Saturday 22 December 2018

Art for Social Change: Viscosity and The Right to Exist

In this past month, I attended two events that remarkably utilized art to deliver messages for social change. The first was Theatre Yes' "Viscosity", which ran from November 7-17, and "The Right to Exist: An Evening of Arts and Culture", presented by Migrante Alberta and Climate Justice Edmonton, last December 8.

Viscosity was a uniquely staged production in the manner of performance and installation, tackling real life stories of people working in the front line of the oil industry. It featured a powerhouse cast - Chris Bullough, Leo Campus Aldunez, Murray Farnell, Byron Martin, Sandy Paddick, Melissa Thingelstad, and our very own, Filipino Jimmy Buena. This performance thrust people to engage in one-on-one encounters with the actors, absorbing the highs and lows of their respective experiences. The vignettes were culled from transcripts of interviews and delivered verbatim. The most heartrending of which was the story of a Filipino worker entangled in the ploys of an illegal recruiter. Jimmy Buena delivered a compelling portrayal, and I saw several in the audience in tears.

The production garnered rave reviews: ... unlike anything we've seen on Edmonton's stages before (Jenna Marynowski, After the House Lights); ... I invoke no hyperbole at all when I say it was one of the most engaging and enjoyable artistic experiences of my life (Dylan Howard, film director). We may know and have heard of experiences like these in the oil industry, but this staging just brought things to the heart. The transcripts of the interviews made for Viscosity will be provided to the Alberta Labour History Institute. Theatre Yes is a company dedicated to "responding to local, national and international conversations in thought-provoking ways". To know more about their work, go to

The Right to Exist: An Evening of Arts and Culture, was held in commemoration of International Human Rights Day and International Migrants' Day. It brought together activists, supporters, and artists across the Treaty 6 territory. It was a night of music, spoken word, visual arts, and thought provoking
messages. The blessing was given by Elder Eli Green. Different cultures were represented in the performances provided by: drumming by Carol Powser and Chubby Cheeks (Noah), 8 year-old with a powerful voice; dry humour from comedian Mav Adecer; soulful and passionate singing by Chilean Marianela Adasme, Jesse Cunningham, Lyla Luciano, and trio Gregie Flores, Gina May Ramirez and Gemalil Bonaobra; spoken words by Shima Robinson and Brandon Wint. The performances addressed issues of displacement, racism, advocacy, and healing. Whitney Haynes shared her insights from a trip to the Philippines where indigenous tribes were violently displaced and abused, in favour of Canadian mining business. Visual artist Yazmin Juarez exhibited works of exploring the imagination and of art as the balance and catalyst for social awareness, specially made for the event.

Art breaks down language barriers. Even when performed in a foreign tongue, the passion and spirit of the delivery still sends the message across. Interestingly enough, the issues that had roots from one culture resonates in various levels with another culture, setting and time. This demonstrates that these are universal issues, that events have a ripple effect across humanity, and that people don't live in silos.

Both events made me ache and naively wonder how these things can happen in our world. It made me grateful that there are people who go beyond their comfort zones and continue to push these issues into our awareness. All of us, in whatever capacity, i.e. artists, activists advocates, can be galvanized into action and heed John F. Kennedy's words "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try".

* This article was published in the December 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Monday 19 November 2018

2018 National Artists - Seven Stalwarts of Philippine Art

Seven icons in art and culture were bestowed National Artist status by President Rodrigo Duterte in a ceremony last October 24, 2018 at Malacañang Palace. Do you know the songs Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika, Paraisong Parisukat and Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka? Have you been to The Coconut Palace or seen the San Miguel Building in Pasig? Do you remember chuckling at the humour of the Mang Ambo and Slice of Life comics? These are just some of the works of these artists. The 2018 National Artists are: Larry Alcala (for Visual Arts), Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio (Theatre), Ryan Cayabyab (Music), Francisco Mañosa (Architecture), Resil Mojares and Ramon Muzones (both for Literature), and Kidlat Tahimik (Cinema). The awards are bestowed posthumously for Alcala and Muzones. This brings to 73 the total of proclaimed National Artists of the Philippines, the highest national recognition bestowed on Filipinos who have made significant contributions to their artistic field.

