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Filipinx American Artist Explores Resistance, Liberation, and Intergenerational Healing

SAMMAY Peñaflor Dizon’s love for dance stems from their childhood, when they would choreograph routines in the family living room for the local fiesta in Carson, California. Fast forward to 2022, they are an accomplished interdisciplinary artist, college dance instructor, and Master of Fine Arts student in Choreographic Inquiry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I didn’t think it was possible for me to pursue a career in dance, but I refused to cancel it out of my life,” Dizon said. “I feel really blessed because every moment of my journey, I was in the right place at the right time with the right people. I give it up to my teachers and mentors who saw something in me when I didn’t.”

A choreographer and cultural producer of Bikol, Kapampangan, and Ilokano descent, Dizon views dance as a form of decolonization and a pathway toward creating a better future. They founded SAMMAY Productions in San Francisco’s SOMA Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District to highlight intercultural performance and exchange as a means for intergenerational healing and liberation.

The idea and inspiration behind the production company first came to Dizon in 2015, when they established an intercultural arts festival called Urban x Indigenous (UXI) alongside fellow Filipinx artist Baltazar Jonnel Dasalla. The intention behind UXI was to bring intercultural exchange among diasporic artists, activists, culture bearers, educators, and the greater community interested in decolonizing and re-indigenizing through the arts.

“We were really drawing a beautiful web of interconnectivity and upon our pre-colonial traditions coming together in a respectful and honorable way,” Dizon said.

SAMMAY Productions focuses on the power of ritual performance and how one uses dance to perform ancestral veneration. Among the company’s many projects is Daluyan (the Tagalog word for vessel), an 11-week embodied storytelling and dance workshop that concluded in 2019 with a final performance at Bindlestiff Studio – another creative hub for Filipinx performers in San Francisco. Dizon facilitated other Daluyan one-off workshops in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Manila, Honolulu, and New York. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Daluyan workshops have been conducted through Zoom for community members across the diaspora.

“All my inherent knowing and wisdom comes from the Philippines,” Dizon said. “It’s always going to be for our motherland and how we get closer to the truth.”

The production company also encompasses Dizon’s choreographic work, including ritual for thrivation no. 2, which premiered at ODC Theater as part of the 25th Annual United States of Asian America Festival in June 2022. Dizon’s company performed the piece following the inauguration of president-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. The process of ritual for thrivation no. 2 began with questions about collective care, interdependence, and co-liberation and included personal stories of ancestral grief and intergenerational trauma.

“It was important for me to connect the intentions for diasporic healing to the re-surfacing of communal trauma from the Martial Law era,” Dizon said. “To me, they are not separate. That was when I began to more explicitly draw threads between the lies and deceit inherited from colonialism and the truth of our histories, attempting to be erased by the Marcos family and their supporters.”

Viewers have much to look forward to in 2023. Dizon’s upcoming work will center on their relationship with their paternal grandmother, Nanay Carling, and her journey with Alzheimer’s disease. Dizon welcomes supporters to attend their MFA Capstone Concert on April 27 and 28, 2023, at the Glorya Kaufman Dance Theater on UCLA’s campus.

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