the Filipino woman”, and to create movement that expresses their celebration of being Filipina. The video features several female Filipina dancers in colorful clothing, sitting in the grass, surrounded by trees, dancing with their hands and arms. Tin explained that, to create this dance, she had each of the participants imagine that they were hugging the quintessential “Filipina woman,” and to write a letter to her on her back. “This project will use the medium of film to explore and highlight the strength in these soft qualities, challenge our critical minds, foster conscious social behaviours to celebrate the traditional and contemporary Filipino woman.”

            After the videos were shown, Tin had everyone present participate in an activity. First, notecards were passed around. Tin asked everyone to write down their name, where they were born, and the original name of that place if they knew it. Then she had us write down a piece of land in that area that we felt a connection to, and a body of water we felt a connection to. Everyone shared what they had written with a partner, then a few people shared what they had written with the larger group. As they spoke, Tin wrote down specific words that were used that stood out to her. These were used in the second part of the activity.

            Tin showed us the list of words she had chosen and asked each of us to pick two of them to translate into movement. Tin chose a third word that everyone would use, which was “open heart.” She gave us about ten minutes to figure out our movements.  After everyone had, we all performed them. Everyone’s movements were unique, ranging from the very literal to the extremely abstract. A particularly memorable movement was someone miming tearing open their chest in order to literally open their heart. Next, Tin had us team up once again and asked each pair to combine their dance moves. Then she had everyone perform their new dance. While the individual dances were very nice and creative, there was something more dynamic about the partnered dances. Tin then picked a few volunteers, and interspersed the groups with each other, to create a composition of different dances.

            Later this summer, Tin will be going on a journey to the Philippines. This journey, which she is calling “Gestural Lineage”, received partial funding from the Canada Council. “It is in delving into my own ancestry and healing within myself that I can truly understand that we are all affected by colonization,” Tin said about the purpose of her journey. “Through the accessible lens of contemporary dance. I hope to respectfully explore, learn, reflect, express, and to empathize with people of all cultures and backgrounds who are curious about ancestral healing and cultural resurgence.” Throughout her journey, she will be sharing the informational and emotional details of her search for her roots and ancestry. She hopes to observe daily gestures in Filipino culture, experience how the environment contributes to that culture, understand the Indigenous Filipino relationship to the land, water, and sky, and to understand relationships within their community. If you would like to donate to this project, you can find a link here.

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