Cartoonist and illustrator Larry Alcala is best known for his Slice of Life which depicts the quirks of the Filipino psyche. He pioneered animation for tv commercials in the late 1950s, and was given the title Dean of Filipino Cartoonists. He is the creator of 500 cartoon characters, 20 comic strips, six movies, two murals, and 15,000 published pages of comic strips.

Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio is the founder of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas, a children's theatre and puppetry company based in the University of the Philippines (UP). Known as the Grand Dame of Southeast Asian Children's Theatre, she was also the chairperson of the UP's Creative Writing Program. Her literary output covers 20 books, 40 plays, 130 stories, and a number of essays and research on theatre.

Musician, composer and conductor Ryan Cayabyab, aka Mr. C, is probably the most famous composer of the century, having crossed over many disciplines and industries. His body of works range from theatre musicals, commissioned full-length ballets, an opera, a Mass, popular music, film scores, tv specials, and orchestral pieces. He has been a recipient of numerous awards, i.e. Philippines' Ten Outstanding Young Men, 2001 Onassis International Competition in Greece, as well as accolades from the film, television and recording industries.

Architect Francisco Bobby Mañosa is known for his designs using indigenous materials and forms (i.e. bahay kubo, bahay na bato), combined with modern building technology. Among his iconic designs are: the Coconut Palace; Amanpulo Resort in Palawan; Pearl Farm in Samal Island; Shangri-La Hotel in Mactan; the San Miguel Building in Mandaluyong; and the EDSA Shrine. He was among those proclaimed National Artists in 2009 by President Gloria Arroyo but was rescinded by the Supreme Court due to legalities in the proclamation.

Writer, historian and literary critic Resil Mojares' writings focus on literary criticism, urban and rural history, and political biography. He is the founder of the Cebuano Studies Center, a library and research center dedicated to Cebuano culture and history. Because of his significant work on Visayan literature, he is touted by peers as Visayan Titan of Letters. He has won numerous National Book Awards by the Manila Critics Circle and was honoured with a Gawad Balagtas award from the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).

Ramon Muzones completed his law degree at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. He founded Sumakwelan, a group of Hiligaynon writers, and has 62 novels to his name. He was awarded the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from UMPIL in 1988, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Gawad para sa Sining in 1989. He passed away in 1992 at the age of 79.

Kidlat Tahimik (real name Eric de Guia) is widely regarded as the father of independent Philippine cinema. He earned his MBA from Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School and worked in Paris for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. It was a chance meeting and a small role in Werner Herzog's film that started Kidlat's film career. His first film, Perfumed Nightmare in 1977, won the International Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Since then, he has acquired international and local awards for his films, and has inspired filmmakers to pursue their vision, independent of commercialism.

These are some of the artists who have forged paths in Philippine art and culture and are a source of national pride. The bestowment of the National Artist Award is valuable in that nominations come from peers and as proclaimed by the President of the Philippines, is the highest state honour conferred to artists. May the legacy of all National Artists continue to be recognized and appreciated by Filipinos, in the Philippines and globally, for the present and the succeeding years.

* This article was published in the November 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Thursday 18 October 2018

Emerging Fashion Designer: Fely Agader, the Dragon Lady

During the Philippine Heritage Month Declaration for the City of Fort Saskatchewan last June 2018, I met a Filipina who had an impressive table display of beaded and embroidered handicrafts, notably a detached wired beaded butterfly sleeves (which took her 60 hours to create) and an elaborately and painstakingly embroidered dragon jacket. And that lady is Fely Agader.

Fely hails from Cavite and grew up in a family engaged in the clothing industry. Her mother sewed uniforms and her aunt designed, sewed and beaded clothes for Lily Monteverde, the film mogul aka as Mother Lily. Even at an early age, Fely did embroidery for the family and would sketch her own designs. Having studied Foreign Service at university, Fely worked as an English-Arabic interpreter in Jeddah then in Dubai with Prince Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan. She also worked in Hong Kong before moving to Canada in 2006. She is conversant in Arabic, Nippongo, Spanish, Cantonese, and Mandarin. 

