Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Mutya & Maguindanao Masters

Mutya. The Allelulia Panis Dance Theater performed Mutya yesterday at Yerba Buena Gardens of the Art. Mutya means the pulse of life in all being. Mutya can refer to the the pearl-like object that is born from the heart of a banana plant during the holiest day of the year. Mutya also refers to the female energy. I am familiar with the term through "Mutya ng Pilipinas" a beauty pageant in the homeland.

ng babae,
ilalim ng saging

ng buhay,
pulso ng katauhan

kababaihang kaluluwa
nangangailangan sa lahat.

Alleluia Panis' vision is to create dance / theater works that define the artistic identity of thee Pilipino-American people. From what I saw in "Mutya," Alleluia succeeded where others have come up short.

To define culture is to define jell-o. You can try to capture, to hold, to limit it, but in the end, you need a larger Tupperware to hold everything that it encompasses. To represent a people's experience in a dance, well, it is almost impossible. The Western tradition of >ballet and modern dance take little pieces of history. But you know, Pilipinos just don't think small. Thus, we have the Mutya Project, which is due in January 2007.

Whereas Philippine folk dancing is way to look at the past of Pilipino ancestors, Pilipino post-modern dance must incorporate the present day reality of the Pin@y experience. A Pin@y in San Francisco would more often than not be the child of an immigrant. The Pin@y would have come from the middle class or lower from the Philippines. Money will be an issue of survival. For most, education will be the only vine to save them from the quagmire of poverty. For some, gangs and drugs will be knife that harvests their lives.

The goal is to encapsulate that world, reconcile it with the ancestral past, and create a work of art that will inspire.

It is not an easy task.

Beginning. The dance began in the dark like most of us began life in the womb. Three dancers wrap their bodies in a T'nalak, abaca fibers woven into silk like texture. Elements of pangalay accompany the music through the movement of the hands. Three t'nalaks were attached at their ends such that a triad spoke is formed. [Imagine a wheel with three radial spokes instead of the forty or so. ] The cloth limits the body movements of the three dancers. The dancers can not leap, they can barely jump. A slow clockwise rotation. A counter-clockwise movement to change pace. Was this dance the representation of Pilipino-Americans and their multi-faceted identities of Probinsiyano, Spanish, and American? The abaca t'nalak tie the identities into one. The t'nalak ties represent the history of the colonization and the subsumed probinsiyano or regional identity so prevalent in Philippine society.

Meanwhile, the rondalla music played in the background. "In the key of off ," remarked someone. The rondalla group played the traditional folk music. Before the performance, the band played extremely well. There was no hiccup at all. But during the whole Mutya performance, there were problems. The musical notes had a dissonance. At first I thought that it was simply an error. After all, musicians playing in the dark can pluck the wrong string. But, the error kept repeating itself. Finally, I glanced over at the band and noticed that a new player had joined. I don't know if he was out of tune or if he was making the mistakes. But the sound was definitely wrong. Because of the off-key playing, the performance of the dances was affected. Also, there did not seem to be any coordination between the music and the dance.

As an aside, this seems to be so true of Pin@ys. In life, in music, in dance, we are so bound by rules. The music must stop here, because the creator of the music only created 64 bars of music to be played. Rules do not allow our younger musicians, students or children to improvise and learn and expand into making the music their own. If an art of an image does not follow the rule, it is not Pilipino. The adherence to the rules make us disciplined adults. But it also keeps us from enjoying life.

The first dance concludes with a dancer entwining her feet in the triad of t'nalak. As she slowly spins, the t'nalak wraps her feet until she can only spin as slowly as the triad of dancers spun. The dancer spun slowly away from the stage into the far left corner, away from the light, away from our eyes.

More next time…

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