Sunday 18 December 2011

The Lucila Project at the Alberta Arts Days - A. Blair McPherson School, Edmonton

All across Alberta, from Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 were events marking Alberta Arts Days.  Alberta Arts Days began in 2008 as a one-day event to recognize the value of Alberta’s arts and cultural communities.  Since then, it has expanded into a vibrant, three day province-wide celebration that has helped inspire the creation of Culture Days, showcasing the province’s artists, arts organizations and cultural identities, while encouraging Albertans to discover the important role the arts plays in developing a prosperous, vibrant society.  This year, a total of 64 host celebration sites were chosen by the Govt. of Alberta Culture and Community Spirit.
This is a brainchild of Minister of Culture and Community Spirit Lindsay Blackett, who says “We’ve got so many great artists of all different types and genres in all different places, we have to come together as a province to celebrate it.”  He fondly refers this as the “Pied Piper” project, “We’re just going to keep adding people until every Albertan joins in, like the Pied Piper.”
In Edmonton, the three day event was marked in various ways: free admission to provincially owned historic sites, attractions and museums; Film & Writing workshops, and a Storytelling Festival at the Edmonton Public Library; tours of the Winspear and Citadel Theatres; Edmonton Symphony Orchestra open rehearsals and special performances; InFuse, by the National Black Coalition of Canada, Edmonton chapter; and workshops and exhibits from the artists at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts.  Two schools were also chosen to participate in this Alberta Arts Days Initiative: the Bishop Greschuk Elementary School and the A. Blair McPherson School.
Amongst the artists showcased at the A. Blair McPherson (ABM) School Alberta Arts Days Celebration is The Lucila Project. This is a dance company specializing in modern ballet pieces infused with Philippine traditional customs and images.  Under the artistic direction of Jojo Lucila and Ida Beltran-Lucila, they held a dance photo exhibit, conducted a lecture-demonstration dance class and presented dances ranging from the contemporary, lyrical, athletic and tribal styles.  Their participation introduced the community to Philippine ethnic dances and traditions, music and modern ballet technique.
Other performers/artists at the ABM were: West African Dance Troupe (interactive workshop); French, German and Italian opera; traditional Indian dance; Prince Charles School Fiddlers and Dancers; Rosslyn School Chinese and Lion Dancers; 3rd Street Beat; Beaumont Society School of Dance; Bobby Boogaloo; Cindy Clarke The Clay Teacher; City Arts Centre Director’s Cut Program; Gail de Vos (Storyteller); Gail Sobat (Author); Jeff Hendrick (Saxophonist, Soul-singer, Songwriter & Canadian Producer); Shelley’s Dance Company; and Les Bucheron French Canadian Display.
It was a great couple of days for participating in art, dance and improvisation workshops, viewing exhibits, watching performances and shopping in the International Market.  The general feedback is enthusiasm for next year’s celebration, proving the concept of the Alberta Arts Days as a “Pied Piper” project.

* This article was written for and published in Pinoy Times, October 2011 issue.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Lifting the People’s Spirits through the Arts – Bacolod’s Masskara Festival

October marks the celebration of the Masskara Festival, which occurs from October 1-20 and celebrates Bacolod’s charter day anniversary, which is on October 19. The festival name is a morpheme of the word “mass” for crowd and the Spanish word “cara” for face. “Maskara” is also the Filipino word for masks, providing then the double meaning of “many faces” for the festival. This name was conceived by Ely Santiago – a painter, cartoonist, cultural artist and then President of the Arts Association of Bacolod.

A smiling mask is the symbol of the fiesta to reflect the happy spirit despite difficult times, and the locals’ nature of being strong willed yet warm hearted. The city is also known as the City of Smiles, so it is just fitting to hold a festival of smiles. The Masskara Festival was envisioned in 1980 when the people were suffering from an economic downturn of the sugar industry, the city’s main revenue. They were also grieving for hundreds of relatives and friends who perished in 1979 when a ship sailing from Bacolod collided with a tanker. The city’s leaders thought that a festival was an optimal way of rallying the people and lifting them from dejection.