In Canada, she started creating embroidered and/or beaded handicrafts, retailing them in farmers markets and craft sales. The detailing of her work lead to customized requests which resulted in expanding her business to include wedding trails, christening gowns and creating her own lace.

In 2009, she decided to pursue formal studies in fashion design, to fulfill a life long desire and as a means to distract herself while battling (and surviving) cancer. Her first collection, "D Fire", in her recent graduation fashion show was a play on the dragon and yin yang symbols, which are a representation of her personality. The dragon is known as a symbol of power and strength. It may be silent when undisturbed but fiery when provoked. The yin and yang symbols speaks of her philosophy of balance in life. Her collection presented an interesting use and match of different fabrics, with embroidery detailing in unexpected ways. Her designs, geared towards adult women, are "simple, clean cut, but elegant". It was impressive enough that she has received three internship offers in Edmonton fashion houses. In addition, Fely still plans to spend more time back in the Philippines to do more work on Philippine fabric as she plans to expand her collection on Filipiniana clothes.

On November 24, Fely will hold her first ever solo fashion show featuring 50 designs
in celebration of her 50th birthday. With a business tagline of "Skin doesn't matter" she aims for her collection to appeal across cultures. In fact, she has designs specifically for Fort Saskatchewan MLA Jessica Littlewood, and Mayor Gale Katchur, who have gamely agreed to walk the runway. In getting to know Fely, I believe that her collection will reflect her innate sense of creativity, good eye for detail, and craftsmanship. I wish her all the best in her career, and in her life, and live the words of prominent designer Diane von Furstenberg, "I wanted to be a certain kind of woman. I became that kind of woman."

The Agader Fashion and Designs Show is on November 24, 2018 at the Pioneer House,10102 100 Avenue, Fort Saskatchewan. Doors open at 7 pm and show starts at 8 pm. Free admission. For further inquiries on the show and Fely's design services, email

* This article was published in the October 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Hannah Adamson: The One, and the Star

One of the delightful surprises during my work on Emma the Musical came in the form of pint sized and spritely Hannah Adamson. The youngest of the cast members, she handed me her artist's resume on my first day of rehearsal for the production so "I will get to know her better". At the Emma performance, a number of people inquired about her, noting her stage presence and earnestness of her performance.

Hannah is the only child of Douglas and Vilma Adamson. A precocious child, she was singing songs she had heard only once or twice when she was 2. She started performing at age 4, singing in family and social functions, and continued later on doing guest stints in community events, front acts for visiting artists (Maja Salvador, Pooh, Bamboo), singing competitions, and musicals. At age 10, she's already had her own sold out solo concert. She has won in competitions like St. Albert's Got Talent and Futures Fest. Last summer, Hannah competed in the World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA) in Long Beach, California. Despite a lack of dedicated preparation for the competition since she was deep into the production of Emma (in fact heading straight to the airport a few hours after the performance to fly to the US), she still managed to garner: 2 Silver medals for Original and Contemporary Songs; a Gold for Broadway category; Gold for the Finals - as the top 5 out of 400 in her division; and received a plaque for Overall Winner of the Broadway category. It should be noted that the song she performed in the Original Song category, "The One", is her own composition.

During the Emma production, Hannah was relentless and exhibited enthusiasm in learning - asking tips for acting, how to execute complicated dance steps, etc. In between rehearsals, she would pull us to choreograph her musical theatre entry, which we were pleased to learn was the piece that brought her to the finals in WCOPA, gave her a Gold medal, and made her the Overall Winner for the Broadway category. Some people may regard this as a kind of pestering, but she is such a sweet and affectionate girl with sponge-like absorption of every correction and advice, that you can't help but entertain and nourish this passion and curiosity.

Hannah's zest for life and adventurous spirit is evident in her various interests: aside from singing (both as a solo artist and part of a school choir), she plays the piano, drums, guitar; does ballet, hiphop, jazz, modelling, acting, skating, swimming; has won awards for her writing; composes songs; and still manages to be a top student in her class. Even with all these activities though, truth be told, I think her parents are more exhausted than her.

