Likha Filipino Folk Ensemble Celebrates Two Decades

17 Sep

August 25-26 the Likha Filipino Folk Ensemble appeared at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts Theater under the title of Saludo. Celebrating  twenty years of longevity, despite a heavenly afternoon and the pull of the American Cup activities in the Bay, the audience was near capacity.
Likha’s glossy black-covered $10 souvenir brochure listed prior production covers, out of state and out of country appearances with small photographs of some of those highlights, credited with financing 15 full-length shows.  Each page, devoted to one of the areas, provided an image with identification and explanation of the dance on the upper right hand side of the page, while the same position on the left covered a summary of the overall theme.  The back inside cover described the Rondalla, the traditional Filipino stringed instrument ensemble, with a brief discussion attributed to Douglas Beck from Filipinas  magazine.  No listing of the dancers or musicians was included, let alone the dances in which they performed.

For this program Likha turned to an exposition of four major areas and/or traditions of the 6000 island archipelago: Cordillera, the mountainous region of Luzon; Barrio, the rural farming existence; Lumad,  from Southern Mindinao with the T’boli. Sibanen and Batak tribes; Bailes de Ayer with its Spanish colonial emphasis and Mindanao with its  Muslim adherents.

Arriving late, I saw perhaps half of the Barrio section.  This included a spectacular ensemble numbers always enjoyable to watch: Maglalatik with halves of coconut shells strapped to both sides of the upper chest, at the hips and at the knees.  The dancer, holding a half shell in each hand strikes the other shells on his body in a pattern which waxes from leisurely to frantic.  The program credits it to the Laguna province.

A second highlight, from Pangasinan, comes the Pandanggo Sa Banko where lit votive candle holders are held in the hands and on the head  of women dressed either in a camisetta and long skirt or a dress adorned with butterfly sleeves.  The men also partake of the same challenge practically doing push ups at one point.  Men and women stand on a bench and slide by each other after manipulating the votives with circular hand movements.

Finally the ubiquitous Tinikling, credited to the Leyte region, was performed.

Lumad, or the Indigenous, was listed before the intermission, and perhaps was one of the most absorbing of the five groups, since the traditions from Mindinao are those which retain animism and are not Muslim nor Christian.  The interweaving of the three tribal groups was handled extremely well and the costumes were close to the examples displayed in Habi, the definitive book on the subject.  The solemnity and reliance on signs of the spirit to bless and gather the harvest manages to cross the footlights quite clearly.  Of all the numbers, Lumad appeared to be the least “hyped up.”

The Spanish colonial tradition which followed intermission allowed the ensemble to display men wearing barong tagalogs, the diaphonous embroidered shirt worn outside the trousers, a sly riposte to Spanish sartorial constraints, and the women in the full skirted garments with slight trains, the bodice sporting a stylized bandana noted as the Maria Clara, embellished with lace.  Most of these dances are credited to Manila. Dresses in white, for the Jota Manilena, sported jet black aprons with varying degrees of lace, embroidery or brilliants.  The Sevillana,  a clear cousin to its  Andulician origins, enjoyed contrast between tops and skirts, was credited to Zamboanga. The dances, graceful adaptations of Spanish social dances, use bamboo for castanets, flatter and softer in sound than their Iberian models.

The two decades’ celebration finished with the Muslim traditions of Mindanao, an island possessing several  minority tribes beyond the traditions of Yakan, Tausig, Magindanao and the Maranao.  Emphasis was given to dances involving bamboo poles, used for balance, skill and the snooty version of Tinakling, accompanied by the brass Kulintang instruments.

Likha Filipino Folk Ensemble admirably demonstrates strong involvement by Filipinos and Filipino-Americans  in terms of numbers, age and physical size.  My one quibble with its admirable collection of dancers is that many male participants display less than optimum posture and  need training to realign their bodies for maximum health and effect.

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