By Marivir R. Montebon
I mean, if in your lifetime you have seen the singkil, in theatrical form, like how the LDT does it, you have seen one of the world’s most beautiful and antiquated art forms.
New York – The delight was two-fold that day. One, it was gloriously warm for a spring Saturday of April 14, and two, the performance of the Leyte Dance Theater in Salida: Simbolo at Kultura at the Rock Church in Queens was simply spectacular. The dance extravaganza was created by renowned artistic director Jess de Paz, who flew to the East Coast with 22 young artists from Tacloban, Leyte to perform for a fundraiser event of the 29-year-old Association of Fil-Am Teachers of America Inc. (AFTA).
De Paz’s dance concert, which combines the snappy footwork of ethnic choreography and the emotive ballet, had four main features: the Mindanao Sketches, Bailes de Ayer, Dances of the Lowlanders, and Lupang Hinirang. All the suites were led by star actress-dancer, Ann Victoria Diaz, who succeeds her mother, Victoria Diaz as lead dancer for the LDT.
The Mindanao Sketches was the real stand-out and the most stunning of the dance features. It never fails: watching the singkil (a folklore dance of the Maranao people), makes my eyes open wide as I hold my breath to watch a dance of Muslim royalty, carried out in gracefully measured precision.
The Maranao princess, in elaborate dress and adornments, leads the dance. In careful and fiercely calculated steps, she moves about on criss-crossed bamboo poles that are rhythmically clapped as she brandishes her giant fans to meet her prince. The rhythmic clapping of the bamboos jives with the charming music of the kulintang, a transcending brass gong ensemble.
The traditional narrative of this Moro heritage is about the rescue and courtship of ethnic tribes of the Maranaos, Maguindanao, Samal and Tausug. The rapturous dance begins and ends with the princess sitting on the bamboo poles being carried by her slaves.
Cultural artifacts such as the silk malong, the lavishly adorned umbrellas, and intricate fans, all waved in brisk choreography and carried out in stoic facial expressions make the dance absolutely elegant. I mean, if in your lifetime you have seen the singkil, in theatrical form, like how the LDT does it, you have seen one of the world’s most beautiful and antiquated art forms.
The Bailes de Ayer is the melding of Spanish and folkloric influences, depicting the vibrant life of youth’s courtship and marriage. This is the acculturation of colonialism and Filipino women are dressed up ‘to be on high status’ in the Spanish colonial era of 300 years.
The Baile was predominantly in white, which is a Catholic influence, that redefined women to be pure, virginal and submissive.
De Paz’s Dances of the Lowlanders was fluid and playful as lowland people are. The mood for this rural suite was upbeat and festive, performing ethnic dances called the binagol, tinikling, and kuratsa that perked us up. It was an easy way to seek outright donations from a highly pleased audience as the dancers passed their wide brim hats for some dollars for their company.
Lupang Hinirang, the fourth and final dance suite, closed the show with a dramatic portrayal of a wretched people, symbolized by Ann Diaz as the motherland. Dr. Jose Rizal was depicted as having to awaken the indios into a revolution through his novel Noli Me Tangere. Choreographed in ballet and free interpretative styles, the Filipinos begin the revolt through the Katipunan, and through bloodshed and betrayals, it emerges as the first Republic in Asia.
Considered to be De Paz’s signature suite, Lupang Hinirang weighs in on every spectator. It weighed in on me, that we have to continue developing a national narrative in dance. NAFFAA New York president Laura Garcia said that the dance portrayal of the grieving Motherland and the crucified position of the lifeless Jose Rizal resonated much to her. “I was truly touched,” she said.
After a successful show at the Rock Church, the LDT goes to Connecticut and Maryland to complete its East Coast tour. Now on its 25th year of promoting Philippine cultural dances, the LDT has performed in Malaysia, Thailand, China, Bahrain and the US. The Salida: Simbolo at Kultura was a major fund raiser for AFTA for its projects on adopt a classroom, balik-turo (teach again), and scholarships in the Philippines.
During the post-performance cocktails, De Paz happily recounted that it was providential how he was able to bring all the 22 dancers this time. “Because how can I have a production when I don’t have the full ensemble. But guess what, on the fourth person being interviewed, the consular officer said, give me all your passports and I will let you all fly. It was providential that we are all here in this tour.”
(Featured photo by Helen Kwong; Photos by Vanette Colmenares and Ms. Olivia O. Magpile)