With her talents and all her achievements, it is stirring to see her parents' dedication in supporting her endeavours, making sure she gets the opportunities she needs to grow, but at the same time making sure she enjoys her childhood, and grows up aware of her dual heritage. So yes, they may remark about being tired or craving for more time, but they are definitely, deep down, proud of their daughter.

Unfortunately, not everything is rosy and bright for Hannah. She has her fair share of catty remarks and attitude from peers, perhaps jealous of her achievements and popularity. When confronted with the taunting, she keeps quiet and ignores the negativity, and releases her emotions and thoughts by composing her own songs - creating the melody, doing the musical arrangement, and writing the lyrics. Her songs "The One" and "Stars" are expectant and philosophical. They talk about soaring towards your dreams, of not being pushed to the ground when people put you down, of being strong and true to yourself. She is able to go beyond her peers' animosity as she maintains that her singing is not a way of showing off, but a means of expressing herself and developing her talent. Wise words from such a young girl.

Now opportunities are opening up for Hannah - for performances, projects, possible recordings. Up next in the near future is a plan to do a music video for her next composition. Equipped with talent, grit, and the support of her parents, the world is at Hannah Adamson's feet. A word of advice though, for this young prodigy - always remember where you came from, the people who helped you along the way, and give credit where credit is due. Not only will you be a true and good artist, but a much better person for doing so. And with that, you will embody what you aspire for in the songs that you have written so profoundly - the One and the Star.

* This article was published in the September 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 25 August 2018

Rommel Tingzon and Gordon Snyder: A Filipino-Canadian Story of Arts Patronage

In the recent The Works Art & Design Festival, a young Filipino painter from Palawan, Rommel Tingzon, had his own exhibition entitled Portraits of the Philippines, at the Manulife Place, up until the end of August. There is no doubt that Rommel is talented but he is also undeniably fortunate to have an advocate for his talent and work, in the person of Gordon Snyder, Canadian artist and curator.

Gordon, who lives part time in Palawan, met Rommel in 2017 and was stunned to find 200 recent paintings rolled up in a small room, distinguishing Rommel as the most prolific painter in the area, and marking him as a true artist who really just wants to draw and paint. From then on, Gordon worked on having Rommel featured at The Works Festival, and for financially setting him up for post-secondary studies at the Far Eastern University (FEU) Institute for Architecture and Fine Arts this year.

Rommel's exhibit at The Works, according to Amber Rooke, Executive Artistic Director, is significant in terms of "cultural exchange as well as in the invitation and inclusion in The Works Festival of the substantial Filipino community in Edmonton." It is also the first time that an artist from the Philippines has had a solo exhibition at The Works. It also marked Rommel's first ever exhibition! It was well-received and garnered a lot of media attention. The local art critic cited one of Rommel's works as being his favourite of all the works in the 2018 festival.
When I met Rommel during The Works, he had that bewildered look with him - perhaps due to jet lag, or the surrealness of travelling to, and having an exhibit in, Canada. He is soft spoken, introverted but deeply reflective. Painting for him is a means of expression and a safe zone, where he is the most comfortable and secure. Even with no formal art training, his artworks are striking, bold and impressive. Rommel signs his works with a mirror image of his signature, to convey to the viewer that the work is a reflection of himself.

Excited as I was about Rommel's discovery and journey, I was more deeply touched by Gordon Snyder's unselfish support to the young artist. In the same way the Medici family was to Michelangelo and Queen Elizabeth was to Shakespeare, arts patrons enable artists to pursue whatever they want in style, subject, concept, and medium. The chance of a benefactor appearing, especially in rural Philippines, is unlikely, and in addition, with a triple whammy gift of education, exhibit, and travel.
As an art student, Gordon was mentored by Illingworth Kerr, an artist who studied with the Canada Group of Seven and became the Head of the Alberta College of Art. Gordon explains, "He was someone who saw more talent within me than I saw in myself and helped bring it out of me." This is the same belief that propels his support for Rommel. "In my mind, I see Rommel gaining that same confidence in himself - that someone so believes in him (and not only his talent) that he can learn and grow and perhaps someday work with me. I want him to have time to mature, study art history, improve his English skills and prepare himself for a career in the arts. I want to encourage his independence and recognize the uniqueness of his personal journey. Many years are spent building networks and nurturing relationships. Getting him an exhibition at The Works and taking him to Canada, and sending him to FEU shows him dreams can come true if you work hard and are true to yourself. When the time is right, I'd like to find a good gallery in Manila to represent him. Right now, I don't want money to be his main concern. If I can write about him and promote his work, I would enjoy that. Ultimately, it is the quality of his work that is what is important."