The festival since then has evolved into a 20-day celebration with food fairs, mask-making contests, brass band competitions, musical concerts, beauty and talent pageants, a windsurfing regatta, competitions (pig catching, pole climbing, drinking, eating), trade fairs and exhibits. The climax is a mardi gras parade where revelers don elaborate masks and costumes, and dance in the streets. Everyone in the community participates – the civic associations, businesses, schools and government organizations. It has become one of the popular attractions in Negros, drawing thousands of people within and outside the country.

The Masskara Festival has also been judged the most beautiful and colorful festival among various contingents from other countries - notably in the Chinggay Festival in Singapore in 1988, the Lunar Festival of Hong Kong in 2001, in the International Tourism Festival of Shanghai in 2004 and in the Midosuji Festival Parade of Osaka, Japan, emerging as champion in the foreign category and first runner up in the local category – the first award to be given to a foreign participant in the 10-year history of that Japanese festival.

What was borne from a difficult time has propelled into a force that brings the community together, draws people from within and outside of the country, turns the economy around as one of the tourist destinations, and lifts the spirits of the people. The Masskara Festival is not based on any historical, religious or cultural premise but is definitely a creative undertaking. It is a manifestation of the people’s sentiments, their ingenuity and passion. And most importantly, it is a shining example of how one instinctively turns to art for expression, for escape, for hope and for celebration.

* this article was written for the October maiden issue of Pinoy Living, published in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Saturday 8 October 2011

Filipinos Shine in the World Stage of Ballet

Candice & JM in "Diana and Acteon"

Candice Adea and Jean Marc (JM) Cordero have been consistently putting the Philippines in the international dance map for the last couple of years.  Both principal dancers of Ballet Philippines, resident dance company of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, the onstage & offstage partners have been representing the country in prestigious international ballet competitions.  
Candice in "Don Quixote"
Most recently, they represented the country in the 8th Seoul International Dance Competition held from July 24-31, 2011.  The pair made it to the Finals, despite a raging fever during the elimination rounds for JM, and with a Bronze finish for Candice.  Last May,  the pair garnered Special Awards in the 1st Boston International Ballet Competition (BIBC).  They won the Lead Role in Russian Ballet Performance, an award given by the Artistic Director of Chelyabinsk State Academy Opera and Ballet Theater to a dancer/pair of the highest level.  They will be dancing the lead roles in the full length production of Don Quixote.  Candice also won the Maris Liepa Prize for Outstanding Artistry.  This special prize, presented by BIBC 2011 judge Andris Liepa, son of late ballet legend Maris Liepa, is an invitation to perform in Paris in 2012 along with stars from Bolshoi and Marjinsky Theatres (two of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world) presenting Fokine ballets as part of the Russian season in France.  Candice will be performing “Firebird.”
JM in "Don Quixote"
In June 2010, they competed with 119 other contestants at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, considered the Olympics of Dance.  Candice won the Silver Medal in the Senior Division, the first Filipina to ever win a medal in this competition.   Cordero was a semi-finalist, the farthest any Filipino danseur has placed here in Jackson.  It is worth mentioning that they were early favorites in the competition, receiving a standing ovation as early as the first round.
Their partnership started in 2007 for the New York Ballet Competition.  From then on, they have been essaying soloist and principal roles in the seasons of Ballet Philippines.  In 2009, Candice received the Gawad Buhay Award for the Most Outstanding Female Lead Dancer.
in Augustus Damian III's "Evacuation"
I first saw Candice when she was preparing for the ballet competition in Tokyo, Japan, as a student of the Makiling High School for the Arts.  This was for the 9th Asia Pacific Ballet Competition and at the young age of 13, finished as finalist.  I remember then feeling the thrill in the gut that you get when you see someone special, a person of real promise.  Then having worked with her in Ballet Philippines, I have witnessed her dedication, her love for dance and also her quirkiness, which are lovable and amusing, nevertheless.  JM, on the other hand, is a surprise since he was really just taking ballet to while away the time he was waiting for Candice, his girlfriend since their Makiling days.  To have achieved all these, despite starting training at the age of 18, is indeed quite a feat.

