Saturday 27 October 2012

History through Film

Lino Brocka's Ora Pro Nobis
The month of September marks two events that our generation remembers well - the 9/11 tragedy, and the declaration of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos.  On these dates, there were widespread media focus to ensure that the ideals, the heroes, significances and consequences are not forgotten by this and future generations.  

Artists derive inspiration from their world - their reality.  In turn, they become a voice, in advocating and recording snippets of history.  Film is one such medium that has been widely utilized both for its value for entertainment and propaganda.  Here, we recall some of the landmark works in Philippine cinema, significant for their artistic and historical merits.

The first movie made by a Filipino is Jose Nepomuceno’s Dalagang Bukid in 1919, based on  the highly acclaimed musical/zarzuela of the same title by Hermogenes Ilagan and Leon Ignacio and starring Atang de la Rama.  During the war, more films of sociopolitical and historical nature abound, some even garnering awards and making the circuit of international film festivals.  Examples of these are: Lamberto Avellana’s Anak Dalita (Child of Sorrow, 1956), which focused on the stark tragedy of post-World War II survival set in Intramuros; and Gerardo de Leon’s Ifugao (1954).  Other notable films of this time too are: Guerilyera (1946), starring Carmen Rosales and Cesar Baltazar, a film about the guerilla movement during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; Death March (1946), a portrayal of the Bataan Death March, directed by Lamberto Avellana and starred Leopoldo Salcedo, Norma Blancaflor.

Chito Rono's Dekada '70
With the resurgence of film companies like Sampaguita Pictures, LVN and Premiere Productions, came a new beginning for an era of love themes, musicals and romance.  But there were also more films that extolled the virtues of heroism, patriotism, struggle and sacrifice as a consequence of Philippine political events and issues like colonization, martial law, power abuse, etc.  Some films brought issues to the social consciousness, issues that were difficult to face and accept.  Some of these are: 
Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Jose Rizal
Mike de Leon's Sister Stella L
  • Gerardo de Leon’s film adaptations of Jose Rizal’s novels Noli Me Tangere (1961) and El Filibusterismo (1962).
  • Eddie Romero’s Manila, Open City (1968), set during the Japanese occupation, depicts the fate of a Filipino who, after collaborating with the Japanese, switches allegiance to the Americans.
  • Eddie Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (1976), follows the struggle of a country from the Philippine revolution to the Phil-American war, through the eyes of a country boy portrayed by Christopher de Leon, in parallel to his search for his own identity.
  • Eddie Romero’s Aguila (1979), an epic movie chronicling the highlights of Philippine history from the 1896 revolution to militant student activities in the ‘70s.  It starred Fernando Poe Jr. and Christopher de Leon.
  • Celso Ad. Castillo’s Ang Alamat ni Julian Makabayan (1979), starring Christopher de Leon focuses on agrarian unrest and feudal oppression.
  • Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L (1984), starring Vilma Santos, is the director’s response to the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, through the story of a nun who gets involved in labour strikes and confronted with issues of labor, politics and religion.  It also raised an argument about the separation of church and state in the country.
  • Lino Brocka’s Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1985), a film that focuses on inherent corruption in government, pre-martial law era.  It caused a furor when it was smuggled for showing at the Cannes Film Festival, consequently banned in the Philippines and caused Lino Brocka’s arrest.  It had Phillip Salvador and Gina Alajar as actors.
  • Lino Brocka’s Orapronobis (1989) depicts the human rights abuses during the ‘80s, starring Phillip Salvador and Dina Bonnevie.  It was highly controversial and was banned for a time by then President Corazon Aquino.
  • Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998), a biographical film on national hero Jose Rizal starring Cesar Montano.  The film was screened in several prestigious international film festivals and is credited with re-introducing the hero to a new generation.
  • Chito Roño’s Dekada ’70 (2002), starring Vilma Santos and Christopher de Leon, centres around a family affected by the political turmoil that set the declaration of martial law.   It is based on a novel with the same title by Lualhati Bautista.
  • Raya Martin’s Independencia (2009) set in the early 20th century, it comments on how the Philippines evolved as a colony of the US, instead of being an independent country.  It features actors Tetchie Agbayani, Sid Lucero, and Alessandra de Rossi.
Raya Martin's Independencia
These are just a few examples of a long list of films.  They may have entertained and diverted us, brought us to a time different from our own reality, confronted us with philosophies and challenged our own thinking and have preserved snippets of our heritage and immortalized the stories for next generations.  It is my personal hope that you have viewed some of these films or will encourage you to watch these films and research further in our history.

* This was written for and published in the Pinoy Living October 2012 issue.

Famous Lines from Filipino Movies

If you are a movie fan, it would be easy to identify the origins of these phrases:  Go ahead, make my day [Clint Eastwood, Sudden Impact]; I’m also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her [Julia Roberts, Notting Hill]; Houston, we have a problem [Tom Hanks, Apollo 13]; I’ll be back [Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator]; I see dead people [Sixth Sense]; and the list goes on and on.  But what about lines from the Filipino movies?  Here are some of the most popular ones (note: apologies for not having an English translation.  The emotions and wittiness are sometimes lost in the translation):

Walang himala!  Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao!  Nasa puso nating lahat!   [Nora Aunor, Himala].  The film centers around a young visionary who has caused a stir in an isolated village, challenging people’s attitude towards their religious faith.  Directed by Ishmael Bernal with story by Ricardo Lee based on a true story, Himala is considered as one of the best acting feats of Nora Aunor.   Premiered in 1982, it went on to win numerous film awards, i.e. CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Bronze Hugo prize at the 1983 Chicago International Film Festival. It was  also exhibited in international film festivals, i.e. Berlin International Film Festival (the first Filipino film to be included in the Competition Section)

You’re nothing but a second-rate, trying hard copycat. [Cherie Gil, Bituing Walang Ningning].  This is the story of a die hard fan rising to fame and becoming the most formidable rival of the star singer.  Released in 1985 and directed by Emmanuel H. Borlaza, it starred Sharon Cuneta, Christopher de Leon, Jay Ilagan, Cherie Gil, Tommy Abuel, Chanda Robero and Joel Torre.  It was a blockbuster hit and this quoted line uttered by Cherie Gil as the star Lavinia Arguelles, to Sharon Cuneta as the fan Dorina Pineda, was the ultimate catfight scene, splattered wine and all.

