“Performance-making is a constant puzzle solving of choreographic questions.” How Joshua Serafin approaches the complexities of dance

In anticipation of this year’s BOUGE B, an innovative dance and music festival held annually in deSingel, we speak to some of the talented dancers and performers showcasing at the event. BOUGE B was originally founded in 2008, and has since developed from a contemporary dance event to fully-fledged dance and music festival and continues to grow and evolve every year. Combining music and dance to explore new means of presenting differing art forms and thus creating a platform for the audience to fully engage with the experience, this year’s Club Edition is sure to palpitate the senses.

In the second installment of this series, we speak to Joshua Serafin, who is currently studying contemporary dance at P.A.R.T.S. Having spent time in Manila, Hong Kong and Brussels, we discuss how the different cities have shaped his artistic language, and how they each play a part in influencing his dance practice. He shares how his alter ego, Void, came about after being inspired by drag performances, how he experiences the performer-slash-artist duality and why he likens choreography to a puzzle.

Can you describe your practice as a dance/performer? How would you define your performances and where do you draw your inspiration from? 

I would like to differentiate my “dance” practice from my “performer” practice: I draw a line between these two, mainly because I believe they function in different systems and share different ideologies while existing in one body. But, of course, they feed off of each other, and one wouldn’t exist without the other. Dance practice is what we consider a general dance training. For me, it’s coming from a classical ballet background, which started in the Philippines, to studying in Hong Kong, and currently studying contemporary dance at P.A.R.T.S.

While my “performer” practice represents my artistic trajectory, working on the notion of “states of being” relates to my capacity to access and articulate a certain memory, idea, sensation, fantasy, desire or experience; and to be able to embody it and let it manifest in my physicality. Exploring to what extent I can transform, embody, and liberate myself with the states I’ve currently accumulated and accessed, and using these as tools to design bodily movement in space and time are important aspects of my practice. I also build archetypal images that would manifest certain representations, while spontaneously making a decision to gather all the apparent elements in a space in performance. I’ve been highly inspired by the hyper-stylised depiction of characters in video games and movies, cultural figures, religious figures and anime. The space between the ideal world and dystopia, human sadness and dysfunctions, heroine characters, social phenomena, pop culture, the underground club scene, drag personas, and all of the accumulated experience that I have. Also, a huge influence is having trained and worked as an actor before I started dancing.

Could you talk to us about your research and production process and your approach to dance/performance as a whole? 

Performance-making is a constant puzzle solving of choreographic questions. Figuring out what makes sense, what doesn’t; where, why and when this chapter should be; making, re-editing, building and destroying a structure and ending up with something that hopefully benefits the main idea that would make sense.

Recently, I’ve been working on designing a future body, facing questions such as, “What is the ideal identity? What makes it ideal?”  The impetus of these questions came from a particular image that’s been lingering in my head. After spending enough time researching the subject matter, which includes gathering inspiration from images, answering the questions given, mapping out ideas, dissecting historical upbringing and understanding my own culture, I will define and design the body that this state would inhabit in, almost like an exorcism. And as part of the process, I will articulate and explore physicality and movement vocabulary, as well as design the scenography, technicals, sounds and atmosphere to create the whole image of the performance.

What would you say were your formative years as a dancer/performer, and who would you credit with being instrumental in the development of your career as a dancer/performer? 

As an art scholar living in Manila, and later moving here to Brussels to study at P.A.R.T.S., I would consider these the most formative years – not just in my practice, but in how I view the world, too. Living in two different cities challenged my perspective towards what art and performance is. It exposed me to different societies, knowledge systems, ideologies, and moral virtues I’m constantly challenging. I was lucky enough to have been mentored strongly by Eisa Jocson, who I was able to live and work with. I also draw inspiration from the works of Arco Renz, Russ Ligtas, Justin Shoulders, Dana Michel, Leeroy New, JK Anicoche, Jerome Bel and many more.

Here is Josh. Josh lets Void inhabit the body of Josh, and Void transforms into different figures. It’s like a three-way persona alter-relation.

Looking at it from the audience’s point of view, what are you hoping to express through your performance and what do you hope the audience takes away from it? 

I hope to challenge how the audience perceives a body in performance and to appreciate the capability of the bodies extremities. I also hope to challenge the effect it can produce towards its viewers. Also, I want to make them reflect on certain aspects in their own personal matters based on what they see. There is often already something, whatever it might be. I also want to subtly give information to them while entertaining them at the same time, whatever the definition of entertainment that is.

Luke Casey (c)

What, exactly, will you be performing during BOUGE B?

I’ll be performing Void’s Lamentation, a short performance consisting of creating different images while transforming from one personae to another.

If I’m not mistaken, you employ an alter-ego called Void during your performances. Can you tell us more about the idea behind this?

Here is Josh. Josh lets Void inhabit the body of Josh, and Void transforms into different figures. It’s like a three-way persona alter-relation. Two years ago when I moved to Brussels, I consciously decided that Void is an existing alter-ego that I needed to make apparent as a being and in my practice. Flashback from five years ago in Hong Kong: having been exposed to drag performance and performing in drag myself, I didn’t fully feel comfortable for Josh to embody a drag persona. There’s always a battle between my Josh thoughts and the idea that I’m inhabiting an identity in my Josh body, as if Josh’s vessel is rejecting the other. My body wasn’t accepting it. If I wanted to continue doing this work and performance – which I do want – I needed to create another self, another platform in me that’s interested and willing to let these inspiration come to life. That’s how Void came to exist.

Like I already mentioned, I find my dance and performer practices to be two very different things. Josh functions in the “contemporary dance world”, where he works in theatres, galleries, museums. Meanwhile, Void exists in an underground setting, like clubs – the post-midnight economy world. Void performing in deSingel is sure to be very interesting, as it’s not its primal environment. I’m very much thrilled.

Music and dance festival BOUGE B will be taking place on 15th and 16th March at Antwerp’s deSingel. The Word Radio will be handling afterparty duties with 2F4F on the Saturday.