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Vancouver Filipinx dancer Ralph Escamillan honoured with RBC Emerging Artist Award

Ralph Escamillan by Felix Yuen
In addition to being a dancer and choreographer, Ralph Escamillan is also a teacher. Photo by Felix Yuen.

FakeKnot artistic director Ralph Escamillan has enjoyed a spectacular month. In early May, the queer Filipinx choreographer and dancer earned rave reviews for his latest interdisciplinary work, PIÑA. He performed the world premiere at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts at SFU Woodward’s.

“Structurally, Escamillan remained faithful to the elements of Philippine folk dance with an enthusiastic entrada, a sense of ease with the patay (slow interlude), and an antithetical saludo (salute) to finish,” Filipina dance sociologist Clarissa Cecilia “Issa” Mijares wrote in Pancouver. “Escamillan brings his own cheekiness into the dance by meshing together Filipino folk, contemporary dance, and ballroom with performative devices such as lipsyncing to a K!mmortal original.”

Escamillan, who’s also a teacher, followed that up by capturing the inaugural RBC Emerging Artist Award. A committee of artistic leaders selected Escamillan out of 13 candidates. Furthermore, the artist was recognized at the 2023 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards gala celebration on Saturday (May 27) in Ottawa’s Southam Hall.

“Success in the arts is heavily influenced by the wealth, resources, and cultural capital an individual has access to, and receiving this award uplifts the hard work of artists who don’t have that same access,” Escamillan said in a statement.

Photo by Rydel Cerezo
FakeKnot’s PIÑA had its world premiere at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts. Photo by Rydel Cerezo.

Escamillan carefully designs costumes

As a teenager, Escamillan trained in breakdancing. And to this day, FakeKnot remains grounded in street dance, as well as commercial and contemporary techniques. According to its website, all of these style honour Escamillan’s queer, POC identity.

More than two years ago, Escamillan spoke about the origins of PIÑA with Pancouver contributor Carlito Pablo. At the time, Pablo was working at the Georgia Straight.

Back then, Pablo reported that piña (pronounced pee-nyah) is the finest and rarest textile from the Philippines. In addition, he noted that it’s made with fibres from pineapple leaves. Moreover, it’s often reserved for the most formal traditional attire.

“When I design a costume, I’m thinking about how the dancer will interpret it, how it will look with the light, how it will sound against the music,” Escamillan told Pablo.

Photo by Rydel Cerezo.

According to Pablo, a small number of people in Aklan province produce piña. Aklan is on the northwestern section of Panay Island in the Western Visayas.

Seven months later, Escamillan was among five choreographers selected for a two-week residency at the Fei and Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at the Goldcorp Centre. And this weekend, Escamillan was feted on a national stage.

“We are honoured that as Presenting Sponsor, RBC has incorporated this important award into the GGPAA,” National Arts Centre Foundation CEO Jayne Watson said. “It gives us more to celebrate!”

Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia. For more information on Ralph Escamillan, visit the FakeKnot website.

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Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

Pancouver editor Charlie Smith has worked as a Vancouver journalist in print, radio, and television for more than three decades.

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We would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territories of the Coast Salish peoples of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. With this acknowledgement, we thank the Indigenous peoples who still live on and care for this land.