Candice in "Diana and Acteon"
Today, with all their international achievements and recognition, they have acquired an artistic maturity that is achieved through the rare combination of hard work, commitment and humility.  And with this, it is only inevitable that they attract more admiration, support and recognition.  Their achievements also prove that the Filipino talent, provided with the support of both the artistic and business community, is indeed world class.  In an interview after her Jackson competition feat, Candice was quoted as saying, “We Filipinos are not far behind from the rest of the world, especially if we put our heart and mind to it.  Everyone was good, but what set us apart was our soul in dancing.”  And what beautiful souls they have, I can attest.

* this article was written for Pinoy Living, launch edition

Saturday 1 October 2011

Pinoy Singing Sensation 3

* this article was written for Pinoy Times, published in the September 2011 issue

Darren Espanto, Pinoy Singing Sensation 3 Champion
The Pinoy Singing Sensation (PSS) had its Season 3 Finals Night last August 20 at the Gateway Alliance Church in Edmonton.  With contestants from Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan, the young singers went through vigorous rounds - American Idol style, singing Billboard Top 100 and OPM (original pilipino music) songs, complete with judges’ comments and scoring, and audience and web voting.
The PSS was established by Tony Surtida of Le Tigre Entertainment Productions to discover the untapped talent pool in the Filipino community in different cities.  It is open to anyone who is of Filipino descent and has attracted these past years both citizens, permanent residents and temporary foreign workers.  The annual competition has slowly extended its scope through the years: by conducting auditions in areas outside of Edmonton and even out of province; by launching a Junior edition; and by adding web voting, thereby allowing anyone from anywhere in the world to cast their votes.  Future plans are to add a Masters’ edition for ‘mature’ singers, extending the geographic scope of the competition, an online competition and raising the financial awards for contestants.
This year’s crop of contestants unexpectedly whittled down from 27 contestants to 13 due to health reasons, logistics and inability to secure leave from work, particularly those from outside of Alberta.  The age range was from 8 to 35 years old.  I had the privilege of hearing the singing prowess of all 13 contestants since they requested that all be allowed to sing in the Finals, rather than the originally planned Top 12.  The evening had the American Idol like atmosphere - what with the crowd cheering for their own candidates and applauding for every sustained and high note sang by each contestant.  It was incredible to witness unassuming, shy and at times awkward young people walk on stage only to transform in a matter of seconds, as soon as they open their mouths to sing.  Gleaning from the judges’ comments, the contestants have taken to heart the critiques they have received in the previous rounds and have over all improved their performances.  But in general, these young performers will benefit from more singing opportunities and voice coaching in the future to overcome nerves, develop audience rapport and improve performance technique.
the 6 finalists
After the first tally of audience and judges’ votes, the contestants were pared down to the 6 finalists and with another round of voting, the winners were announced:  
  • Darren Espanto - a 10 year old who made PSS history by scoring a perfect score from all judges during the previous round and whose angelic voice, boyish charm and strong stage presence earned him the Championship
  • 15 year old Alexandra Villamar, a powerhouse of a girl who landed in 2nd place
  • Charmayne Javier - a new immigrant from Davao, with a very good voice quality (3rd)
  • Jade Pearl Dancel - who exudes a maturity and confidence beyond her age (4th) 
  • Sunshine Bautista - an English teacher who was tone deaf but was able to overcome this through determination and hard work; she is the contestant who understands most about imaging and packaging herself in accordance with her choice of songs (5th)
  • Rofelle Antonio - a winsome girl with a captivating voice and expressive face (6th)
Prizes at stake were: $ 3000 (1st Place), $ 1000 (2nd Place), $ 500 (3rd Place) and $ 150 (4th-6th Places).  It was interesting to watch the final round and witness one singer after another stepping up to the plate, singing their hearts out and thereby heating up the competition and erasing all previous notions that a particular candidate had the win in the bag.
the judges
It was admittedly a long evening (4 hours) but taking into account that it allowed one to share in somebody else’s shining moment of fame made it worth it.  There were some moments when I got the goosebumps when faced with what was apparently God-given talent.  I remember an instance way way back in my past when I was so impressed with a singer in an amateur show.  So much so that I did not forget her name.  She was Chona Velasquez who later on changed her name to Regine Velasquez.  And so with these young singers, who joined the competition either for fun, for a learning experience or as a stepping stone for a professional career, there is the hope that they realize and develop their potential.  
The Pinoy Singing Sensation then serves its purpose of being a platform for young talents to indulge in their vocal prowess for whatever purpose they will decide on.  It is now up to the organizers to develop a format that would make this more interesting and marketable to the general public.  One that would create an audience who would view the show for its program content and not just for relatives and friends who would come to vote for their respective candidates.  Undoubtedly, the Filipinos are a talented race and something that we should always showcase and continually be proud of.  And seeing how this competition has improved in its 3 years of existence, it is anticipated that the organizers would find a way to meld the artistic and commercial aspects of this endeavor.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Mayor's Arts Visioning Committee - Edmonton as a Cultural Hub

