Imagining SISTER VOICES // Noelle Marie
When I was presented with the task of creating a closing piece for A Stage of Our Own’s WHERE WE STAND Culminating performance, I already knew, deeply, that I wanted to explore the feminine divine as much of my life had recently geared toward sister relationships as part of my grieving process in wake of my family’s recent collapse. I recognized that I might have been asked to take the closing slot because I was the lone “contemporary street” artist of the group. By taking that position, I had the opportunity to bridge the deep ancestral and indigenous work created and performed by our brethren artists with a piece that was representative of our modern day experiences and realities. Street Dance was to become the vehicle in which we merged the contemporary and the indigenous , a way in which to merge the duality of our identities.
I was very excited for this opportunity simply because I had already long begun the journey of experimenting with my street movement, something that I will claim as native and indigenous being that much of the movement I work with was birthed and created in Los Angeles. The type of experimentation that I have now been moving toward for years was the task of imbuing deeper, more cultural meaning into my movement. To become as fully intentional in my expression as I could be, especially given that prior to this, my movement had been utilized for little more beyond baseline expression and battle-based competition. I was, in a way, actively choosing not to say anything specific with my expression, at least not in the way that my writing was, given that my work is incredibly pointed and deeply focused upon decolonizing language and enacting social justice through the inclusivity of stories and voices often silenced historically but also continuously within our present day.
This is all to say that this opportunity came at the perfect time when my creative energies were really sifting through my many identities, aligning and realigning my relationship to both my street dance and cultural explorative lens. At this point in time, I was more than just interested in exploring intersections, I was quickly becoming fully dedicated to it— this work of remembering, reframing, and naming cultural and identity-based excavation.
This piece, now known as SISTER VOICES, was, in its original form, a simulation of the heart of the jungle coming to life. To be honest, this first lens was based and envisioned purely off of the drum and gong work in the recording Trees That Speak by Suzie Ibarra. In my mind, I likened this vision to that of forest diwatas, otherworldly, knowing, and unbound by the chains of colonialism or, even, conventional society for that matter. I firmly believe that SISTER VOICES would have remained an exploration of this image if it weren’t for one thing and one thing only— the karagatan, or the ocean.
For gunita’s first cast meeting, I had the girls meet me at the beach so that we could host an opening of space, a way for us to ground and familiarize ourselves with one another as I had curated a specific group of artists that had not yet worked, let alone met, with one another. I wanted to utilize the gathering to intention set for our three month span in which we would be building, moving, supporting, and creating with one another. The gathering consisted of dialogue, writing, and movement— and goodness, I didn’t expect the strangeness that was to overcome us.
I had each of the girls showcase their individual movement by dancing to nothing more than the sound of the waves, a task that I did not realize would come to completely derail and change the vision of what I was doing. Their expressions there on the beach, so full intentional and breathtakingly beautiful, ended up shifting my vision so much so that the entirety of it left the heart of the jungle and recentered and dedicated itself to being an exploration of mother ocean herself and, later, Magwayen, Visayan goddess of the sea. Likened to Kali, Magwayen is known for her dual nature of nurturing, loving mother and that of angry, wrathful warrior (like the sea, she is known to both provide and destroy). She is most famously known for two aspects of her many stories: one being her battle against the fearsome Bakunawa who contested her right to rule the sea, and the second being her journey to Saad, or, within the western construct, the underworld, following in wake of her daughter’s death.
To revisit my earlier statement of my family’s collapse, Magwayen’s tale came at a deeply appropriate time, I become fully immersed in her origin, fascinated by this intense display of love and the lengths to which she went to defend and protect. This then led to her myth being the vehicle in which we solidified and came to see our thematic focuses; namely, the divine feminine, sisterhood, the act of mothering, and intentional womb protection and healing.
Our piece is separated by three parts to stay in line with the sacred strength of the three-point triangle. The first segment is an exploration of the calm, serendipitous nature of sisters at peace, the second represents the moment of recognizing danger on the horizon, heightening one’s senses to danger and preparing one’s self for battle, the actual battle, and then the third section represents the after, the moment the war is over and we celebrate and revel in our identities as powerful, knowing, divine women. By separating the piece into these three sections, I realized we were also equally processing through the imagined pre-colonial existence, the centuries long reality of colonized life under oppression, and the eventual contemporary reclamation of our originating, native identities— all of this as fully representative of the journey toward claiming a contemporary indigenous identity and lifestyle.
We plan to continue on with SISTER VOICES, using the pre-conceived piece to off-branch into interrelated mythologies. I still hold onto the forest diwata image, and I am certain, down the line, things will move full circle.
In the meantime, I give my deepest gratitude to Nicole Mae Vizconde and Kristin Santiago— my original Gunita Sisters— as well as Annett Bone and Tori Villamil, our newest, and so deeply powerful, artists. It remains my fullest honor to share space and create with you all. Please remain in contact for upcoming Gunita performances as well as a sprinkle of conceptual movement recordings we are processing through and developing as I type this.