I have written features of Filipino artists working within the Canadian setting - of overcoming hurdles and of maximizing the opportunities in the adoptive country. This is my first story of a budding Filipino artist in the Philippines, provided unsolicited support by a Canadian artist, bringing him exposure in Canada and at the same time providing a pathway to artistic success and economic stability. This is a true and unique Filipino-Canadian arts dynamic, and an inspiring story on arts patronage. Gordon's support, however, is not an unlimited free pass - "I do have limited funds and hope he will work hard and get some scholarships." But it is a far-reaching one that hopefully will be picked up, or supplemented, by other arts patrons as well. Because there is no doubt that Filipino artists are immensely talented. And wherever they are, in any discipline, in whatever form, we must support our artists. Because investment in the artist, is a cultural and social investment.

Rommel Tingzon's exhibit will be up at Manulife Place in downtown Edmonton until end of August. For inquiries or interest on his works, email

* This article was published in the August 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Saturday 21 July 2018

Ely Rowen Salar: Whisking Magic from Imagination to Palate

One of the best things I enjoy in writing my articles is meeting people and encountering creativity and excellence in sometimes the most unexpected ways. One such case is Calgary-based, multi-awarded Ely Rowen Salar, Head Pastry Chef of the Hotel Arts Group. Pastries are a different level of art. According to Ron Ben-Israel, chef and owner of one of the finest couture cake studios, "Pastry is different from cooking because you have to consider the chemistry, beauty and flavour."

Born in Bukidnon but raised in Tacloban, Ely's passion for baking had its roots in his parents' bakery and catering business, where he insisted on working as a young boy. He then realized it was something he wanted to do as a career. He took up Hotel and Restaurant Management in university, had his internship in Virginia, USA and worked as a culinary operations supervisor. Later on he moved for work to the Fairmont in Dubai, to a French-American restaurant in Singapore, and then to Russell, Manitoba.

Even while working on the management part of the industry, his creative side fueled the desire to become a pastry chef. Fortunately, despite a lack of experience in the field, he was offered a job as pastry cook, where he worked hard to prove himself and got promoted four times in less than three years, to be recognized as a pastry chef.

Ely's pastry creations are like pieces of jewelry, showing unbelievable artistry and sense of design with shapes, symmetry and colour. They are exquisite to the point that cutting through the pastry might make you feel guilty. And the flavours assault you with both the familiar and unexpected, as he always aims to put a twist to classic flavours. And these are validated by the numerous awards he has garnered. For this year alone, he was the overall Winner of the Pastry Chef Showcase Competition, on top of winning the Best Plated Dessert Category and the Lindt Chocolate Showpiece Category, effectively sweeping all the awards. He also was the Winner of the Lindt Chocolate Showpiece Competition at the Pastry Chef Showcase 2016, and 2nd Place for Contemporary Cake Category and People's Choice Award at the Calgary Sugarcraft Cake Competition 2015.

In the recent Balik Kultura, a culinary tribute to Philippine culture spearheaded along with three other Filipino chefs, i.e. Rupert Garcia, Jose Battad, and Zac Ardena, Ely's dessert pieces were in the shapes of Philippine fruits like macopa, mango and guava, which featured ube macapuno flavours with a coconut mousse, purple yam sponge and candied coconut strings. This was accompanied with kalamansi bonbons designed with symbols of the Philippine flag and came with a chocolate coconut shell. Words are not enough to describe his creations. You just have to see and savour them.

