Dancing in the streets where you live

Efren Pamilacan is a dance maker and independent producer of Filipino descent living on the unceded lands of the Kulin nations. His work crosses cultural and social spheres intersecting between hip-hop culture, underground dance forms and the contemporary arts sector; and aims to create space for new dance communities to thrive.

As a dancer and dance maker, Efren is a member of the casual collective Jigsaw Sneakers, director of the 2018 production 9DIMES, and founder of City Sessions public dance battle program. He is also working with Ausdance VIC as a dance educator in our regional touring Blue Sky Dance program for primary schools.

We caught up with the always-moving Efren to chat briefly about his work, past, present and future.

Efren Pamilacan, Image credit Laura Du Vé

Ausdance VIC: Hi Efren, I’m so happy we finally get to chat. Thanks for your time.

Efren P: Not a problem, thanks for having me.

Ausdance VIC: It seems you’re very busy and in demand, working on six or so projects and teaching for us in the Blue Sky Dance program. Is there ever a time during the day when you’re not dancing, or thinking about dance?

Ausdance VIC: Good question! Hmmmm, I’d say I’m not always dancing when I’m spending time with friends and family or at home playing video games. For the other times, all dance.

Ausdance VIC: This year you’re mostly working in Melbourne, but also have an Aotearoa/New Zealand connection and are involved with the Asian Producers Platform out of Thailand. Tell us a little about your international collaborations.

Efren P: Street dance has a multitude of forms, and wherever you go in the world you’ll surely find a dance community in practice. Whether it’s Breaking, Krump, Vogue or Popping (just to name a few). My international collaborations currently are about venturing outside local spheres of such forms and connecting with similar ones in other countries. Some are connected to the wider dance sector, and some are underground. Depending on the level/type of support they receive outside the street dance community.

Ausdance VIC: Is street dance universal? It’s a popular genre, but it has many sub-cultures within it. Where do you fit in that jigsaw of diversity?

Efren P: Street dance can be seen as an act of resistance to the condition of its environment. The bigger the presence, the bigger the need for it to exist. It’s universal but has particular origins that need to be acknowledged. It shouldn’t be picked up without that understanding. Most of the creators/elders of these forms are still alive today. Street dance is diverse in nature, there’s over 12 different dance forms (that I know of) within street dance existing currently. Each genre is as diverse as the people who create and/or participate in it.

City Sessions 2023 featuring Tiffany Garvie
City Sessions 2023 – Tiffany Garvie

Ausdance VIC: You have a Master’s Degree in Public Art, we most often associate public art with visual art, murals and sculpture in particular and maybe performance art.  Tell me how you see dance fitting into the space of public art.

Efren P: Dance I believe has a longstanding relationship with public space. I can speak to the contribution street dance has had specific to Narrm [Melbourne]. Particular forms of street dance exist in public spaces and are informed by the city’s environment. Some forms utilise public space to practice in a collective whilst other artists like to perform to pedestrians turned audiences.

During my time in my Masters study, I documented popular street dance “jam” spots, researching into why they exist in certain places in our city. To me, I see street dance in public space in the same way as skateboarding. Both are ephemeral in nature and contribute to public space through a particular lens trying to find spaces that can accommodate their practice. 

Outside of my research, my contribution to dance in public space is through City Sessions, a public art activation in the form of a freestyle dance battle judged by the audience. I love that this gives everyday people the opportunity to engage with dance whilst learning about the array of forms within street dance. It’s been an ongoing project for me over the past 11 years happening in spaces all across the city.

City Sessions 2022 - Gianna Rizzo
City Sessions 2022 – Gianna Rizzo

Ausdance VIC: You’re very busy with your own projects but you find time to work with Ausdance VIC on our Blue Sky Dance program, visiting primary schools and delivering a great dance experience to the kids. It’s very generous, so thank you. What do you get out of being in the classroom with school kids?

Efren P: Blue Sky Dance has been a welcome experience, so thank you as well. For me, it’s about being able to share dance outside of the metro locations in Victoria. To be able to teach dance lessons that are part of the BSD curriculum but also within my context is an amazing opportunity to hopefully inspire more people to pursue dance.

Ausdance VIC: You come across as a very community-spirited person. Tell us about the work you do with Cypher Culture.

Efren P: Cypher Culture is a not-for-profit cultural organisation empowering street dance and uplifting communities across art and creative industries. We do this by fostering inclusive street dance communities and amplifying their voices through collaborative partnership. As the artistic director, my job is to support these communities and act on their behalf advocating in places and spaces that aren’t as accessible to them (yet). 

Ausdance VIC: By definition, street dance is something that happens outside of traditional spaces that we associate with dance – the studio and the stage. Do you see any crossover between the street, the studio, and the stage?

Efren P: Definitely, I believe the crossover happens when the dancer/artist decides to pursue ventures outside of their specific street dance community. That’s when they participate in studios or make work on stages informed by their background or interests etc.

At times, people’s love for street dance is inspired in studios. Which is great, in that people access or are introduced to it in different ways. It’s important that the crossover goes both ways in that it leads back to its community of practice.

Ausdance VIC: You have previously worked on studio and stage pieces, do you have any plans to make more of that hybrid work?

Efren P: For sure. The most recent work Δ (Change from Aotearoa), curated by Jonathan Homsey and I, was about the currents and tides within dance on Oceaniac lands. It was a break from Western narratives of choreography, empowering a diverse ecology of aesthetics, taste-making, and world-building.

I hope to do more of this in future, supporting street dance artists to pursue developing and making work in studios and on stages.

Ausdance VIC: What’s next? Are you getting something ready to release into the wild?

Efren P: At the moment I’m developing a work with sound artist / writer and long-time collaborator Pataphysics. Currently titled “Negentropic”, it’s a dance theatre work exploring entropic states of being both internally and externally and its relationship to the human condition. Which so far has evolved into us world portal-ing, realm hopping and astral jamming as two entities of alternate planes.

Ausdance VIC: That sounds a bit spacey-weird [laughter]. Keeps us in touch with the progress of that work. I’m sure it will be fabulous.

Efren P: Thanks, Marty. Let’s talk again soon.

You can see more of Efren’s work and connect with him via his website.