Ding... ang bato!  [Darna].  Who doesn’t know about the Filipino comics superheroine by writer Mars Ravelo and artist Nestor Redondo?  Created in 1947, Narda, a young girl transforms into Darna, and vice versa by shouting out their respective names,  and by swallowing a white stone, from the planet Marte. This superheroine has been portrayed in both tv and the movies since 1951 with the following actresses and even actors: Rosa del Rosario (1951-52), Liza Moreno (1963), Eva Montes (1965), Gina Pareno (1969), Vilma Santos (1973), Chiquito (1974), Lorna Tolentino (1977), Dolphy (1979), Rio Locsin (1979), Nanette Medved (1991), Anjanette Abayari (1994), Angel Locsin (2005), Marian Rivera (2009).

Trabaho lang ito, walang personalan.  [Rudy Fernandez, Markang Bungo].  This 1991 movie was based on the life story of Baguio City police officer Bobby Ortega.  This line is still widely used - from Manny Pacquiao, to the current President of the Philippines.

Kakabakaba Ka Ba?  This movie with the same title was a 1980 movie by Mike de Leon.  A comedy of misadventures, and of gangsters smuggling an audiocassette tape of opium in the Philippines, it starred Christopher de Leon, Charo Santos, Sandy Andolong and Jay Ilagan.  It was significant in the sense that it managed to be a political satire, escaping censorship during a Martial Law regime.

Isang bala ka lang.  [Fernando Poe Jr., Isang Bala Ka Lang].  A classic action movie starred in and directed by Fernando Poe Jr., the story is of a good cop, convicted and jailed for avenging his wife’s death, turns vigilante in the light of injustices to innocent victims.  Released in 1983, it also stars Maggie dela Riva, Marianne de la Riva, Julie Vega, and Paquito Diaz.

Ginto na ang nasa harap mo, basura pa ang pinili mo.  [Vilma Santos, Sinasamba Kita].  Directed by Eddie Garcia in 1982 with actors Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon, Phillip Salvador and Lorna Tolentino, the movie is about half sisters, with the younger one as the father’s illegitimate daughter.  Maltreated and oppressed, the younger sibling leaves but fate brings them together for a final reckoning.  The theme song of this movie, with the same title and composed by George Canseco, was a popular hit too.  It won film awards for Best Director, Best Original Song and became a tv movie in 2007 with Joel Lamangan as director, starring Sheryl Cruz and Valerie Concepcion.

Mahal mo ba ako, dahil kailangan mo ako o kailangan mo ako kaya mahal mo ako?  [Claudine Barretto, Milan].   A 2004 romance film starring Claudine Barretto and Piolo Pascual, it is a story of two people who are strangely banded together by their own personal quests, fall deeply in love and later called on to make personal sacrifices.  Aside from the beautiful locations in Italy, it garnered acting awards and nominations for the 2 lead actors.  It also featured the singing voice of Piolo Pascual for its theme song, The Gift.

These are just a few of the many highly dramatic, comedic and memorable dialogues in Philippine cinema.  What are your favorites?

* This article was written for and published in the Pinoy Times September 2012 issue.

Aegis: the Edmonton Concert

The Aegis Concert for Edmonton was held last July 29 at the River Cree Resort & Casino, as part of their 2012 US and Canada tour.  This was the band’s 3rd visit/performance in Edmonton.

Aegis was originally formed as AG’s Sound Trippers, with the AG standing for their managers’ last names, Abenoja and Galindo.  They chose the term “aegis” which means “shield” or “protection” - as a metaphor for their kind of music, that of a balm from heartbreak and desolation.  A 6-member band, it is comprised of sisters Juliet, Mercy and Ken Sunot as Vocalists; Stella Pabico in the keyboard; Vilma Goloviogo in drums; Weng Adriano for bass guitar; and the lone male member, Rey Abenoja for lead guitar.

The show opened with two front acts: Vanessa Oller singing “God is Speaking”; and duo Virgie and Delia, who are regular performers at the Edmonton International Airport.  There was also a presentation of a plaque by Hon. Consul Esmeralda Agbulos for producer Dr. Nimrod Montano, for his community service to Filipinos both locally and in the Philippines.  Incidentally, the concert and raffle proceeds served as a fundraiser for a dental mission to the Philippines in 2013.

After about an hour from start time, the main attraction was introduced.  Hyped as a concert to “rock & roll” the city, the opening number was a little bit sedate, for our expectations.  It didn’t take long though for them to impress the audience with their powerful vocals.  This is a concert that definitely does not rely on fancy wardrobe, intricate choreography, and special effects - but simply on the music.  Aside from their hit songs Luha, Halik, Basang Basa sa Ulan, May Bukas Pa, they also did covers of Adele, Journey, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and requested songs by the audience - covering a vast repertoire of ballads, dance music and rap.  These were eagerly lapped up by the audience who sang, applauded and shrieked on cue.  The vocalists are power belters, hitting notes that get higher and higher, notes that you think can’t be reached but are actually hit.  Juliet Sunot definitely has the strongest lung power among the sisters.  She delivers her songs effortlessly, while hamming it up with the audience and the cameras, and delivering comedic lines as well.  It would be ideal though, in the whole mix of the songs, to have some that will show restraint in vocal delivery, for a greater appreciation of the powerhouse sections.
Talent comes in different packages.  If you do not know the Aegis band members and you see them for the first time offstage, you will not think that they are such musical dynamos.  They are unassuming, grounded and deferential.  And these qualities are probably a major factor in their audience appeal, making them relatable to a lot of people.  At the end of the night, you appreciate these visits by Filipino artists who embody talent and good values and reinforce your notion that there definitely is no dearth of Filipino singers!