Aside from his stint with Hotel Arts Group, Ely is also the Education Board of Director of Philippine Culinary Federation of Canada (PCFC) and a member of SAIT's Baking and Pastry Arts Advisory Committee. Through these initiatives, he aims to share his skills and knowledge to aspiring pastry chefs and cooks. Recognizing the value of constant learning in honing your craft, Ely himself ceaselessly does research, training on latest trends, learning from the best chefs in the world, and joins competitions to challenge himself. His recent campaign is to "shed light on the true value of Filipino cuisine, build a better stage upon which to celebrate and elevate the Filipino food experience", and bring it to the forefront of the hospitality industry.

To quote Anthony Bourdain, "Food is everything we are. It's an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It's inseparable from those from the get-go." Ely Rowen Salar, in pursuing his childhood passion with determination, is doing great things both for his personal career and the Filipino psyche. Once upon a time, chefs were nameless and faceless people toiling in a back room of a restaurant. Today, however, they are conferred celebrity-like status, with their names attached to their creations, whose movements are tracked, and are the reason people go to their restaurants. To fully appreciate Ely's work, check him out in Instagram @elypatissier, the Hotel Arts website, or better yet, go and have a taste at the Hotel Arts. Not only will it fill your sense of sight and taste, but your sense of pride as well, knowing that the brains and skill behind the plated designer sweets before you, is a Filipino.

This article was published in the July 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Across the Map: Arts and Migration

Migrante Alberta celebrated the launching of its comic book “Bridging the Gap: A Short History of Migration to Canada” last May 31, 2018 at Panciteria de Manila. Written by Marco Luciano, with illustrations by Mark Suva, the book is a Canada 150 project, which “provides a lens of the hardships of settlement and getting accepted in their new home”.

Bridging the Gap starts with a newly arrived Filipino student meeting his high school Jamaican teacher. On his first day of school, he is introduced to school staff and learns more about their respective backgrounds, thus providing the reader a bird’s eye view of the history of migration to Canada. A 48-page book, it is envisioned to be just the beginning of a series of books on migration stories.

The book launch, hosted by generous couple Bayani and Lorena Alcantara, was a night of story sharing by Clarizze Truscott, Ida Beltran-Lucila, Avnish Nanda, Poushali Mitra, “Lynn” and Vicky Venancio. Rod Loyola, MLA for Edmonton-Ellerslie, and Jon Carson, MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark, delivered messages on behalf of the provincial government. Stirring performances were provided by Lyla Luciano, and Julius Ylagan and Danielle Yu of Emma the Musical. The presentations touched on varying migrant issues: refugee experience, challenges for temporary foreign workers, the Komagata Maru, health care for Canadian children of non-status parents, and for my own part, the value of arts and culture in an immigrant society.

Sharing my own immigration story, I related how I anticipated my life in Canada as a regular 9-5 employee and complete giving up my persona as an artist. However, through time, I found myself revisiting my passion, i.e. dance, arts and culture. For the story of migration is a story of reconstructing one’s identity. When one uproots oneself from his/her home country, there is a sense of loss of social status, and of family and social networks. And this is where the points of art, culture, and migration converged in my life.

Art, culture and migration are rich with stories of aspirations, love, struggles, sacrifices, perseverance and success. Art provides a safe and personal space for self-expression and inclusion. Cultural activities foster a sense of community and belonging, and subsequently, mutual understanding. Furthermore, art provides a platform to reflect, to question, and to inform, thereby being an effective channel for social change. This is why art and culture play a crucial role in reclaiming our identity.

And so in my journey, the role of art and culture has gone beyond
my personal realm and has extended to benefit the greater community. Our community is so diverse. It is said that diversity makes a society stronger. I believe this is true, but so long as the people are empowered with their cultural identity as well. This is the belief behind the Philippine Arts Council.

