by Clarissa Cecilia Mijares
Ralph Escamillan delightfully weaves stories and inquiries of heritage and the transnational experience with and through the Filipino PIÑA.
See-through giants—the piña and the Filipinx
The dance opens with a parade of “higantes” (giants) clothed in lace-like pina fabric. It is a fitting start to a production that asserts the magnanimity of the Filipinx spirit and one that allows the featured pineapple fabric to stand out, literally. As we peer into the bodies under the see-through fabric, the reimagined quadrille becomes an invitation to engage in the process of reflecting and questioning.
Piña is a Philippine textile produced by weaving natural fibre from pineapple leaves, particularly the Red Spanish pineapple variety. Pineapples are among the remnants of the Philippine colonial past. Brought to the Philippines by European colonizers, the pineapple is currently among the key crops for agricultural export in the Philippines. The luxurious pineapple fabric remains to be a coveted material locally and internationally. The gossamer fabric is much valued because of the arduous process of its production as well as the artistry of traditional weaving and embroidery.
Escamillan’s deliberate choice of materials, tactile and otherwise, very much communicates a desire to understand his own positionality in the culture matrix. His own curiosities have allowed him to support and champion Filipino practices, products, and personalities both in Canada and in the Philippines. For PIÑA, Escamillan collaborated with Aklan-based Raquel Eliserio and her family-community of pina weavers. Vancouver audiences now have the opportunity to access the pina fabric and see (through) it up close.
Philippine dance in the North
This dance production is a culmination of a three-year research on Philippine folk traditions. Many will be happy to know that they will not be sitting through an hour of sway balances and bandurria music. If you are looking for the excitement of having tinikling dancers’ feet caught by bamboo poles, this show might not be for you. What it promises though is an interrogation of the transnational experience. One will be treated to movement explorations around concepts of home, identity, and whiteness.
Structurally, Escamillan remained faithful to the elements of Philippine folk dance with an enthusiastic entrada, a sense of ease with the patay (slow interlude), and an antithetical saludo (salute) to finish. Escamillan brings his own cheekiness into the dance by meshing together Filipino folk, contemporary dance, and ballroom with performative devices such as lipsyncing to a K!mmortal original.
Dancers Danah Rosales, Tin Gamboa, and Justin Calvadores are very competent accomplices in pushing the boundaries of folx dance by playing in space and with material manipulatives. Escamillan also received much support and guidance from Manila-based dancer/choreographers Peter Alcedo, Buboy Raquitico, and Denisa Reyes.
PIÑA, the dance production and the fabric, were expertly illuminated by lighting director Gabriel Raminhos. Towards the end of the show, the piña screen reflected what seemed like the Northern Lights. The solo dance against the man-made aurora hints at how productions like these are ushering in a new dawn for Philippine performing arts on international platforms. The Filipinx is ready, the world can follow.
Clarissa Cecilia “Issa” Mijares is a Filipina dance sociologist currently completing her PhD at Simon Fraser University. She writes this review with sensibilities of a new migrant and an appreciation of the transatlantic travails of Filipinos in Canada. SFU Woodward’s Cultural Programs and the Dance Centre presented PIÑA at the Goldcorp Centre for the Arts from May 4 to 6. Follow Pancouver on Twitter @PancouverMedia.