* This article was written for and published in the Pinoy Times August 2012 issue.

Monday 3 September 2012

Filipino Martial Arts

Kali, arnis, eskrima, silat kuntao - these are just some of the terms used to reference Filipino martial arts, where weapon and empty hand skills are used interchangeably, are taught using similar training methods, covering fighting ranges and defending against armed and unarmed attacks with whatever is available - thereby turning ordinary household items into lethal weapons.  The term used for the art, whether kali, arnis, eskrima, etc., normally implies the region of origin or the the time period of development.

It is said that one of the foremost masters of this martial art is the first Filipino hero, Lapu Lapu.  When Ferdinand Magellan and the Spaniards set out to conquer Mactan in 1521, they were met with wooden sticks, spears, Kampilan swords and bolos.  Miguel Lopez de Legaspi noted in 1564 the Filipinos’ skill in stick fighting and swordsmanship, after being entertained by a Kali demonstration by the warriors of Raja Malitik and other succeeding demonstrations in other parts of the country.

With the declaration of bladed weapons as illegal by the Spaniards, the development of skills with hardened wooden sticks rose.  With this came the realization that due to the different handling nature of the stick versus the curved sword, it opened up other lines of attack for blocking, parrying, thrusting, etc.

In 1972, Filipino martial arts was incorporated in the Philippine sports arena, in high school and post secondary physical education curriculum, and has since been mandatory training in the military and police force.  Considered as an advanced practical blade system in the world, it is also a core component in the US Army’s combatives program and used by the Russian Spetsnaz.

Its popularity has also been fueled by Hollywood films which has featured/employed this particular fighting style: Daniel Craig in Quantum of Solace; Matt Damon in the Bourne series, The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum; Tom Cruise & Keri Russel in Mission Impossible III; Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli; Wesley Snipes in Blade, Blade II and Blade: Trinity; Tommy Lee Jones & Benicio del Toro in The Hunted; Forest Whitaker & Jude Law in Repo Men; Vin Diesel for Chronicles of Riddick series; Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Apocalypse; Dave Batista’s scenes in The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption; Eric Bana and Saoirse Ronan in Hanna; Rob Schneider in Big Stan; Aaron Johnson in Kick-Ass; and movies like Ninja Assassin, Taken, and 300.

Last July 22, the 1st Edmonton Filipino Martial Arts Gathering, a free seminar, was held at the Hawrelak Park, from 1:00-5:00pm.  Organized by the Philippine Warrior Arts Society and the brainchild of founder Guro Oliver Salvador and members Herald Casana and Noah Walt, its objective was to bring cooperation, brotherhood and unity among the different schools/system of Filipino martial arts in Alberta.

Participating groups were the: Paclibar Bicol Arnis headed by Guro Rogelio Paclibar; Arnis de Mano lead by Guro Phil Mar Nadela; Edmonton Kali Combative Arts Group with Guro Carson McDonald; KPC Martial Arts with Randy King; Pekiti Tirsia Kali lead by Herald Casana; Okotoks Eskrimadors/FTSMA Arnis de Cadena with Guro Noah Walt; MK/Lighting Scientific with Mafel Dasilao; and Dog Brothers Martial Arts with David Powelson.

It had an impressive turn out.  Surprisingly, the Filipinos in this gathering were the minority.  Some participants were actually just strolling or hanging out in the park, and joined at the spur of the moment, out of curiosity.  The rest were enticed through word of mouth, social media and friends of Filipino martial arts practitioners.  At the end of the day, everyone felt that this gathering was a long overdue one, bringing together people engaged and interested in this martial art, creating one community.  A Winter Gathering (late 2012 or early 2013) of the same purpose and intent is in the works.  Considering that this is one form that is dependent on its being passed on from one generation to another by a guro/master, its propagation and preservation is vital.  So whatever your motivation - as a serious martial arts practitioner, for self defense or for physical fitness, go and check this out.  In the meantime, congratulations to the organizers and leaders of the Filipino martial arts in Alberta, and we hope to see more practitioners and events of this form.
Workshop Instructors from L to R: Guro Carson McDonald, Ms. Mafel Dasilao, Mr. Randy King, Guro Oliver Salvador, Mr. Herald Casana, Mr. David Powelson, Guro Noah Walt, Guro Phil Mar Nadela, Guro Roger Paclibar

* This was written for and published in the August 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

GRACE NONO: Enchantress Chantress

With the current and rightful idolatry of Filipinos for Jessica Sanchez, the spotlight is focused on gifted Filipino singers like Charice, Arnel Pineda, and others of Filipino descent like Anna Maria Perez de Tagle.  I would like to add to this group, a singer I have admired for almost a decade, and has totally carved out a niche unequalled by anyone - Grace Nono.

I know Grace professionally and personally - she is a close friend of my sister, I have watched several of her performances, I was ballet teacher to her daughter and we performed together in Berlin for the Philippine Department of Tourism.  Just recently, visiting the same sister in New York, I had the pleasure of being part of Grace’s birthday celebration.  

Grace Nono is known for her interpretations of Philippine traditional music, rhythms, oral traditions and for advocating women’s issues, environmentalism and spirituality.  She has created original Filipino music, not as a derivative of Western influences, but of singing authentic Filipino, rooted in ethnic traditions.  “The act of singing is in fact one of the few things that generate hope, healing and redemption in the midst of destiny’s misadventures,” says Grace, whose musical journey ran parallel to uncovering one’s spiritual essence.  

