A Lecture by Christine Bacareza Balance, Asian American Studies, University of California Irvine
Presented by the NYU Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. Co-sponsored by the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU and NYU Department of Performance Studies.
In Here Lies Love (2014), an immersive theatrical experience created by musician David Byrne, DJ/producer Fatboy Slim, and theatre director Alex Timbers, former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos’ rags-to-riches tale takes place on a dance floor. With infectious pop tunes performed by a DJ, live band, and sung by an all-Asian American cast, the show asks its audience to move with, while being moved by, it. Placed “in the center of the action,” audience members are directed by ushers, decked in neon-pink jumpsuits, to move in concert with the show’s rotating platforms. The show’s “360-degree scenic and video environment” spans from amateurish and kitschy backdrops to walls of TV screens projecting both the actors’ and audience’s actions, as captured by roving cameras. In these moments, when the show’s stars— Ferdinand Marcos (Jose Lllana) and Imelda Marcos (Ruthie Ann Miles)—descend from their elevated stages, we, the common masses, feel summoned to touch them. If we do, we know that these moves will be broadcast by the installed surveillance system.
Promoted as a theatrical event unable to fit into generic categories bound by time (as Byrne describes on his website, the show is “neither a period piece nor a biography, neither a play nor a traditional musical”), Here Lies Love touts itself as outside of history. And yet, as Christine Bacareza Balance will demonstrate in her presentation, despite Byrne’s apparent desire to ignore historical specificity, Here Lies Love in fact stages the cultural traces of two very different 1980s: the demise of the Marcoses’ 21-year long martial rule in the Philippines and the burgeoning downtown New York arts scene of Byrne’s early career. Against critiques of Byrne/Slim/Timbers’ theatrical collaboration that question Byrne’s relationship to history and the power of his artistic choices in reinforcing the sensational celebrity power of the Philippines’ former First Lady (and a dictator’s wife), Balance attends to the theatrical production’s performative aspects. That is, she asks, what does Here Lies Love do and, more specifically, how might it instruct us to move forward with new ways of “making sense” of martial law in Philippine and U.S. histories?
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