I was fortunate enough to be a part of a Discovery Dialogue for Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel's Arts Visioning Committee last August 10.  Co-chaired by Dianne Kipnes and Brian Webb, the committee was tasked to understand and develop how Edmonton can use arts and culture to promote citizens' pride in the city through 2035 and beyond.  In the kick-off event "Think Tank for the Arts" last June that brought together artists, entrepreneurs, activists, performers, students, developers and community leaders, Mayor Stephen Mandel remarked that "Arts and culture form the very heart and spirit of a community, and are the things from which great cities are made.  I believe that Edmonton's vibrant arts community, knack for creativity and innovation, and unique multicultural character position us for success. This Think Tank event is about listening and working with the community to start to pull together an integrated and coordinated plan to raise the profile of arts in our city."

The Discovery Dialogues were the next round of consultations with various sectors of the community undertaken by the committee over the summer. Present were Councilor Ben Henderson, Dick Wong of the City Arts Council, Brian Webb and John Mahon, Executive Director of the Edmonton Arts Council. There were also representatives from various cultural communities engaged in the different arts - dance, music, opera, literature and the visual arts. The discussion centered around concepts and sharing of experiences on gaps in the Edmonton arts community, strategies, integration of arts and the business community, possible arts venues/locations, mentorship program, opportunities for emerging but mature artists, networking opportunities, festivals, free or low cost space, more quality performing venues, grants and other sources of revenue, artist recognition and integration of the arts further into the civic fabric.

The next round will be business, design and architecture stakeholder conversations on transforming and repurposing identified areas. These include the Rossdale Power Generation Station and riverfront plaza, MacEwan Centre for the Arts and Communications, Quarters area, downtown area and airport lands. Topics will include developing and planning the details about the amenities, programs and services that can be offered in these locations. The report with recommendations is targeted to be submitted by the Arts Visioning Committee to City Council by end of the year.

Ida Beltran-Lucila with Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel

It is gratifying to see that in these times of financial uncertainty, city government is pulling out all the stops in raising the profile of the arts and elevating it across the city, whereas other governments may be inclined to relegate it to the bottom of the priority list. After all, in the words of Mayor Mandel, "If we truly want to focus on attracting business and creating a superior quality of life for Edmontonians, we must start with the creative industry of our citizens... Opening our city up to the kind of creative excellence and energy that drives the arts industry is good business.  The arts can be a valuable economic driver for region."  Indeed, Edmonton will prove itself to be a good place for people, especially artists, to be.