Born and raised in Agusan, Mindanao, Grace is a performing artist & producer, researcher, author, teacher, cultural worker and administrator.  She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Master’s degree in Philippine Studies, at the University of the Philippines.  She is currently pursuing her doctoral studies in Ethnomusicology at the New York University.  She has also had training via the Asia-Pacific Performance Exchange residency, the Asian Cultural Council residency, the Asian Institute of Management Arts Management Program, and the Asia-Pacific Cultural Center for UNESCO’s training on Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Grace has six critically acclaimed solo recordings and five other albums produced by her Tao Music Records.  She has represented the Philippines in world music festivals, performances and conferences: at the House of World Cultures in Berlin; Mercat de les Flors in Barcelona;  Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid; the Music Village Festival in London; the Lincoln Center’s La Casita Festival in the US; concerts in Paris and Monte Carlo; WOMAD in Yokohama; the Exposition on Nature’s Wisdom in Aichi; the Asian Fantasy Orchestra tours of New Delhi, Bombay, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Miyazaki, Bangkok, Vientiane, Yangon, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh; the Hong Kong Asian Arts Festival; the National Museum of Singapore and the Singapore Arts Festival; and performances and conferences in Huairou, Bangkok, Jakarta, Nanning, Shanghai, Seoul, Penang, Taipei, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago.

She has won 40 awards including: the prestigious Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM), The Outstanding Women in Nation's Service (TOWNS), numerous Catholic Mass Media Awards, Katha, Awit, National Press Club, and other awards for her artistic and cultural contributions.  Her book, The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines won in the 28th National Book Awards, Arts category. A second book on the music of the Philippine babaylan (Visayan/Philippine shaman) is in the works. She elaborates, “Aside from being drawn to matters of spirit and healing, and of course, music, this study came about because again, we observe the trend of our medical professionals simply mimicking trends in the west in the emerging fields of music therapy, or our religious shunning our rich musical heritage in most of their rites. Yet, if one takes a good look at our traditions, we have always used sound and music in our rituals which invoked spiritual sources and healing of body and soul... I myself have all these years experienced the healing power of music, which never fails to lift the spirit, transforming whatever negative energies we carry in our hearts and bodies (stress, fear, doubt, anger, etc.) which could eventually lead to illness, into a renewed sense of clarity, vitality, bliss.”

In collaboration with composer Bob Aves, Grace has produced an audio and print series on Philippine oral traditions and instrumental music, which are being used by a number of teachers and students in the study of Philippine music, arts and culture. She has also taught Philippine Traditional Arts at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, and Philippine Oral History at Miriam College.

As cultural worker/administrator, Grace serves as Founding Director for the Tao Foundation for Culture and Arts, a non-government organization engaged in cultural regeneration and holistic development initiatives, for which she has been granted support by the the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and Arts, Toyota Foundation, the Ford Foundation, UNESCO, the British Council, Advocates of Philippine Fair Trade, AusAid, and local communities and institutions.

Grace Nono is a cultural icon and role model.  She is credited for breaking new grounds in the understanding of Filipino identity through her research in oral traditions.  Her scholarly research bridges the past to our future.  When she sings, she imparts pain, loss but at the same time healing and redemption.  Her commitment to indigenous cultures, the environment and spirituality is compelling.  Go and know more about her - google her name, check out her youtube videos, listen to her music in iTunes, learn more about the Filipino and be proud of the Filipino artist.

* This was written for and published in the July 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

Buwan ng Wika (Month of the Language)

Buwan ng Wika, or National Month of the Language, is observed every month of August in the Philippines, to promote the use of the national language.  It was originally observed as Linggo ng Wika (week of the language), around the 19th of August, to coincide with the birth date of Manuel L. Quezon, the President of the Philippine Commonwealth, who pushed for the institutionalization of Tagalog as the country’s national language.  At that time, English was considered the language of refinement and sophistication, and those speaking the Philippine languages were deemed uneducated.  The 1935 Philippine constitution designated English and Spanish as official languages and Manuel Quezon pushed for a national language from one of the country’s various languages.

In 1997, the Linggo ng Wika was expanded to a month long celebration by President Fidel Ramos in 1997.  This event is generally observed by: coming to school in native costumes, conducting classes in Tagalog, staging presentations, art contests, essay writing contests, exhibits and parades, showcasing the use of the Filipino language.

There has been a lot of debate on the designation of Tagalog as the official language, considering that there are about 170 ethno-linguistic groups in this country of 7,000 islands.  Furthermore, Tagalog is not regarded as the majority language and English still remains as the primary tool of communication in business, government, higher education and other professional fora.  There is also the belief that the promotion of this one language for the Philippines, will lead or has lead to the marginalization and extinction of other dialects.

Regardless of these opposing views on the Filipino language, for us Filipinos here in Canada, it will do us a lot of good to exercise this fluency in our language, be it Tagalog or another dialect.    Whether the Filipino language is the first language or not, this will keep us attached to the mother country and its history.

Furthermore, extensive studies have revealed the advantages of knowing more than one language.  In Alberta, language learning was made a requirement for Grades 4-9 in 2006.  The ministry’s study stresses the impact of language education on intellectual potential, scholastic achievement, first language skills, citizenship and the economy:
  • Students fluent in two language score higher in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.
  • Students studying a second language are superior in divergent thinking tasks and in memory ability and attention span.
  • The earlier the start, the greater the positive effect on the first language.
  • Students studying a second language have superior cross-cultural skills, adapt better to varying cultural contexts, and display greater cultural sensitivity.
  • There is an urgent requirement for qualified speakers of languages other than English in areas of science, technology, medicine and global commerce.
So maximize these summer months and learn more about our mother tongue.  Immerse in Filipino literature, films and be part of the community and make an extra effort to work on Filipino/Tagalog fluency.

