Originality in the Postcolony: Choreographing the Neoethnic Body of Philippine Ballet

Essay Excerpt

Some of Spivak's recent work on "ethical singularity" and its resulting condition of "responsibility" in relationships that might be classified as "global" is relevant here. Spivak associates ethical singularity with the ability to learn from, rather than investigate, process information, or know about, others (n.d.:22-24). Ethical responding recognizes agency in an "other"-conceived in this context specifically as a most singular sort of party-with whom a profound engage- ment has occurred.Ethical respondingdoes not simply comprehend or appreciate this other's "otherness." It involves the recognition of others, not as mere "voices," or objects of investigation, but as producers of articulated texts.9 Art work that achieves this manner of expression, vis-a-vis both the cultural material and bodies it references and the global audience it addresses, qualifies as culturally responsible and humane in the sense that I am intending. It is with these concepts in my mind that I interpret Igorot.

Likewise, a transnational reading of such artwork does not indulge in what Renato Rosaldo has termed "imperialist nostalgia" (1989:68-87)-a critical attitude motivated by a desire to recover some imagined precolonial cultural state. Such a reading does not refrain from confronting ethical issues of transcultural and international aesthetic production. It thus rejects assigning ethical authority and responsible consideration exclusively to the subjects of specific histories of colonial and/or neocolonial domination, just as it rejects inhibitions on ethical engagement based on pseudoscientific ideals of "objectivity," "value-neutrality," "accuracy," or "comprehensiveness."A culturally responsible reading attempts to fulfill Spivak's dialogic conditions while pursuing such charged issues as those of cultural appropriation, validation, empowerment, and assistance. It is such a reading I am attempting. (Ness, 69)

About the Author

Sally Ann Ness is a full time faculty member in the Department of Anthropology. She has worked in urban provincial centers in the Philippines as well as in Indonesia and the United States. Her research has focused on various forms of symbolic action, both in the practice of everyday life and in extraordinary ritual and secular performances. She has written on the semiotics of festival life, dance, and sport, as well as on tourism development and its consequences for cultural practice and cultural identity.  Her current research, funded in part by a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship, focuses on choreographic aspects of Visitor practice in Yosemite National Park, drawing in part on the work of Gregory Bateson to illuminate connections between place, embodiment, and motility.

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