Vol. 08 No. 2 // 2018
R. Patrick Alcedo
Associate Professor of Dance, York University, Toronto
R. Patrick Alcedo’s February 2016 lecture‐performance, “An Empire Stages Back: Nationalism, Postcoloniality, and the Diaspora in Philippine Dance,” was a staging of how Filipino cultural productions respond to empire through dance and film. This lecture‐performance mapped out histories of colonialism and imperialism in the Philippines and the Filipino diaspora through the cultures and stories encapsulated in folk and contemporary dance forms. Alcedo’s talk weaves his own trajectory as a scholar, dancer and filmmaker with the live staging of Filipino folk dances. The lecture‐performance was structured through the frame of what Alcedo calls “intersecting modalities,” with live dance performances, images and excerpts from films and archival video footage, and was accompanied by a historical narration and analysis in the form of an interspersed lecture. This paper represents the different modes of engaging with Filipino folk culture included in Alcedo’s February 2016 lecture‐performance. In this paper, the text of his talk is accompanied by videos of the dances staged at the live event and select images and videos from his visual aids.
Let me first greet everyone in the national language of the Philippines, Tagalog or Filipino, with magandang gabi po sa inyong lahat! To the Aklanons here, from my home province of Aklan, allow me to say the same in our Aklanon language: mayad‐ayad nga gabii kinyo tanan. And to my fellow Visayans, in the Cebuano language: maayong gabii. In these different Philippine languages, I greet all of you “Good evening.”
The title of my talk, “An Empire Stages Back: Nationalism, Postcoloniality and the Diaspora in Philippine Dance,” paradigmatically follows the foundational reading, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literature by Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin (1989). At the University of the Philippines, an institution founded by the Americans at the turn of the twentieth century, this 1989 publication became a must in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, where I did my undergraduate degree in the early 1990s and where I soon became a member of its faculty.
At this university, I took courses in Shakespeare, romantic American and British literature, side by side with courses that required me to read 100 Years of Solitude, by the great Latin American Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967); This Earth of Mankind by the fine novelist from Indonesia Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1980); and some of the finest selections in Philippine literature in English, which have become narratives of nationalist and postcolonial sentiments of the Filipino people.
Figure 1: Members of the University of the Philippines Filipiniana Alumni Dance Group after one of their performances in France in 2013. Source: Author’s personal collection.
While at the university, I would regularly rehearse as a member of the internationally touring Filipiniana Dance Group (Figure 1). In Filipiniana, I had the rare opportunity to be trained under the careful watch of Corazon Iñigo, a prominent figure who has dramatically influenced the interpretation of Philippine folk dance for the theatrical stage. To those who are not familiar, Corazon Iñigo is considered to be not only a national but also an international figure in the staging and professionalization of Philippine folk dance. Together with Iñigo and the professional dancers of the Filipiniana Dance Group, I rehearsed dances from animistic and Indigenous communities in the northern Philippines as well as the Islamic populations of the southern Philippines and those taken from the country’s Spanish colonial period from the sixteenth century to the latter nineteenth century.
The eight Philippine folk dances that we will perform tonight are works of Corazon Iñigo. We will dance them against the backdrop of footage of performances by the Filipiniana Dance Troupe when I toured with them in Hamburg, Germany and from when the group performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Manila. Reconstructing these dances here in Canada and teaching them to Filipino and non‐Filipino dancers are cases informing my ongoing research that problematizes what I call from “field to stage to stage,” or the movement of dances from the local to the national to the transnational and global spaces. Flordeliza Fernandez‐Punzalan, my co‐choreographer for tonight’s performances, and I had the great opportunity to learn these dances from Corazon Iñigo and we would like to dedicate our show tonight to her.
While embodying the Philippines’ rich and wide‐array of dance traditions as a member of Filipiniana Dance Troupe, I asked: “Can one apply to dance the theories, methods and discursive frames from the study of literature and language such as nationalism, postcoloniality, translation, morphology, syntax and semantics?” Obviously one can. However, what can dance generate that will be different, a scholarship that is of the body, whose ontological status is very much predicated on its ephemerality?
As the dance critic Deborah Jowitt (2001) writes, dance is not like a line in a novel that you can bookmark and return to anytime, nor a piece of painting and sculpture that you can stare at indefinitely. Moments in dance fade away at the very second or nanosecond of their execution. Dance’s definition is realized through bodies that move and through a corporeality that exists in time and space.
