PuSh fest break­ing gen­der bound­aries

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When lo­cal artist Ralph Es­camil­lan takes the stage, it’s in a full-bod­ied se­quined cos­tume, com­plete with a face cov­er­ing--and the am­bi­gu­ity is the point.

Es­camil­lan, who uses the gen­der pro­noun “they,” has chore­ographed HINKYPUNK, a dance per­for­mance that ques­tions gen­der bi­na­ries as part of the PuSh per­form­ing arts fes­ti­val, which is on now through Feb. 4.

By mask­ing their iden­tity, Es­camil­lan says they hope to get the au­di­ence to fo­cus more on the story be­ing told through the per­for­mance, and less on the dancer’s gen­der or skin colour.

“How do we, as an au­di­ence, see dance when there is so much al­ready in­formed by some­one’s gen­der or eth­nic­ity when we see them (and their face) on stage?” Es­camil­lan asks.

PuSh is a mid-win­ter per­form­ing arts fes­ti­val that show­cases a mix of dance, mu­sic, theatre and mul­ti­me­dia per­for­mances. The fes­ti­val is all about break­ing the mould, said Joyce Rosario, di­rec­tor of pro­gram­ming for PuSh.

“I think it’s in those spa­ces of marginal­iza­tion that you find space for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion be­cause you want to break out of those bound­aries that are built around you … that’s what our pro­gram­ming is re­ally all about,” Rosario said. “Try­ing to find spa­ces for things that aren’t in­cluded, find spa­ces for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion.”

Es­camil­lan says their gen­er­a­tion is in­creas­ingly ques­tion­ing the gen­der bi­nary, or the idea that there is only two gen­ders, and the fes­ti­val gives them space to ex­plore. Their per­for­mance in­cor­po­rates el­e­ments from ball­room, vogue (a style in which dancers strike ex­ag­ger­ated, model-like poses) and drag.

“With this whole idea of try­ing to cat­e­go­rize peo­ple ... and find­ing new la­bels to put on oth­ers, the irony of it is that it also sep­a­rates us even more,” they said.

“If we didn’t have this bi­nary, we wouldn’t need these la­bels, we could just be who we are.”

Es­camil­lan will take to the stage on Fri­day, Jan. 26, 9 p.m. at The Fox Cabaret.

Jen­nIfer GAu­thIer/for Metro

ralph es­camil­lan is a Van­cou­ver dancer who is break­ing out of the gen­der bi­nary with their lat­est piece, hInKyPunK, as part of the Push per­form­ing arts fes­ti­val.

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