The Philippine Arts Council and Migrante Alberta have collaborated in different initiatives, most recent of which was the June Philippine Heritage Month Proclamation by the Government of Alberta. Two distinct organizations whose objectives share a cross-point. I am delighted with the launch of “Bridging the Gap: A Short History of Migration to Canada” and in the decision to release it in comic book format. The message and the format, important as it is, renders it accessible as well to all ages and deserves to be disseminated as widely as possible. During the book launch, MLA Rod Loyola and MLA Jon Carson have pledged to provide all schools within their respective riding a copy of the book. Mabuhay ang Migrante Alberta and more power to you! To obtain copies of “Bridging the Gap: A Short History of Migration to Canada”,  email

Saturday 19 May 2018

Meet the Cast of Emma - the Musical

July 7, 2018, marks the world premiere of Emma the Musical, an original Filipino musical in English, at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. Set on the cusp of the Japanese occupation of 1942, it is a story of perseverance, faith and resilience of the Filipino spirit, in peace or in war, and regardless of any sacrifice.

Under my artistic direction, with choreography by Jojo Lucila, music by Erica Cawagas and script by Chie Floresca, the musical is headlined by a zealous cast: Cameron Gamez, Carlos Gamo, Cassandra Baltazar, Catherine Lelis, Danielle Yu, Gerald Penaco, Hannah Adamson, Hans Casana, James Velasco, Jeannine Naboye, Jimmy Buena, Jo-ann Aguilar, Joshua Zoleta, Julius Ylagan, Lauren Lizada, Maicah Macatangay, Mark Laraya, Marjorie Galido, Raphael Tolentino, Riana Torre, Simonette Brigola, and Veronica Knodel.

When I accepted the artistic directorship of the musical, the production had been in rehearsals for 3 months already. Admittedly, I was reluctant in working with a group that I did not personally select and cast. And so on my first rehearsal day, I drilled down the value of commitment, perseverance and respect for the art. In other words, they were given the hard line talk to prepare them for hard work and being pushed beyond their comfort zones. And boy, did they deliver and face challenges head on. Now on the homestretch of the production timeline, I can truly say that it is a privilege to know and work with each one of them.

The cast is a mixture of seasoned performers, emerging artists and newbies. Some intend to make a career in the performing arts, and some are just testing the waters. One of the young members of the cast was so serious that she handed me her resume on day 1. They have varying reasons why they joined the musical - from the hilarious anecdote of being hardballed by a relative, to the lofty objective of pushing Filipino stories. They live full lives apart from the musical but manage to come together as a family for rehearsals. Let's hear directly from some of the cast members about their production experience and thoughts:

Riana: Sharing some of the history of the Philippines through a musical was very appealing as I love music and history. Emma has helped me better connect to history as there is this dissociation at times when you just read about history in a textbook. The most difficult part in this production is knowing that while I may play this as a part, this was a real experience that countless people underwent. It makes my chest ache and we have cried many times during rehearsal as even a taste of the pain that people had to bear during this time, and the courage they had to exhibit in the face of death is something that absolutely floors me. I don't know how one could have survived through these conditions, but they did.

Danielle [who plays the title role]: Knowing that it was an original Filipino musical based on true events made me that much more interested to mold and shape the story and portray it to its truest potential. Many of Emma's family and friends will be sitting in the audience reminiscing about her experiences, and we need to give justice to their stories.

Maicah: I've created new friendships and amazing memories with the cast. I'm very thankful to experience all of it. In portraying my role, I did find some similarities with my character, like our optimism and fighting for what we believe in. After this production, I plan to start composing and writing songs again.

Jimmy: I joined Emma because I would like to share my talent that God bestowed upon me. The people involved in the musical are my second family. It has been my desire to be part of a musical may it be local or international, and I will continue my passion in singing may it be off or on stage.

And why should people watch Emma? In Riana's words, the show moves you on a rollercoaster ride and has all the elements of a great story with love, action, loss, and bravery all wrapped in one beautiful musical. And Julius states it succinctly: I would say that this story, could be any of us, obviously not exactly the same, but listening to our grandparents on their bed telling us how they survived a war, how they found love, how they went through pain, and how in the end all of that made them even stronger as human beings. When people watch Emma, they are going to learn so many different things about the Filipino culture that they may or may not already know, but if there's one thing I really want people to take away and learn from this musical, it's this: it's to fight for what you love.

