This November, I’ll be presenting a paper at the Asian Conference for Young Scholars of Southeast Asian Studies at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan. The conference theme is “Democratization, Regionalization, and Globalization in Southeast Asia” and I’ll be test-driving some new research I’m currently undertaking on Filipino performing artists and their participation in Asian competitions and festivals.
Like the overseas Filipino musicians I analyzed in my previous research, they’re creative workers who participate in transnational circuits of performance and actively negotiate their “Filipinoness” in the production, promotion, and (re)presentation of their work. Unlike OFMs, they’re not migrants, and are plugged into different genre communities (performing arts rather than entertainment), and pathways of mobility (seasonal festivals and competitions rather than contract-based gigs in leisure venues).
This is my first official post-PhD research project, and I’m frankly thrilled by the opportunity to work on something different at last, after five long years. It’s a new way to think through the intersection of cultural labor and migration/mobility that I began exploring in my thesis. Moreover, it’s a great way for me to unpack some of the dynamics I’ve engaged with outside the academe, as a former chorister in a university-based alumni choir and erstwhile musical collaborator of a contemporary dance company.
Dancing with Precarity: Filipino Performing Artists and the Transnational Mobilities of Arts Festivals and Competitions in Asia
The transnational, short-term mobilities of performing groups in arts festivals and competitions in East Asia reveal the entanglement of local artistic trajectories with regional and global circuits of cultural production. Based on European and North American conventions of artistic excellence, these events function as major platforms for East Asian cities to validate their regional and global stature as hubs of cultural and creative activity. For artists, particularly in developing Southeast Asian countries such as the Philippines, participating in these events not only opens access to wider and more relevant audiences and patrons; it also functions as a major milestone in their long-term professional and creative trajectories in their homelands. Thus, in spite of considerable resources needed to qualify and participate in these events, they regard competitions and festivals as necessary, and necessarily transnational, spaces for the continued and optimal production of art. Moreover, artists in the genre of contemporary dance and music performance must—like the institutions and cities which host these events—nimbly accommodate the tension between an adherence to “world-class” standards of artistry and a novel translation of a desired and idealized distinctiveness ultimately rooted in imaginaries of their local and national cultural identities.
Taking a critical creative/cultural labor perspective, this paper explores the precarious transnational mobilities of festivals and competitions in Asia, with a special focus on Southeast Asian contemporary performing arts groups performing in/to East Asian cities. Qualitative data is drawn from in-depth interviews with the administrative and artistic heads of two Filipino performing arts companies—Aleron, an all-male choir, and Daloy Dance, a contemporary dance collective—who have recently participated or will participate in major competitions and festivals in Japan and Korea. Through a parallel analysis of the discursive and organizational dynamics of transnational performance, this research seeks to foreground the precarious labor of balancing the paradox of localized and globalizing culture.