  • The first written example of the Tagalog language dates from circa 900 AD.
  • The first known book written in Tagalog is a Christian doctrine, published in 1593 in two versions - one in Latin alphabet and the other in Baybayin script (also referred as alibata), an ancient writing system that existed in the Phils. before the arrival of the Spanish people.
  • Because of Spanish colonization, about 40 percent of informal Tagalog vocabulary are derived from Spanish origins.
  • The modern Filipino alphabet has 28 letters, composed of the entire 26 letter Latin alphabet with the addition of the Spanish ‘ñ’ and the Tagalog ‘ng’.  This version of the alphabet was instituted in 1987 by President Corazon Aquino.
  • English words that are of Philippine origin: boondocks, cooties, yo-yo, manila folder/envelope.
  • Filipinos were introduced to the English language in 1762 by British invaders, not Americans.
* This was written for and published in the July 2012 issue of Pinoy Living.

Ardee Dionisio: Target, of Cirque du Soleil’s Quidam

Cirque du Soleil (CDS) is known for its “dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment”.  Any Cirque du Soleil production is considered a “must see”, characterized with big production designs, magical concepts and amazing feats of skill.  Established in 1984, to date it has produced about 30 shows and performed in approximately 300 cities in different parts of the globe.  

This August, Cirque du Soleil brings “Quidam” to Alberta, specifically Edmonton and Lethbridge.  Quidam (kee-dam)  means a regular person or an anonymous passer-by.  It is a story of a young girl named Zoé, who escapes from the boredom of her reality and lack of connection with her parents, to a magical world. One of the main characters, Target, serves as the guide for Zoé as she transitions into this dream world.  And this role of Target is played by a Filipino, Ardee Dionisio.

Ardee Dionisio as Target
Ardee is a dancer I have known back when he was an artist of Ballet Philippines, the resident dance company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  Even back then, Ardee’s dancing was characterized by clean lines, clarity of movement and heartfelt musicality.  He was not the flashy type of dancer but rather a quiet one exuding strength, purpose and stage presence.  He danced principal roles with the company, easily catching the eyes and impressing guest choreographers -  like Hervé Robbe, Claude Brumachon, Redha, Renato Zanella, Jan Linkens, Natalie Weir and Agnes Locsin, among others.

Ardee was a student of the Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling, Los Banos.  His introduction to dance was through a girl he had a crush on, whom he would follow on her way to ballet class.  Pretty soon, he was taking dance classes, then taking it more seriously until he realized that it was exactly what he wanted as a career.  He trained in ballet, contemporary and folk dance and eventually joined Ballet Philippines.

From Ballet Philippines, he was offered a scholarship to the HongKong Academy for the Performing Arts where he graduated with Honours.  On the same year of his graduation, he became a soloist of Nicolas Musin’s “abcdancecompany” troupe in St. Poelten.  He then joined the Grazer Oper in Austria as a first soloist, dancing roles like Romeo in Darrel Toulon’s Romeo and Juliet; Eros in Anthony and Cleopatra; Siegfried in Swan Lemminkainen trilogy; and solo parts in The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.

Ardee was fond of posting his dance and performance videos on YouTube.  One day, he received an email from someone who claimed to have seen his videos and was asking him to audition for Cirque du Soleil in Berlin.  Not surprisingly, he googled the sender’s name and confirmed that she was indeed a legitimate talent scout for the famous company.  He then did the auditions, got into CDS’ database of performers and eventually asked to perform the main character of Target in Quidam.

Ardee’s career pretty much parallels the story of Zoe - a regular guy transported into this magical and dream world in the most surprising and unexpected way.  He brings on his years of training in the different dance genres in this production that features acrobatics, clowning and contortion.  The role of Target, both dancer and acrobat, weaves the various acts of the show and sums up the spirit of the whole production.  Ardee says his character “brings the magic, joy and peace to Zoe’s dreams”.  He attacks the role as a mixture of both the Peter Pan and Tinkerbell characters of the J.M. Barrie story.  One critic has written that Ardee Dionisio’s portrayal of Target should be the benchmark of all Targets for Cirque du Soleil.
Under the direction of Franco Dragone, Quidam differentiates itself from other Cirque du Soleil productions in terms of theme, having a stronger narrative and wider in appeal.  “This one’s about family, family issues you see in normal life”, says Ardee.  “Everyone can relate to it.”  So when you watch “Quidam”, you will not only be transported in a dream world of fantastic and seemingly impossible human feats and creation, but will be proud of yet another manifestation of Filipino talent and achievement. 

* This was written for and published in the June 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

Edmonton Performing Groups: Philippine Choral and Pacific Island Dance Troupe

For this issue, I would like to spotlight on two Edmonton performing groups, both of which have shown passion and dedication to their respective artistic endeavors - the Philippine Choral with leaders Artie Atienza, Ray “Bart” Kavinta and Chito Atienza; and the Pacific Island Dance Troup, headed by Emily Soriano.  These two groups we have continually worked with, due to both our respect for their artistic outputs and the friendships we have developed.  They are also featured performers in the upcoming Philippine Arts Festival this June at the University of Alberta’s Myer Horowitz Theatre.

Philippine Choral

The Philippine Choral was formed in 1991 from a group of friends who constantly gathered in basements for karaoke nights.  Fortuitously, they discovered at that time that Mil Villareal, Cebu’s best musical director and regarded by many as a musical genius, was quietly retired in Edmonton.  Through mutual friends, they were able to set up a meeting, and immediately worked on  forming a four voice group.  Within a week they had a four-part choral harmony of the kundiman “Dahil Isang Bulaklak” down pat.  Composing this founding group, among others, were Ferdie Belvis, Onie Nitoral, Rene Alcantara and Delia Marsh - who the other members fondly recall as their Tony Bennett, Ray Valera, Yoyoy Villame and Barbara Streisand, respectively.  And of this original group, five are still active members of the choral - Artie Atienza, Alex de Leon, Chito Atienza, Gilda Yee, Leny Dagondon.