Tonight, I will suggest that in the case of dance or dances, like those found in the Philippines and in areas where Filipinos have transnationally settled, a scholarship of what I call “intersecting modalities” is critical.
Following Karl G. Heider, the leading dance anthropologist, Sally Ann Ness, who I’ve had the good fortune of having as my doctoral supervisor, astutely argued in her 1988 review of Gary Kildea’s (1974) “Trobriand Cricket,” an often cited work in documentary filmmaking, that films should be accompanied by written texts to “fill in what the film leaves ambiguous” (Ness 1988, 35). And, may I add, that written texts should be accompanied by films to fill in what the written texts leave ambiguous. It is through the creation of multiple platforms—which, in my case, are through written publications, documentary films and live performances—that I participate in this act of “filling in.”
Together with a group of incredible dancers, cinematographers, film editors and research participants who populate my films, I weave these modalities, not to completely fill in discursive gaps, but to provoke those gaps to emerge. I also intend to demonstrate that knowledge production takes many forms. For a dance ethnographer like myself, conducting research among communities that are mostly marginalized, it’s my responsibility to make my research accessible to them, and articulating my research in various forms allows me to fulfill that responsibility.
To showcase the heterogeneity, and at the same time the singularity of Philippine culture, this staging of Philippine folk dances has been organized into suites. A Philippine dance concert typically opens with the Cordillera Suite, a grouping of dances from the Cordillera Mountain Range in the northern Philippines. Percussive sounds of bamboo instruments and brass gongs called the gangsa dictate the tempo of the dances and ritual practices of ethnic groups like the Ifugao. In this suite, men in loincloths and women in skirts and blouses balance water pots, or banga, on their heads to indicate their occupational roles in their community and take pride in the fact that the Spanish were unsuccessful in colonizing the Filipinos in this hard‐to‐reach region of the Philippines. The following two dances are from the Cordillera Suite, the first with gangsa and the next with banga.
During the American colonial period (1898–1946), American volunteer teachers were sent to the Philippines to establish a public education system and to train Filipinos to become future teachers. In 1901, 600 pioneer teachers, 170 of them women, sailed from San Francisco aboard the S.S. Thomas. Called the Thomasites, they taught not only English, mathematics, geography and practical arts, but also European folk dances that were brought by immigrants to the United States. These foreign dances became part and parcel of the Philippines’ physical education programs that linked dance and music with the enhancement of the physical and character development of Filipinos—ultimately strengthening the colonial government’s policy of benevolent assimilation.
As a reaction to learning Anglo‐European dances and in an effort to preserve a part of Philippine culture “untouched” by colonialism, Francisca Reyes Aquino, the first Philippine National Artist in Dance, conducted research and documented Philippine folk and indigenous dances and music beginning in the 1920s. With support from Jorge Bocobo, President of the University of the Philippines, which is the country’s premiere state university founded by the Americans in 1908, Aquino scoured the different islands of the Philippines for communities and individuals still practicing performance traditions that embodied what for her was authentic Filipino‐ness. These newly documented traditional dances and their music, which for mass instruction were notated for piano, were then reconstructed in Manila to instruct would‐be physical education teachers. Aquino, who was awarded a fellowship to pursue graduate studies at Boston University’s Sargent College of Physical Education, soon founded the University of the Philippines Folk Song and Dance Troupe, which in the 1940s provided dance shows for American service men. By the time the country gained its independence in 1946, Philippine dances and music had already become major units in the country’s physical education curriculum.
A decade later, Philippine dance companies began showcasing Philippine folk dances partnered with their indigenous musical instruments with phenomenal success on international and national stages. They represented, before foreign publics and Filipinos alike, the need to preserve one’s culture and to announce the country’s independence. Since then, the world‐renowned dance company, the Bayanihan, a Tagalog word meaning “helping one another in times of need,” has gone on international tours, serving as the country’s ambassadors of goodwill (Figure 2), as has the University of the Philippines Filipiniana Dance Group, which is a present‐day iteration of Aquino’s original Folk Song and Dance Troupe. Both Flordeliza Fernandez‐Punzalan and I and, later on, my younger brothers, were company members for many years. The Bayanihan, the country’s national dance company, first gained international prominence in the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and soon after on Broadway and the highly influential American television program, The Ed Sullivan Show. To date they have gone on 15 world tours, showcasing before foreign publics the rich and diverse dance heritage of the Philippines.
