‘Padayaw’ elevates PHL’s rich history, myths to global glory

Stacks of earthen pots crown a woman’s head. Photos by Ness Bantog

By Felicitas Santiago, MD

After a five-year dance drought aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the internationally recognized Leyte Dance Theater (LDT) of Jess de Paz Foundation, Inc is back on to its 9th U.S. tour.

PAFCOM — or the Philippine American Friendship Community, Inc. —  sponsored on May 13, 2023 a pre-Mother’s Day visual and auditory celebration, a ‘welcome back’ to social circulation.

The timing was reminiscent of our homeland’s traditional fiesta in May, plus the significant U.S. national recognition of the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Also embraced was PAFCOM’s additional homage to the LGBTQIA, people with disability,  the young and the elderly.

And wow did the LDT deliver, fully showcasing the vision of its founder, Jess de Paz, from our northern indigenous pre-colonial, “Dawn at the Highlands” suite to its post-modern nationalistic, “Bayan Ko” in a historical amalgam of five dance suites.

With renewed vigor and lots of coordinated choreography, the dance execution showed focused discipline to look breezy in their highly challenging moves. Classical ballet incorporated to story-tell our local flavors delivered a seamless appreciation of fusion-dance genre. The leaps and bounds, from solo, pas de deux to company pirouettes were seen throughout the many figures of their movements.

Bamboo poles have their myriad functions.     
The Castilian influence during the colonial era.

There was liberal use of local Philippine ethnological home-decorative and functional basketry. Martial artsy props, colorful outfits and headgears brought to the fore the deeper density of the visual storyline. The balance from the sky-high stack of earthen pots, crowning the Igorot tribal-dancer’s head, was supported by her sturdy neck and delicately swaying limbs. It definitely brought the tribe a few dainty steps closer to their highland heavens.

The second suite, “Mardi Gras de Principalia,” in quick-figures’ succession was a vow to the Castilian influence during our colonial acculturation. The scarf, umbrella, fan, cane and hat gave a romantic run for the altar, in a bamboo-castanets-sleight-of-hands tap-dancing signature and romantic melody.

The “Uncharted Sari-Manok Trail” was a definite awe-provoking Maranao dance suite. The simple percussions of Muslim time-signatured homophony with a mythical Sarimanok bird-song could tell a very nuanced story. Who could have conjectured how those eight colorful bamboo poles in their myriad reconfigurations could be a stretcher to transport a sick princess, totem pole to climb up to a prize, a tribal prince’s pyramid pole to reach up heights, or a bird trap and cage to ensnare a cure? This, was in addition to the final clacking celebratory multi- geometric foot works permutations of their newly recovered-beloved princess.

Back to Terre Firme, the fourth suite, “Life at the Rurals”, was reminiscent of the halcyon days of our simpler lives, the daily lives and the barrio menfolks’ love of cockfighting. The cacophony of banters, shrieks and final barrio dance fest to rondalla music confirmed that it took just a little nudge to break to a dance.

PAFCOM President Roxanne Cajigas (standing center) and Board Chair Dr. Connie Uy (standing 6th from left) with officers, leaders and supporters.

The final “Bayan Ko” suite reminded us that through dance, the fight for freedom across obstacles needed no words. A mother’s gnawing scream of “anak ko”, as her son fell, was its denouement as he was soon lifted and marched up by his compatriots to his monumental pantheon via a pillar of bamboo poles.

I have enjoyed many genres of the ethnic and classical dance performing arts in the Big Apple, with some travel sights of the Ballet Folklorico Mexico, Thai, Chinese, Indian folklore dances, and some European dance shows, like in Vienna’s Rat Haus. The dance repertoire of our 30-year young Leyte Dance Theater has definitely leaped and bounded to its global caliber and glory. It befits the accolades and recognition it has received. It transformed and produced our rich history, folkways, myths and lore to movement and local music.

Let us nurture more highly disciplined devoted FilAm students and alumni-dancers to a global audience. Hopefully, our new generations of FilAms and others in the audience will have more chance and opportunity to really appreciate and support such Philippine ambassadors of artistic global goodwill. Mabuhay!

Felicitas F. Santiago, MD was president of the University of the Philippines Medical Alumni Society in America (UPMASA) New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Chapter  from  2019 to 2021.

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