Ani/Malayaworks’ Nanay: How To Hold and Be Held

by Mads Klemm for the Dance Journal

Ani/Malayaworks presented Nanay at Bartram’s Garden Community Boathouse as a part of the 2021 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. The work was performed by a cast of Filipina/x dancers who shared stories of their Nanays (Tagalog for Mothers), immigration, colonization, and ideas of home. Ani Gavino directed Nanay with collaborators Isabella Mojares, Sevon Desemone Wright, E Fajardo-Canlas and Malaya Ulan.

Upon entering the boathouse, the audience was met with a droning soundscape created by Paul Baisley as we laid out our blankets and lawn chairs. The cast prepares by draping themselves in a long piece of white plastic fabric while one performer, Ani, plunges their feet into a pool of water. As we settle into our seats, Ani begins to rotate and sink her body, submerging themselves in the water. They scoop water from the pool and pour it on their head slowly and carefully. It is a baptism, and we are all a witness. Ani looks to the audience as to say, thank you for being here, and she continues. Now drenched, she rises from the water and sings toward the other performers, and for the first time, they see each other. Ani continues this water ritual with gestures and spoken words pointing towards birth, fear, frustration, anguish, and joy.

The performers draped in clear plastic start to rustle and awaken while we hear a voice dreaming of the ocean. The performers begin to shapeshift inside and alongside the clear plastic fabric. We see them as abstractions of children in the womb, a woman walking down the aisle on her wedding day, an ethereal bird, and a princess at a ball. These images come through manipulation of the fabric as the dancers move into phrase work that feels just like the wind. As the dancing continues, we hear phrases like “toughen up,” “move on,” and “yet, I stay resilient.” 

We move away from performance and into a collective writing experience. We were asked to find photos that remind us of love, family, and forgiveness. We took a moment to write about times we felt held and shared these writings with people around us. For the first time, we, as the audience, got to see each other. Shifting back to performance, our minds ruminated on how it feels to be held.

A series of short dances followed, set to sound and texts created by the performers. We start with a beautiful duet; two performers dance together, each draped in an opaque and patterned fabric. As they move, the lines of their bodies and the fabric blur. They become one. They are full of joy, and they celebrate their love. The smiles on their faces tell you everything you need to know. 

As the evening closed, the performance offered a memorial to all those we had lost, the space filled with soft echoes of their names. The clear plastic fabric returns to view and helps shapeshift the space into an ocean. The performers assert and affirm themselves out loud using “I Am” statements. As they move and speak, the fabric transforms again into something that holds the performers, their affirmations, and holds us.

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