As a foil to the Cordillera dances that you just saw, we now turn to dances influenced by the Spanish. As background to this, allow me to show you the trailer for my documentary film, Ati‐atihan Lives (2013). It documents the Ati‐atihan, a largely Roman Catholic festival. In this trailer you will be introduced to the indigenous Ati (also known as Negrito), Imelda Chavez on her way to the festival in the Philippines, and to the Visayan, Henry Villanueva, who impersonates Michael Jackson during the Ati‐atihan as an act of faith.
Video 2: Excerpt from Ati‐atihan Lives (Patrick Alcedo, Dir.). Filmed in January 2009 in Kalibo, Aklan, Philippines, featuring performances by Imelda Chavez, Augusto Diangson, Cecile Motus and Henry Villanueva.
Filipinos have adapted and Filipinized dances like the Jota and Mazurka, which were introduced during the Spanish colonial period, mostly on the northern island of Luzon and the central islands of the Visayas. For instance, they use carved bamboos as castanets, Asian fans, called abaniko, and parasols as props for women to convey shyness to or, better yet, interest in their male suitors. In these dances, women wear formal gowns and men are outfitted in embroidered long‐sleeved shirts made of cotton or pineapple fibre, called barong tagalog. They dance to the string ensemble of the rondalla. We now perform two Spanish dances, Jota Gumaqueña, or the dance from Gumaqa, and Timawa, a dance with parasols. We will exit in the middle of Jota Gumaqueña for a critical transition to the next dance.
The middle section of the concert is the Muslim Suite, the dances from the southern island of Mindanao. The most recognizable of the dances in this suite is the dance of royalty known as the Singkil, from the people of Lake Lanao, the Maranao. The grandiosity of Singkil has secured its place as one of the highlights of a Philippine dance concert. Atier all, Singkil is about a lost princess going in and out of a field of clashing bamboo poles that symbolize a forest, followed by her female entourage, and eventually being rescued by a prince. It is a multi‐layered choreography that is put in motion by the deep and resonating sounds of the brass gongs of the kulintang.
Given that Singkil is extremely difficult to re-stage, requiring at least 20 dancers and bamboo clappers, and given that this dance is such an icon in Philippine dance, we will screen a spectacular rendition of it by the Filipiniana Dance Troupe at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
We will now perform the dance Kappa Malong‐Malong. It demonstrates different ways of wearing a tubular cloth. This dance, like Singkil, is also from the ethnolinguistic group of the Maranao.
As always the finale is the Rural Suite, which strings together dances of harvest, courtship and prayer of the As always, the finale is the Rural Suite, which strings together dances of harvest, courtship and prayer of the lowland Christian Filipinos. The air is filled again with lilting tunes coming from the plucked string instruments of the rondalla as dancers perform Pandanggo Sa Ilaw, which means “dance of lights”. This dance is based on the Spanish Fandango. In this Filipiniana version, we will combine Pandanggo with Wasiwas, a dance with lanterns, to mimic the movements of fireflies. When I was learning these dances, I realized that they required a significant amount of emotion. As Corazon Iñigo would say, I had to bring the audience to the warmth of our dancing. Such labour, which obviously was emotional, became a major theme in my forthcoming film, A Piece of Paradise, a story of three incredible Aklanon women and their families as they transform Toronto into their home away from home. So, before the performance of Pandanggo and Wasiwas, let me first screen the trailer for A Piece of Paradise.
Now we perform the Pandanggo and Wasiwas, exhibiting the emotion and warmth of the Rural Suite.
The middle dance in this final, rural suite is usually Maglalatik, meaning a dance of coconuts. This is a mock battle between two groups of men fighting over a piece of coconut land. I think the equivalent to this is the “battles” that you experience during dance jams; a friendly showing off of dance skills, which in the case of Maglalatik is the skill of sounding the coconuts on a dancer’s body while in performance.