This love of singing then branched out to the local church community in Edmonton.  Currently, they are now one of the most sought after cultural performers for major events, community functions and special promotions throughout the city of Edmonton. And  with these increasing engagements, came an expansion of their repertoire to Filipino, English, Spanish, Italian and French song favorites.  In 1999, they had a major concert at the Winspear - the first Filipino group to perform at this prestigious venue.  This sold out concert featured a 10-piece orchestra, culled from members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  Other concerts were held at the Myer Horowitz Theatre and Victoria’s Eva O. Howard Theatre.  They also had a road tour of Filipino restaurants for a period of three weeks.  A pipe dream is a performance of songs of faith, hope and love in a stone-built Catholic cathedral.

Current membership is a high of 24, comprising 8 sopranos, 6 altos, 5 tenors and 5 bass, always of Filipino descent.  An exception however, was made when Angela Chen, of Taiwanese descent and who earned her Master’s Degree in Music and Voice from a conservatory in Vienna, wanted to join.  Fluent in 6 languages, she was able to tackle the Filipino lyrics competently.  Membership is open to both professionals and non-professionals, Filipino or non-Filipino - the essential requirement being a pure love for singing.

Moving on to its third decade of existence, the group shows no signs of slowing down.  For the members, their continued rehearsals is a source of therapy and a good excuse to share food and drinks.  It has enabled them to simultaneously fulfill a passion and establish friendships.  This all together gives a whole new meaning to their title as Musical Ambassadors of Filipino-Canadian Goodwill.

Pacific Island Dance Troupe

Last April 20, the Pacific Island Dance Troupe had their 7th Luau, and indeed it turned out to be a night of hawaiian/polynesian dancing, games, and good food.  On hand were booths for face painting, photo booths, crafts table, and jewelry.  People came decked in Hawaiian attire and reveled in the performances of hula, tahitian, and a few modern take dances.  The event showed all the traits of the indefatigable Emily Soriano, who harnessed her years of experience as a cultural dancer in the Philippines, an event organizer, her good eye for design and penchant for fun.  This group, who not only performs Hawaiian/Polynesian dances but also Philippine folk dances, has consistently participated in Heritage Days and community events.  It adds another dimension to the interesting landscape of Filipino offerings in the Edmonton arts scene.

* This was written for and published in May 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

Sunday 2 September 2012

Celebrating the Filipino Artist - the Philippine Arts Festival

Philippine Choral

Filipino artists take center stage in the Philippine Arts Festival on June 23, 2012 at the University of Alberta’s Myer Horowitz Theatre.  On its 2nd offering, the festival is a bi-yearly celebration of the arts, life and the spirit of the Philippines.  It is a multi-disciplinary festival of theatre, dance, classical and contemporary music, film, literature, visual arts, design and more.

Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association
A brainchild of yours truly as Festival Director and choreographer Jojo Lucila as Artistic Director, the Philippine Arts Festival aims to increase awareness and promote the public’s appreciation of Philippine arts and culture; collaborate with artists and companies by initiating and producing new work; provide artists of all ages and at all stages of their career with greater exposure, recognition, networking opportunities and professional development; and to forge unity and community spirit within the Filipino community.

So what was the impetus for this project?  Living in another country lends a new perspective on your own culture - things that one tend to take for granted.  I have worked with foreign artists in the past who have remarked on the incredible talent of the Filipinos, and all the while I thought that they were merely paying lip service.  Now, far removed from my home country, I realize that they were simply stating a fact.  And Filipino artists, all over the globe and in various disciplines, continue to give us pride and honor with their work.

Through this Philippine Arts Festival, we salute our artists and provide them a vehicle to showcase their talent, works and legacy.  We remember our country and the people who have shaped our culture through their art and became a voice for society.  We bank on the solidarity and bayanihan spirit that Filipinos are known for, no matter where in the world they may be.  So that at least for a couple of hours, in this festival, when we come together as a community and celebrate the core of our being - we bring the Filipino back home.

This year’s festival will headline the Filipino themes of love and romance, the traditional games of skills, the fiestas (feasts), and the social issue of Filipino migrants.  It will gather about 70 artists from Edmonton, Vancouver and Red Deer.  Featured artists include: Vancouver-based filmmaker Angelina Cantada, who has proven herself in film festival circuits in the US and Canada; the long-standing Filipino-Canadian Saranay Association; musical arranger Geris; the authentic Filipino martial arts Pekiti-Tirsia Kali - Alberta; the much sought after Philippine Choral; the versatile dancers of The Lucila Project; the Pacific Island Dance Troupe; the folk dance sector of the Phil. Canadian Association of Red Deer & District; and Pinoy Singing Sensation young champion Wency Calderon.  Lixmila Serrano of Gala Management and Event Services joins our team as Executive Producer.

* This was written for and published in the April 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

Casa San Miguel

Mention Zambales and what generally comes to mind are the Aetas of Mount Pinatubo, succulent mangoes, Subic resorts and beaches.  But to our family, when one refers to Zambales, it means  Casa San Miguel (CSM), the artists’ haven considered by not a few as the Cultural Center of the Philippines of Zambales.  Located within a mango orchard in San Antonio, it was established by acclaimed violinist Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata in 1993, upon his return from studies at the Julliard School of Music in New York and the University of Indiana.

