Norte Maar’s CounterPointe10 – Tiffany Mangulabnan and Etty Yaniv

Tiffany Mangulabnan (dancer) and Etty Yaniv (art) in ‘briefly gorgeous’, CounterPointe10 performance, 2023

The impetus for this series of conversations between a visual artist and a choreographer comes directly from my recent collaborative work with a choreographer as part of Norte Maar’s CounterPointe10. In this unique project a choreographer is paired with a visual artist to create together over two months a dance performance that integrates the two disciplines into a cohesive vision. Here is my dialogue with choreographer and dancer Tiffany Mangulabnan about our collaborative process.

Let’s talk about our collaborative process.

Tiffany: It began with a phone call, didn’t it?—with words. I had just read about your artistic process as being “preoccupied with transience . . . ephemerality,” and at the same time, fittingly, I was in the middle of reading the novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. I brought this up to you hoping you would love the sound of those words as much as I did (you did), and then, a few wispy strands of ideas dangling between us, along with a very solid cardboard box plucked out of a dream (yours) and an agreement to use Chopin (because of a character in the book who listened only to Chopin), briefly gorgeous was born.

Etty: Yes, Chopin. Those nocturnes began to manifest as recurring musical imagery in my mind—we found ourselves listening to Chopin incessantly. We were contemplating the precise tone we wanted—from sentimental and nostalgic to melancholic and darker—it was a tricky balance. We were both stoked that you found the music box version of his Waltz in A Minor. It added just the right tweak and the score you ultimately created seamlessly merged with the movement, art, and narrative. When it came to the narrative—it also revolved around striking a delicate equilibrium between story telling and capturing emotional landscapes. As you mentioned , we swiftly discovered our entry point.

Tiffany: And underscoring all of this was the idea of ephemerality. We talked about it from the beginning and all throughout—about being immigrants, having both moved here from countries halfway across the world, about the transience involved in a move like that – across oceans —and the necessity of shedding parts of our old lives, our old selves, in order to adapt to a new existence. And the thing is, our entire process felt like this: like a constant adapting to one another, adapting to the day as it took shape, whatever shape it took; the randomness and serendipity of finding a stretch of dried, blood-red acrylic in your studio and turning it into a vest for me to wear (and eventually to battle with, and then embrace, and finally discard in performance – an integral element of our narrative); the randomness and frustration of a calf injury forcing me to perform in only one pointe shoe, and in the end the poignancy of that incompleteness, of that limping fragmentation—all of it arriving unexpectedly and uninvitedly but coming together, one thing after another, to fit together perfectly—briefly, gorgeously.

Etty: I love how you described it like a stream of consciousness, a poem, or a dream, Tiffany. It fits the way I experienced it. I could sense our mutual flow with the material, movement, and chance—we discovered the unique sounds that emerged when you dragged a piece of installation on the floor or stepped on it; The way plastic and paper pieces twirl with your movements. And those random incidents you mentioned—they became an inseparable part of our process. I think we were both widely open to each other’s ideas and also felt very comfortable to say, No, let’s think of a different way to do it. I am still processing how our thoughts and imaginations harmonized and generated a new form. You remember, after our initial phone conversation I had this dream (literally).

Tiffany: Yes! You saw it in a dream: I would pull large pieces of your art one by one out of a box onstage, “activating” each piece in turn. I loved this, of course. Your art wouldn’t merely decorate the stage—it would drive the narrative and consequently, my movement.

Etty: That symbiotic connection between the dance, art, and music was profoundly significant to both of us and this vision guided us consistently.

Tiffany: It did. And that vision had me running, dancing and waltzing with each of the pieces before I hung them up “to dry” like laundry, the laundry of life, on a stretch of wire. Eventually each piece had its own name (and perhaps in naming things we form attachments to them? I certainly did.  It became clear to us that these pieces were actually memories—experiences, parts of a life lived: a favorite childhood kite here, a ballerina music box there, or the memory of an old love that still stings when it resurfaces. For a while we toyed with the idea of repacking everything away, back into the box, but then it became necessary to make it clear that we were letting all of it go, that we were moving on. Transience. And so, after reliving everything and hanging it up for display, that brief bluish landscape of memory, the dancer in the story (me) walks away from it in the end, walks offstage, and leaves the art—her past—behind to flap and rustle in the wind.

What is the takeaway from this collaboration?

Etty: This is the first time I have worked on such a comprehensive collaborative project with an artist from a different discipline. My immediate takeaway is that It has been an exhilarating, deep and horizon-expanding experience which sparked my imagination in new ways—I would love to continue nurturing it. Honest communication played a key role, creating a safe space where we both felt encouraged to take artistic risks and play freely. And, of course, there is a touch of magic in this artistic adventure.

Tiffany: There is definitely magic! I also take away the idea that things can fall naturally (and even accidentally) into place and that deep connection can form (as it did for me and you) as long as we allow ourselves to be open to it, to all of it.

Etty: You are writing in your diary about your process regularly. Do you mind sharing some of it here?

Tiffany: Sure. Here is something I wrote in my diary on March 3, halfway through our collaboration:

“Just concluded a wonderful visit at Etty’s art studio in DUMBO to rehearse and plan for ‘briefly gorgeous’—our baby that is growing beautiful little paper wings and starting to flutter and to sparkle, heavy flakes of glitter poured into the air from above, only to be scattered about by the wind, surprising us with an unexpected shine here and the hint of a sideways glint there… overwhelming us, really, with its organic, multi-directional expansion, its rapid evolution, its slow-sprinkling everything it touches with magic. . . .Connections found and fostered without the planning, thoughts one of us has inside her head spoken aloud by the other, a symbiosis achieved so naturally and continuously we hardly take notice of it, glimpses of beauty arrived at by accident.”

Tiffany Mangulabnan (dancer) and Etty Yaniv (art) in ‘briefly gorgeous’, CounterPointe10 performance, 2023

All photo courtesy of the artists

About the artist: Etty Yaniv exhibited in solo and group shows internationally. In 2022 her site-specific installation, Inversion, exhibited in Palazzo Mora, Art Biennale, Venice, 2022. It focused on how new morphologies emerge at the Venice Lagoon as the tidal system reacts to human infrastructure. Yaniv founded the online art publication Art Spiel and serves as its chief editor. She also teaches graduate classes at the MFA program in Pennsylvania Academy of Art. Yaniv holds a BA in Psychology and Literature from Tel Aviv University, BFA from Parsons School of Design, and MFA from SUNY Purchase.

About the choreographer: Tiffany Mangulabnan is a Filipino dancer, choreographer, teacher, and a founding co-artistic director of Brooklyn-based contemporary ballet company konverjdans. She was a principal dancer with the Philippine Ballet Theatre before she moved to NYC in 2012, where she has since enjoyed a rich career as a freelance performer. As a choreographer she has created, presented and performed in several works for konverjdans and been commissioned by Barnard College/Columbia University, Carolina Ballet, Columbia Repertory Ballet, and Woman in Motion Dance Co. Her work has been presented at festivals like Battery Dance Festival, CounterPointe, Riverside Dance Festival, Periapsis Music & Dance, and others. She has also written and directed a handful of short films. She continues to dance for The Metropolitan Opera, Pigeonwing Dance, Indelible Dance, John Passafiume Dancers, and Abanar, among other companies and choreographers. She teaches at the Joffrey Ballet School in New York and for the open class series NY Community Ballet.