When I was learning this dance with Corazon Iñigo, she would always remind dancers that Maglalatik required fixed masculinity. The theme of how masculinity could somehow be staged, how it could be an identity that is like a piece of costume taken on and off, became the inspiration behind my documentary, Boxing To Be the Next Pacquiao (2009), co‐produced with Fruto Corre and The New York Times. While doing research in my home province of Aklan, during the height of Manny Pacquiao’s popularity (when he was widely considered the best pound for pound boxer in the world), I started taking boxing lessons. The documentary is a glimpse of the lives of the boxing community in Aklan, the abject lives they live, and their hope to be like Pacquiao someday.
A few weeks ago, during an interview with Philippine television network, TV5, when asked about his stand on same‐sex marriage, Pacquaio said that homosexuals are “worse than animals.” His homophobic remark firmed up my decision to abandon my earlier plan of extending this documentary, which was supposed to be anchored in the inspiration that he generates for Filipino boxers. Instead, I will pursue a project on Pia Wurtzbach, the Miss Philippines who is now the reigning Miss Universe. Her advocacy for HIV awareness and concern for the LGBT community are deeply inspiring and are worth directing a film around. Let us now watch the dance Maglalatik.
A typical Philippine dance concert ends with the Tinikling, the familiar show stopper where dancers use a combination of grace, agility and speed to avoid having their feet caught in bamboo poles that are clapped faster and faster as the music rises to a steady crescendo. Let us watch the Tinikling performed by Filipiniana in 1992 in Germany.
Philippine dance, obviously, is not composed of folk dances only. Thus, as part of my current research I will include forms such as Philippine jazz and modern/contemporary dance. I’m so fortunate that my two brothers became major performers in Philippine jazz under the leadership of Douglas Nierras, a former soloist of Filipiniana and also a student of Corazon Iñigo. I’m excited to inform you that I was able to coerce my brother, Paolo Alcedo, who now performs and teaches jazz and commercial dancing in Los Angeles, California, to perform for us tonight. One of the delineating elements of Philippine jazz is that it is always danced to music popularized either through soap operas or Philippine cinema. In this solo piece, Paolo will dance to Nasaan Ka Man, meaning “wherever you are,” from the movie with the same title.
The last dance tonight is choreographed by Flordeliza Fernandez‐Punzalan. Here are her choreographer’s notes about this dance, Ang Kasal (or The Wedding) that she sent to me in a personal correspondence and I share with her permission:
The choreography is based on Bronislava Nijinska’s ballet, Les Noces, to the original music of Igor Stravinsky; an iconic ballet created in the early twentieth century for the Paris‐based dance company, the Ballets Russes. Ang Kasal is a contemporary ballet based on a Philippine ethnic dance, reflecting a westernized outlook on the Filipino traditional Ifugao wedding rite. The chosen dance excerpt has many movement dialogues and partnering between the bride and the groom, relationships which indicate the emotions and excitement of what the future holds for the couple. Almost at the end of the excerpt, the serene walk of the couple is reflective of the traditional walk down the aisle of the bride and groom. However, instead of leading to the altar it leads them to the rice terraces, the Ifugao tribe’s sacred “altar.” This particular gesture is a symbol of respect for the culture and their community. However, after the final rite the couple strongly suggests their understanding that they will live their lives according to altered and contemporized belief—a marriage that hopes to work more for both the bride and groom and that is less dictated by their elders and community.
In conclusion, dance is both a window into and a shaper of a people’s culture and history. And Philippine folk dance, which is the focus of my talk today, is no exception. The now‐established discipline of Dance Studies has convincingly argued and demonstrated, by way of ethnography and historiography, that dancing is not simply for entertainment, but is more importantly an active element in the shaping of a society’s fabric.
As an expressive cultural form, and through the vicissitudes of the lives of participants who perform these dances, my presentation narrated the experience of Filipinos. It has taken us through the American colonial period in the early part of the twentieth century, the ensuing independence of the Philippines in the middle of that century, to a time when Philippine dances are now performed outside of the Philippines to announce that this “young” nation is ready to be a major player on the world’s cultural stage and to represent its responsiveness to popular and contemporizing forces. I paid and will continue to pay attention to some of the ways in which Filipinos have artistically and publicly expressed themselves—how they have energized, consolidated and even challenged Philippine culture through their search for authenticity, their strategies of hybridity and folklorization and their tapping into each other’s resilience during moments that question and threaten their very existence as a people.
