Alvin Erasga Tolentino is an active Asian/Canadian dance artist who continues to reveal, provoke, fascinate and bring a fresh voice to the national and international dance scene. His career has garnered him a distinct reputation as an original and an unpredictable contemporary performing artist.
Tolentino's dance creations are driven from the need to intricately illustrate human experiences of light and darkness and the infinitely complex relationship between nature and humanity. His choreography challenges the exploration of hybridity to reveal the private and public territory that empowers the issues within the traditional and contemporary cross-cultural dialogue.
Born in Manila, Philippines, he moved to Canada in 1983, training in dance and the visual arts at institutions including the School of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Toronto's York University, New York's SUNY Purchase and the Limón Institute, as well as with prominent dance and arts educators across Canada and abroad. A veteran of the contemporary professional dance scene, he is an active choreographer, dancer, teacher, designer and visual artist.
Since 1989, Tolentino has continued to receive critical praise as a dancer for his interpretations of several Canadian choreographers and dance companies' works including EDAM, Karen Jamieson Dance, Kinesis Dance, Kokoro Dance, Lola Dance and Mascall Dance.
In 2000, Tolentino founded Co.ERASGA, a company dedicated to the research, creation and presentation of contemporary dance with an emphasis in exploration and collaboration with multimedia art and artists, both nationally and abroad. To date, he has created a body of full-length works that includes SOLA (1994-1998), BATO/stone (1995-2001), MINORI (2003), VOLT (2002), Field (2003), She Said (2003), OrienTik/Portrait (2005), BODYGlass (2007) with choreographer Peter Chin, Paradis/Paradise (2008), ADAMEVE – Man/Woman (2009), Shadow Machine (2010) and Expose (2011).
Through extensive international touring and artistic collaborations, Tolentino has presented dance works across Canada and in Nagoya, Japan; Brussels, Belgium; New York and San Francisco, USA; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Zagreb, Croatia; Basel, Switzerland; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Singapore, as well as several cities in the Philippines, Venezuela and France.
His dances for the camera include Birth, Amongst, PARADIS, In the Skin of Becoming Swan and SOLA. They have been featured in national and international video/film festivals and have received prestigious nominations, including the 2000 BC Leo Awards, 2001 Gemini and the 2002 Grand Prix International Video dance competition for UNESCO in Paris.
In 2010, Tolentino was awarded the Vancouver Mayor's Arts Award for dance in recognition of his contributions to the field and to Vancouver's cultural communities.
Carol Anderson spoke with Alvin Erasga Tolentino at the Dance Umbrella of Ontario on October 29, 2012.
Carol Anderson: Alvin, what is the story of your emigration? When and why did you choose to come to Canada?
Alvin Tolentino: It was not a choice – my parents came to Canada. My mother was first. She left Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to go to Saskatoon. Imagine what it was like coming from a tropical country and then living in Saskatoon! She was there for about two years; she was part of a company that hired her to work there. For my parents, immigration was about having a new life and new opportunities.
After two years, my mother came back to the Philippines; then she returned to Canada and my father accompanied her. They stopped off in Vancouver. They were supposed to go to Saskatoon again, but they stayed in Vancouver – they thought it was so warm, compared to Saskatoon. Three years after that they sponsored the kids so that's when we came. I had been living in the Philippines without my mother for two years; we were with my dad and my grandparents. After my dad left, it was just the kids and grandparents. That was a pretty intense and a rather traumatic experience for a child – not to have your parents. I was twelve when I arrived in Canada. I would have been eight and ten when my parents left, and my brothers and sisters were even younger.
In 1983, all the kids went to Vancouver. We arrived in the city from Manila during a crisp February. I remember that it was bright, sunny, a clear sky, not raining – it was very fresh and cold. And I recall that day because it was so cold and I could see a little snow on the mountains … and I thought, “Wow!” I'd never seen snow before; that was my first sight of it … arriving in Vancouver, driving to our house and realizing how quiet it was. I asked my parents where everybody was. In the Philippines it's completely different – everyone is outside – it's the tropics. It was a bit of a shock for me – to know that it was wintertime, and it was cold, and we had to stay inside.
That was the beginning of the exodus of my family. For my parents, the goal was to bring the entire family to Canada so we could have better opportunities and a better education.
CA: Did you get sent to school right away?
AT: That was the priority, to make sure that we would be enrolled in school. We arrived in the middle of the school year, but my parents had already spoken to the school. We went to a private school, St. Jude. It was a Catholic school – my parents wanted to be sure we could enter a safe school and be integrated easily into the school system. I entered grade 7 right away, and that was a bit of a shock for me because the method of schooling here is very different from schooling in the Philippines. Also, for someone of age twelve, to try to mingle, to adapt to personalities of children in North America, the kind of food they eat, the way they play … I had to witness and observe and find my way around it. It took a few months. And there was a language barrier – English is my second language. We spoke English in the Philippines, but arriving in a new country, with a new system, a new language, was different in every way. So it was really re-identifying myself – in relation to all of those issues – everything from street signs to navigating, taking the bus, all of those dollar signs and numbers. I was a child still, twelve years old, and it's a critical time. It's a good thing I wasn't rebellious as a teenager. I was very calm – I was able to observe things. But it was also hard, because I'd left a huge amount of core friends and family members. They were gone from me. I had my brothers and sisters, but connecting with other kids my age wasn't so easy.
I graduated from elementary school and in grade 8 went to another private school, Notre Dame. By that time, I really associated with being a teenager, finding my way into the system and trying to claim some kind of an identity.
This was in East Vancouver. East Vancouver was very different then than it is now. At that time, we lived in neighbourhoods with a lot of Italian immigrants, a lot of Czechoslovakian and Croatian people. It's not so any more; now it's highly Asian. I went to a Catholic high school that was mainly Italian and Croatian – it was very interesting to see all these European and Eastern European immigrants finding ways to adapt within the school system.
CA: Were you homesick?
AT: I was homesick, I guess, for the environment. But also, I think, as a child, you adapt easily. And my family began to find our own community within the Filipino community in Vancouver … so we were able to have Filipino friends and to relate in terms of being in Canada. So being homesick was not really relevant. Being homesick didn't happen until I became mature – which was very interesting.