* this article was written for Pinoy Times, published in September 2011 issue

Friday 19 August 2011

Edmonton Heritage Festival 2011

Edmonton celebrated its 36th Heritage Festival from July 30-August 1 at the Hawrelak Park.  An annual showcase and celebration of Canada’s vibrant multicultural heritage, it boasted of 63 pavilions representing more than 75 cultures.  Inititated in 1974, then Minister of Culture Horst Schmidt declared the first Monday of August an annual holiday to recognise Alberta’s ethnic diversity.  A cultural feast for the senses, it showcased food, entertainment and arts and crafts displays.
Philippine Pavilion

Philippine arts and crafts on display, for sale

the Department of Tourism display with Phil. Pavilion Overall Chairman Wilf Ladores and choreographer/director Jojo Lucila

young boys performing the Maglalatik

dancers of the Karilagan Dance Society
The Heritage Days is one of my favorite festivals in the city.  As you go from one pavilion to another and watch the cultural presentations, you glean the commonalities countries have - traits shared either by geographic proximity or colonization.  It is heartwarming to see people dressed in their national attires, proud to show off their ancestry and earnest in sharing it with others.  And in the true spirit of intercultural collaboration, I saw the Pacific Island Dance Troupe, a Filipino group presenting Philippine folk dances and Hawaiian dances, performing at the Polynesian Pavilion.
The Philippine Pavilion on the otherhand, was overseen by the Council of Edmonton Filipino Associations (CEFA) with Wilf Ladores as Overall Chairman, Josie Pallard as Arts & Craft Chair, Elmina Cochingco as Entertainment Chair and Mandy Servito as Food Chair.  Also present was the Department of Tourism, San Francisco office.  I have observed that the Philippine cultural presentations were mostly done by the Karilagan Dance Society these past years.  They have successfully presented numbers that showed youthful enthusiasm and appeal.  One just only wishes that there were some presentations by other Filipino cultural organizations and performing groups  as well, for a more inclusive event and truly representative of the Edmonton Filipino community.  Kudos, however, to the organizers, participants and volunteers for all their dedication and hard work in the Heritage Festival every year. 

* this article was written for the Pinoy Times, published in the August 2011 issue

Friday 5 August 2011

PCARDD Canada Day Performance

The Philippine Canadian Association of Red Deer and District (PCARDD) Folk Dance Troupe performed during the City of Red Deer’s Canada Day Celebrations held at the Bower Ponds.  This was the 15th year for the organization to participate in the Cultural Showcase.  For this year, in addition to their regular folk dance hits of “Maglalatik” and “Sayaw sa Bangko”, they premiered a new repertoire of Maria Clara and other rural dances, as staged and choreographed by Jojo Lucila, an Edmonton-based choreographer and dance director.
Under the leadership of President Alex Capicio, the organization infused new energy to its Folk Dance Troupe via a 10-week workshop on Philippine Folk Dance with Jojo Lucila.  This latest initiative saw an increase in number of participants from the Red Deer Community, fulfilling its mandate of conserving and promoting the Philippine cultural heritage in Canada.  The young dancers not only experienced the discipline that is always exacted by a professional artist but   were provided a context of the various folk dances in our Philippine culture.  The successful performance during Canada Day elicited positive reactions from the audience and enthusiasm from Filipinos of all ages to participate in succeeding programs.
Other performers for the Red Deer Canada Day Celebration were the Scottish Country Dancers, Irish Dance Club, Indo Canadian Dancers, Chinese Performers, Ukrainian Dance Group, Salvadorian Society, Belly Elegance and the Tahitian Dancers.

PCARDD Folk Dance Troupe

PCARDD President Alex Capicio

PCARDD Dance Troupe in "Bulaklakan"

Choreographer/Director Jojo Lucila with PCARDD President Alex Capicio

Performance for Atienza - Wolfaardt Wedding

Jojo Lucila conceptualized a surprise number to celebrate the union of Mia Atienza and Ulli Wolfaardt last May 2011 at the Matrix Hotel.  With the Philippine Choral Group and select dancers of The Lucila Project,  it was a presentation of Philippine and South African songs and dance that brought everyone, especially the bride and groom and their family, to tears.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Invest in the Arts

In the "MLAs Face to Face with the Filipino Community" session held last April 19, 2011 hosted by MLA Carl Benito, amongst the issues of temporary foreign workers, immigration,  and Filipino nurses, a concern on the significance of arts and culture in the work of the ministries represented, i.e. Health, Immigration, and Education, and a push for an increase in profile of Philippine arts and culture was raised. 