By way of Philippine dances and their various stagings, my talk illustrated the complexity and richness of the cultural identities of Filipinos and their responses to issues of nationalism, postcoloniality and immigration that are inextricably linked with the country’s deep colonial ties to Europe, Latin America and the United States, and to its ongoing response to globalization. Although these cultural characteristics are divided into parts, they are not mutually exclusive. Rather, their bands are elastic enough to make them actively interact with each other.
Along the same vein as the research objective set out by Francisca Reyes Aquino, the first Philippine National Artist in Dance that I mentioned earlier, preserving Philippine folk or traditional dances and transforming them in today’s modern theatrical pieces are manifestations of Filipinos’ desires for cultural nationalism and for establishing a place in the world for themselves that colonialism and sojourning have kept in flux. In this brief lecture-demonstration, I hope that I have begun to flesh out the agency of Filipinos in the Philippines and elsewhere, an agency evidenced by the performative strategies they deploy in the production of dances as simultaneous expressions of their national and transnational character.
In the years to come, I will conduct fieldwork among different ethnic communities in the Philippines to research their dances in this contemporary period. I will also conduct archival research at national libraries in Manila and in institutions that have repository knowledge of the American colonial period. In the future, I intend to explain further the reasons behind the founding in Canada, and especially in the Greater Toronto Area, of Philippine folk dance groups, which have created hybrid identities that enable Filipino immigrants to be at home in the world as both Filipinos and Canadians.
Finally, this lecture will hopefully add to scholarship in Philippine Studies, Dance Studies and the general field of ethnographies of cultural change and embodied representations. Not only will my resulting publications be directed toward readerships and viewership in Philippine studies and Dance studies in particular, but also Cultural studies in general, a larger multidisciplinary field that is invested in understanding ethnic groups on the move who, like the Filipinos, have become too large to be ignored.
Alcedo, Patrick (Director). (2017). A Piece of Paradise. Toronto: York University.
Alcedo, Patrick (Director). (2012). Ati‐atihan Lives. Toronto: York University.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin. (1989). The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Postcolonial Literature. London: Routledge.
Donaldson, Nancy, Fruto Corre and Patrick Alcedo (Directors). (2009). Boxing in the Shadow of Pacquiao. New York: The New York Times .
Jowitt, Deborah. (2001). Beyond description: Writing beneath the surface. In Ann Dils and Ann Cooper Albright (eds.), Moving History/Dancing Cultures: A Dance History Reader. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 7‐11.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. (1992). One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Harper Collins.
Ness, Sally Ann. (1988). Understanding Cultural Performance: Trobriand Cricket. TDR 32(4): 135‐147.
Toer, Pramoedya Ananta. (1982). This Earth of Mankind. New York: Penguin.
This paper is based on Patrick Alcedo’s 24 February 2016 lecture-performance, “An Empire Stages Back: Nationalism, Postcoloniality and the Diaspora in Philippine Dance” at York University.
Please cite this paper as:
Alcedo, Patrick. (2017). An Empire Stages Back: Nationalism, Postcoloniality and the Diaspora in Philippine Dance. Asia Colloquia Papers 7(1). Toronto: York Centre for Asian Research. Available at: www.yorku.ca/ycar. ISBN: 9781550146554
“An Empire Stages Back: Nationalism, Postcoloniality and the Diaspora in Philippine Dance” lecture‐ performance was made possible with the support of the Department of Dance, York University, the York Centre for Asian Research, the Fiesta Filipina Dance Troupe, Crista Aguinaldo, Paolo Alcedo, Regina Bautista, Flordeliza Fernandez‐Punzalan, Alicia Filipowich, Chris Gallina, Syreeta Hector, Philip Kelly, Sebastian Oreamuno, Phoebe Sequino, Nicholas Szekeley and Michael Vintila.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR
An associate professor in the Department of Dance at York University, Patrick Alcedo holds a Government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Award. York’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design has awarded him with both Junior and Senior Teaching Awards for excellence in teaching. He is the lead editor of Religious Festivals in Contemporary Southeast Asia (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2016), which was nominated for the 36th National Book Award in the Philippines. In recognition of his achievements in dance research, in 2014 he received the Selma Jeanne Cohen Fund for International Scholarship on Dance from the Fulbright Association of America. The following year York University named him a York University Research Leader. A director, producer, and writer of 5 documentary films, his feature‐length documentary, A Piece of Paradise, has won five international film awards, including the Centennial Best Canadian Film Award and the National Bank Best First Feature Film Award at the 2017 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.
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