Coke Bolipata is one of the country’s leading artists who won the First Prize in the National Music Competitions for Young Artists at the young age of 12.  He then pursued his studies in the USA and has performed worldwide as a soloist and chamber musician in the world’s major halls.  In 1990 he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, and Artists Affiliates, New York to bring culture to the rural areas of America.  After which, he returned to Zambales with a vision of a community-based approach to art education and production.
Alfonso "Coke" Bolipata with students

Casa San Miguel was initiated at a time when the province was recovering from the devastation from the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.  It holds the vision that art can: 1) transform a fishing village to a destination for visitors from all over the Philippines and abroad; 2) provide the impetus for community growth and development and providing jobs in all levels - the artists, tour guides, labor work, etc; and 3) raise self-esteem and confidence in transcending barriers to creativity.  It  has brought art, music, theater, dance and film to the barangays, orphanages, and indigenous communities.

The CSM boasts of varied facilities: the Ramon Corpuz Hall, a 300-person seating capacity designed for intimate concerts like chamber orchestra, theatre plays, operetta, with a 7-foot grand piano; a 1,000 capacity circular Outdoor Theatre; a 2-story visual art Anita Gallery;  a 7-room Artists Residences for visiting artists. Every room is connected to a porch overlooking the orchard with views of Mt. Pundaquit and Mt. Maubanban on one side and the South China Sea on the other. A tower sits above the entire structure, providing a 360-degree view of the San Antonio landscape.  The Sunken Terraced Garden provides a meditative retreat for visitors and also has a main stage where Sunday masses, outdoor film showings, community plays & concerts are done.  All events are free for Zambales communities while visitors from out of town are requested to make a donation in any amount at the door.
CSM holds regular classes for violin, cello, viola, visual arts, theater production and shadow play.  Open to children ages 5-16 within the Zambales community, it has had about 3500 scholars.  Aside from music and art making, the students also learn discipline from gardening and have access to children's library books, recordings, and videos. Some of the graduates of these programs make up what is known as the Pundaquit Virtuosi, which has two divisions - Quadros for the visual arts and Cuerdas for music. The CSM also offers short and long term residencies to artists, providing free board and lodging in exchange to providing lectures and workshops to the surrounding communities. Annually between October and April is the Pundaquit Festival which features artists of different nationalities with the resident ensemble Pundaquit Chamber Players.  The CSM also has its book publishing arm Osnofla Books, with publications of folktales series and a community newsletter promoting literacy among the youth of San Antonio.

With known mentors like Cecile Licad, Joey Ayala, NVM Gonzales, Matthew Barley, Roberto Feleo, Myra Beltran, among others, the CSM has successfully prepared its students for scholarships and grant awards in leading conservatories in the Phils., Germany, United States, Australia, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia.  They  have also won prizes at the National Music Competition for Young Artists.  The Pundaquit Virtuosi has had the honor to perform with the famed New York sextet of Julliard School, violinist William Harvey, Frank Shaw and cellist Jeremiah Shaw. They also represented the Philippines in the Tianjin International Children’s Culture and Arts Festival in China, and in Indonesia, in celebration of 60 years of bilateral relations between the two countries.  As an institution, the CSM has been awarded the prestigious Gawad ng Hiraya Award from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the National Book Award, Urian Award, Aliw Award, Golden Screen Acting Nominations and Awards, Star Awards, the TOYM Award and the Gawad ng Maynila Award.
In the midst of the beautiful Zambales beaches, mountains and Capones Island, Casa San Miguel, with Alfonso “Coke” Bolipata at the helm, has indeed been a haven to all persons alike - the artists, the students, the local community and the visitors, as it continues to transform lives and persevere in their work of enlightenment, empowerment and excellence through and in the arts.  It is a jewel that all should support and be proud of.  

Filipino or non-Filipino, artist or non-artist, if you are interested in being a benefactor and supporter of these programs, contact Coke Bolipata at  Your contributions and yield will definitely not be just monetary.  

* This article was written for the April 2012 issue of Pinoy Living magazine.

Sunday 8 April 2012

In Honor of the City of the River of Gold

Cagayan de Oro has been dominant in our social consciousness lately due to the distressing images of the disaster wrought by Typhoon Sendong.  Fundraising efforts have continued all across the globe.  More recently in Edmonton, Tsada Edmonton (a group of Edmontonians who trace their roots to Cagayan de Oro) organized a drop off event by the 3J Variety Store for donations.  Collected items were sent directly to Cagayan de Oro courtesy of Manila Forwarders , and cash donations were coordinated with the Canadian Red Cross.  On other occasions, free concerts were held at the Millwoods Town Centre and West Edmonton Mall organized by the Pinoy Foundation for the Arts and Pinoy Singing Sensation, with 21 performers and groups involved,  raising $7,195 in cash donations and 37 boxes of relief goods.  
A lot of people, Filipinos and non-Filipinos, have supported these various initiatives. But what exactly are we helping rebuild with our contributions of time, talent and treasure?  Cagayan de Oro is located along the central coast of Northern Mindanao.  It should not be confused with other locations in the Philippines with a Cagayan name - Cagayan province in Northern Luzon and the Cagayan Islands in the Sulu Sea.  This city has ‘de Oro’ appended to its name due to the gold mining activities dating back to the Spanish times.
Known as the City of Golden Friendship, CDO boasts of outstanding scenic places ranging from beaches, mountains, limestone caves, museums, historical landmarks, timeless churches, and rivers.  Among these are: San Agustin Cathedral; Macahambus Hill, Cave and Gorge, site of the famous Battle of Macahambus Hill in June 1900, the first Filipino victory against the Americans; the Huluga Cave, where skeletal fragments were found dating back to 1600 B.C.; the Migtugsok Falls and Palalan Waterfall; the Museo de Oro at Xavier University, and Museum of Three Cultures; the Gardens of Malasag Eco-tourism Village and Mapawa Nature Park; and the Liceo University where most visiting artists from metropolis Manila perform.  Other events and activities are the: Kagay-an Festival, a week long festival honoring the patron Saint Agustin, held every August; arts festivals and heritage celebrations spearheaded by the Xavier Center for Culture and the Arts; Kumbira, the anticipated culinary show & exhibit of the region; and for the adventurous spirits - white water rafting in the Cagayan river, kayaking, river tubing and the dual zip line, which is reputed to be the longest in Asia, as of this writing.  The white water rafting experience has twenty-three rapid count ranging from levels I to IV, the ceiling of most manageable whitewater rapids.
After the devastation of tropical storm Sendong, the focus is now on rebuilding, accountability of public officials, and environmental awareness.  In a joint project between the Ateneo Innovation Center and the CDO city government, a temporary resettlement site located in Lumbia is being designed as a cost-effective and disaster-responsive community - with clean water system, solar powering, rain catchment & wastewater management system, plus composting and solid waste management.
Another initiative further boosting the rebuilding’s media exposure is the involvement of Black Eyed Peas’ member (Allan Pineda, in real life).  When he visited the city immediately after the December flood, he recognized that rebuilding the Balulang Elementary School was imperative.  Leading the groundbreaking for the construction of a two-story building, he delivered the message that the disaster should not prevent the students from fulfilling their dreams of becoming professionals one day.  This project is funded under the “We Can Be Anything” education campaign in coordination with the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation (NCAF).
With these rebuilding efforts, let us continue to contribute and hope that soon Cagayan de Oro will be remembered not for the devastation, but once again for its golden treasures - the natural beauty, the peaceful environment and the friendly people.