It was gratifying to hear Minister Dave Hancock's response that the next direction for Education is Creativity, after Literacy.  This thrust then makes the Arts a core subject, rather than a peripheral one.  For to create tomorrow's leaders in a world we are not definite on how it will look, we need to nurture creativity and innovation.

Music, dance, poetry, visual arts, etc., are thought to enhance intelligence, physical and mental health for the young and old, and foster multicultural understandings.  The arts are expressions of creativity and can instill confidence and build self-worth.

Mayor Stephen Mandel himself highlights the importance of arts in our community, with the following excerpts from his State of the City address:
  • ...if we truly want to focus on attracting business and creating a superior quality of life for Edmontonians, we must start with the creative industry of our citizens...
  • ...the promise of our future can be secured by cultivating and investing in our arts industry...
  • ...the vision is to establish Edmonton one of Canada's clear cultural HUBs, supporting excellence across all mediums with arts as an economic driver for our region...
Arts then, indeed, is an industry and is an economic factor in society.  In America, its highest earning industry is Broadway and also its biggest export, with all the touring these productions do.

So with all these proven individual and societal benefits, why not invest in the arts?  It is never too early or too late to be involved.  Enrol in courses in dance, music, theatre and the visual arts.  Watch local performances, visit galleries, instill a love for reading.  Take advantage of the cyberworld and visit the different companies, theatres and witness the artistry in their various works.  Volunteer in and/or sponsor art events in your local community.  One does not have to have professional aspirations to appreciate and benefit from art.  For when the art speaks to one self, it speaks direct to the core, to the soul.

And having experienced that, we make our world a better place to live in.

Saturday 16 April 2011

Mayor Stephen Mandel's State of the City Address - April 5, 2011

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel highlights the Arts in his State of the City Address

Here are some excerpts:

I want to thank the Belle Rouge Music group for entertaining us today and bringing a bit more of the spirit of spring into this event.  

I asked them to be here, not just for their talent but to provide a concrete example of what we all know to be true – that we have an amazing arts community in Edmonton.

And because I wanted to highlight something that I believe will be true about our future – that if we truly want to focus on attracting business and creating a superior quality of life for Edmontonians, we must start with the creative industry of our citizens. 

Yes arts are an industry. 

And I believe that the promise of our future can be secured by cultivating and investing in our arts industry as we do across many environments, and in more equal measure. 

One of my favourite urban commentators is Richard Florida who has shown repeatedly that cities who thrive do so on the creative industry of their citizens. 

And he notes that these people, who are mobile and who see a world without boundaries can choose to go anywhere. So why not here? 

Why not make Edmonton the kind of City that welcomes artists to a level that we have not yet contemplated? 

Doing so is good business. As a city government, we invest in structural foundations that help our communities and businesses to thrive. Why not consider arts in the same way? 

Edmonton has a tremendous, talented arts community, and we all enjoy its many expressions. 

But as we are entertained, I believe we fail to fully appreciate the economic inputs and energy that are also created. 

And as our three-year capital budget debates begin over the next few months, I want to infuse some thoughts about arts infrastructure into our long-term thinking. 

Which is why I’ve now tasked a new arts visioning committee, co-chaired by Brian Webb and Dianne Kipnes, who are bringing together artists, arts administrators, and local business leaders in an open forum focused on how we can raise the profile of arts, and through it, our city. 

This effort builds on our arts plan – the Art of Living – which started to frame some bolder thinking about the arts. It asks how we can ensure our arts industry is more fundamental to our core. 

The vision is to establish Edmonton one of Canada’s clear cultural HUBs, supporting excellence across all mediums with arts as an economic driver for our region. 

And from the efforts of these community thinkers, we will consider how we can help our arts community thrive as part of our overall mosaic of business and creative industry.