When you watch Emma, you will not only see a snippet in time of Philippine history, but you will witness the performers' own stories on overcoming challenges, extending personal boundaries in the commitment to bring to life someone else's dreams, and in the process, fulfilling their own. Don't miss this opportunity of youthful enthusiasm and artistic energy!

Emma the Musical is presented by the Filipino Canadian Saranay Association. Tickets are available through Ticketfly or message the Emma the Musical FB page, or any of the production team.

This article was published in the May 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday 20 April 2018

Sherwin Calaluan - a Serendipitous Life through the Lens

Renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz once said "I wish that all of nature's magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed." Considering Sherwin Calaluan's start and journey in photography, this quote might just as well be his.

Sherwin Calaluan is an accidental photographer whose images have been gracing publications and winning awards and competitions. He is originally from Isla Verde, a small island located between Batangas City and Mindoro. After obtaining his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management in 2006, he went to Canada to work as a housekeeper at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. And when you live in Banff, how can you not be impressed
with the magnificence of nature? Sherwin remarks, "When I first came to Canada way back in 2007, I fell in love with the beautiful sceneries in Banff National Park. I met fellow kababayans who convinced me to buy an entry level camera Nikon D90 with kit lens and
joined them exploring the Rockies. After work we would go out to catch the sunset or during days off, we would go for sunrise trips. From the moment I started documenting the changing, rugged landscapes in the mountains and the wildlife that they host, I was hooked. It became my testing ground and eventually opened the door for more opportunities in photography."

Sherwin has no formal training in photography and would hone his craft by watching tutorial YouTube videos and studying the works of his favourite landscape photographers.
Soon after, this accidental photographer started garnering notice and acclaim for his images. Among these are: Canadian Wildlife Federation Landscape Category Winner 2016; Outpost Magazine 2016 Landscape Category Award; front cover of Canadian Geographic Quiz (2016-2017); front cover for the Canadian Geographic 2017 Calendar Edition; Moscow Foto Awards 2017, Silver Award in Panoramic Category; Epson International Panorama Awards 2017 Bronze Award; and for 2018, First Prize for Mountain Landscape Category at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, where there were more than 500 participating landscape photographers and filmmakers. He has been featured by CBC and has had 2 Solo Art Exhibitions at the Banff Library and Banff Film Festival Gallery Hop.

Feeling blessed to be able to experience the beauty of nature and capture its magnificence, Sherwin further enjoys the opportunities to meet and interact with people equally
passionate about photography. He is the first one to stress though, that his journey in photography, even if unexpected, is fraught with strains. He may have been bestowed with accolades, but he has also been showered with challenges. Sherwin shares, "Photography is not an easy job. I would say, one of the biggest challenge is how to balance time between my full time job, my family (I have a 4 year old daughter) and my photography. Because of the nature of my chosen field, another big challenge is the weather. Most of the time, I am along shooting for sunrise/sunset, and the weather here in the Canadian Rockies is very unpredictable, it might be calm in a minute but in a blink of an eye, it can turn into a blizzard." Photography is a yardstick for patience. To quote art critic John Berger, "What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time."

Although Sherwin is most known as a landscape photographer, he also shoots portraits and anything else that captures his attention, shows character and tells a story. His
favourite things to capture though are sunrises, sunsets, the northern lights and winter scenes, particularly when the surroundings are blanketed in snow. He dreams of eventually having his own gallery and be a full-time landscape photographer traveller. In his bucket list is to shoot the Patagonia in Chile, Tombstone National Park, Yukon Alberta, Mayon Volcano and Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines.

Sherwin found his passion in an unexpected way and discovered a new, unpredicted life. With his own journey, he hopes to inspire people in pursuing their dream and their heart's desires. His advice to aspiring photographers, "Go outside and experience the beauty of nature. Keep pressing the shutter speed and follow the light while the sun reveals the colours of the clouds. Don't be afraid to be criticized by others but instead use it as a positive way to improve yourself. And have fun!" As French photographer Marc Riboud says, "Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."

Sherwin Calaluan's images are available for purchase. Check out his Facebook page @sksherwin and his website at

This article was published in the April 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.