* This article was written for the March 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Leandro Locsin: Philippine National Artist for Architecture

Leandro Locsin

One of Manila’s notable landmark is the CCP Complex.  Built on reclaimed land, it holds the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater, Philippine International Convention Center (PICC),  Philippine Center for International Trade and Exhibition (PHILCITE), and the Sofitel Philippine Plaza - all designed by Leandro Locsin, making it a virtual Locsin complex.
Leandro V. Locsin (1928-1994) is the 3rd Philippine National Artist for Architecture (1990), after Juan Nakpil (1973) and Pablo Antonio (1976).  Most Filipino architects of his time were trained in Europe and the United States, or have taken undergraduate or graduate studies abroad.  He, on the other hand, pursued his studies solely within the Philippines.  A talented pianist, Locsin enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas Conservatory of Music to pursue a career in music.  A year before graduating, he shifted to the School of Architecture in the same university.  While pursuing his architectural studies, he worked as an artist-draftsman at the Ayala Corporation.  He graduated in 1953 but before establishing his practice, he designed stage sets for ballets.  Later on, he would design for the esteemed dance pioneer, Martha Graham.
In 1955, Locsin was commissioned by the Catholic Chaplain of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, to design a chapel that is open and with a capacity of 1,000 people.  The Church of the Holy Sacrifice, the first round chapel in the Phils. with the altar in the centre, and the first to have a thin shell concrete dome, is now a landmark not only in the university, but is a declared  National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum and a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute. 
Cultural Center of the Philippines
A visit to the United States marked encounters with architects Paul Rudolph, known for his use of concrete and highly complex floor plans, and Eero Saarinen, famous for simple, sweeping, arching structural curves or machine-like rationalism style.  These two would have the greatest influence on Locsin, as evidenced by his succeeding works.
Locsin’s designs are marked by his distinct use of concrete, themes of floating volume, the use of native materials, the roof emphasized as the dominant form, wide overhanging eaves, massive supports, interior lattices and trellises, ornamental detail contasted with simple forms, and spacious interiors.  His peers have described him as the “Poet of Space” for the way he articulated space using straightforward geometry.  
Up to the time of his death, his body of works include 75 residences and 88 buildings, including 11 churches/chapels, 23 public buildings, 48 commercial buildings, six major hotels, and an airport terminal building.  Aside from the five structures at the CCP complex, other notable works are: the Philippine pavilion at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan (1970); the original Ayala Museum (1974); some buildings at the University of the Phils., Los Banos; Ninoy Aquino International Airport; and the Church of the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay, Bukidnon. 
Palace of the Sultan of Brunei
Locsin placed the Philippines on the world map in 1969 with his most recognizable work, the Cultural Center of the Philippines - with its gentle sloping curves giving way to an enormous box and a large lagoon in front, thus creating the impression of suspension.  But his largest and most spectacular work is the Istana Nurul Iman (Palace of Religious Light), the palace of the Sultan of Brunei.  The palace has a total floor area of 200,000 sqm, a grand reception hall accommodating 5,000, a throne room with a capacity of 2,000, and two mosques crowned by  a dome plated with 22-carat gold. Malayan and Islamic motifs, modern lines, and the latest building technology blend in what has been hailed as the new Versailles.
Phil. International Convention Center (PICC)
In 1959, Leandro Locsin was one of the recipients of the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Awardees for Architecture and in 1992, the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize.  His citation for the Fukuoka Asian Cultural Prize states:  Mr. Locsin's works beautifully incorporate such traditional qualities with the openness and vastness of modern architecture. His unique interpretation of architectural features such as lattice and curved lines are eloquently expressed in his modern, Western form of art. What lies behind this originality is his principle: to synthesize or to blend Western and Eastern culture. Without this theme, the modern architecture of the West could not have taken root within the existing Filipino architecture... His private life is characterized by continued commitment to other arts and culture. He is a fine pianist, a deeply committed admirer of oriental art and the visual and performing arts. When his multi-faceted artistic talent is fully exhibited in architecture, its details display a well-calculated beauty of form, and its appearance reshapes the urban landscape... His phenomenal career is not only evidence of a natural wealth of talent, but also a tribute to his Filipino mentors and to Filipino culture which in its colorful variety has been a cradle of genius. 
Transfiguration Monastery, Bukidnon
Indeed, significant and symbolic words for a Philippine National Artist - hailed both for advancing our culture and for leaving an astute and creative legacy.

* This article was written for the February 2012 issue of Pinoy Times.