Monday, April 03, 2006

Comprehensive report from Michelle about the Fil Am Arts events at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts this past weekend. I don't get to attend too many events in the Bay Area so when I do, I always notice the changes. I think Joel Tan's presence at YB has given Fil Am arts more visibility!Yey!!

Ten or more years ago, other organizations that have tried to stage events at YB or elsewhere were disappointed by low turn outs because, supposedly, the predominantly immigrant community didn't feel comfortable being in "white spaces" -- like museums, peforming arts center. Or when there is a Fil Am event, many in the audience will be non-Filipinos. Well, things have changed, indeed, and it's fun to see many young Fil Ams at these events!

I was excited to see the "Mutya Project" because I've been reading up about babaylan and mutya as developed by indigenization scholars in the Philippines. I wanted to see how the understanding of the spirit of the mutya translates into art. I think the attempt to use live accompaniment via rondalla music played by Fil Am vets is a good idea but I wish they had rehearsed better. Interesting collaboration with Frances Wong, a notable Asian American jazz musician.

What does it take to embody the spirit of the Mutya in dance? I saw glimpses of this attempt in the thematic presentations of the mutya as healer - the healing elements of incense, water, light; the three-someness ofindigenous folk beliefs (tres persona solo dios?) represented by the indigenous textile extended in three directions and three mutyas coil back into the center and then unfurl again and eventually with one mutya drawing all three directions back into herself. I thought there were glimpses of trance (maybe because I saw Sufi figures?) work there as well. The color theme of ecru is effective in conveying a unifying theme.

What I would like to know more of is about the process of how the artists are trying to get to know the Mutya. Last weekend at the immigration rally downtown, there were Aztec dancers and I noticed that after taking part in the march, they formed a circle away from the crowd, lit incense, improvised an altar and then they chanted/prayed, as a way of ending that particular ceremonial participation. The people who were watching were respectful even if curious. I couldn't bring myself to take their pictures because the emotional impact of what I just witnessed evoked feelings of awe and respect. It just seemed so trite at that moment to ask them to pose for photographs. I wonder...did the Mutya artists also gather together in a circle before and after to invoke the Mutya spirit?

While I was in the Philippines last summer, I was able to attend events where there were tribal artists (or modern young ones reclaiming indigenous practices. One event was during my book launch at UP. I was told that a group of artists will help with the event and wow! did they transform the event into sacred space! The drumming and dancing that enjoined all of us to participate became a palpable "working of the spirit."

I wonder if there is a difference in how context and space are used to represent such profound and powerful reality (Mutya) that determines the "success" of the event? Does it ever really work to present this Power in the context of "performance" where the audience sits in darkness and the artists are separated from the audience by the stage? How do we accommodate this difference as the artist is trying to meld together modern practices with the spirit of the indigenous? Since performance requires the perfection of technique (displayed by the mastery of Magui artists)and showmanship, to what extent does this take away from the spontaneity and spirit of music-making when we know that the kulintang and the gongs were always played within the context of everyday life among the Maguindanaos? How do we tell the story of a culture and a people when only a small fragment of that culture is showcased in a one-hour show?

These are the thoughts that kept me awake for the rest of the night...

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