Filipino dance is thriving in Vancouver

Singkil.jpgPhotos by Leah Villalobos

Vancouver-based performing arts group Kababayang Pilipino (KP) gave its 19th season concert on Sunday June 24, 2012 at the Shadbolt Centre’s James Cowan Theatre in Burnaby.

Aptly entitled Balik Tanaw (A Look Back), the show offered both a retrospective of KP’s repertoire of folk dance and music, and a nostalgic glimpse of the rich diversity of Filipino culture.

Arranged in two acts, the suites were ordered like the petals of a flower, bringing together dances from seemingly disparate regions of the Philippines, but which progressively revealed unifying motifs and themes.

Act I, “Kasikatan” (Fame) opened with the lively yet solemn rhythms of KP’s Percussion Ensemble. Two mountain dances from Northern Luzon set the tone for this act, which was a celebration of harvest, courtship, and the cycle of life. In the Ragragsakan, women with baskets of fruit gracefully balanced on their heads portray the Kalinga tradition of gathering and preparing for a budong (peace pact). The next dance, the Salip, depicts another Kalinga tradition—that of a warrior presenting his prospective bride with a matrimonial blanket, and simulating the movements of a rooster to attract her.

A shift to the south brought the audience to the island of Mindanao, where the dances are marked by the influence of Arabian and Indo-Malaysian cultures. The Kadal Tahaw, a dance of the T’boli, mimics the hopping and flying of the Tahaw bird to celebrate a good harvest. In the Binaylan-Banog dance of the Higaonon, Misamis Oriental, a mother hen protects her baby chicks from a hawk, which the hunters eventually kill with spears.

A rendition of a wistful Visayan love song, Usahay, performed by KP’s Rondalla Ensemble, provided a musical interlude before the next suite, which opened with the Pitik Mangao, a courtship dance. The Pitik (from the Visayan word for “Miss”) was rendered as a pas de deux featuring KP’s Pamela Villarama and Wil Laxa, and incorporated the sweetly flirtatious use of the classic dropped handkerchief.

Exuberant whoops and leaps ushered in the barrio suite, perhaps the most well-known and best-loved of all Filipino dances because of their fiesta spirit. Men, women and children in camisa chinos and colourful balintawaks performed the Itik-Itik, the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, the Gawa-Gaway, and the Tinikling, to the delight of the audience, who clapped along to the rousing music and beats.

Act I ended with a return to Mindanao. The Maranao dance, Malong-Malong, demonstrates the many ways of wearing the malong, a woven piece of cloth sewn into a wide tube which serves as a skirt, similar to a sarong. It can also be used as a dress, a blanket, a sunshade, a bed sheet, a “dressing room”, a hammock, a prayer mat, a baby carrier, and a shroud. Although traditionally performed by women, the Malong-Malong now includes parts for men, who also use the cloth as a sash, waist-band, shorts, and turban.

The Magigal-Paunjalay is a pre-nuptial dance of the Yakan of Basilan, a seafaring tribe that mimics fish movements in their dances. The elaborate, heavily ornamented costumes and the interplay between man and maiden segued into the more well-known Singkil, which takes its name from the bells worn on the ankles of Muslim princesses. Another dance of the Maranao, the Sinkgil is a truly royal dance. It tells the story of Princess Gandingan, who was caught in the middle of a forest during an earthquake. The rhythmic clapping of criss-crossed bamboo poles represent the falling trees which she gracefully avoids, all the while accompanied by the asik, her loyal slave who holds a decorated parasol over the princess’ head. Finally, the prince arrives to save the princess. KP’s Michelle Correa along with Theresa Sanchez Bazelli, who danced the part of the asik, can join the ranks of royal ladies in the Sulu Archipelago who to this day are required to learn this most difficult and noble dance.

Act II (“Kakaiba”/ Different) opened with the striking absence of musical accompaniment during the performance of the Sublian, a dance from Batangas province traditionally performed to venerate the Holy Cross of Alitagtag.  The word subli is derived from two Tagalog words, subsub (stooped) and bali (broken). So the dancers assume stooped postures throughout the dance and appear to be lame and crooked. According to Randy Romero, KP’s artistic director, “I was especially intrigued by the juxtaposition of the women’s feet and hand movements, combined with the look of a simple white balintawak costume, so I stripped the music down to nothing to create a solemn effect.”

The solemnity gave way to a lighter mood with the return of the KP children in Lanceros de Negros, one of the Spanish-influenced Maria Clara dances that customarily opened a big ball. This was followed by another Maria Clara, Paypay de Manila, which featured gracefully swirling skirts and fans.

Another innovation which illustrates KP’s trademark of marrying tradition with contemporary flair was the Jota Nuevo. Romero says that it combined an original composition of the Rondalla Ensemble with the Jota Sevillana, and featured new choreography as an homage to his favourite Castilian movements.

The show ended with a series of dances from Mindanao and Palawan: the Pangsat-Pinadulas, the wedding dance of the Yakan of Basilan; the Katsudoratan, a dance of the royal court of the Maranao; the Indarapatra from Maguindanao, which tells the story of a rajah who fights a mythical bird that brings destruction to the kingdom. Pagdiwata, the finale, was a distilled version of a seven-day rite of the Tagbanua tribe of Palawan. The ceremony is based on the belief that on the occasion of a thirteenth moon, three goddesses descend from the heavens, become priestesses and join villagers in celebration, blessing the planting of the rice fields.

The audience, Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, were enthralled by the near-flawless performances, the stirring live music, and the painstakingly researched, authentically detailed costumes. Once again, through the language of dance, music and art, the youth of Kababayang Pilipino have paved the way to a deeper understanding of the Philippines’ cultural heritage and of the universal ties and traditions that bind us all. We look forward to next year’s 20th anniversary show.

KP welcomes participants to their dance workshops! Visit for more info.


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