June 25 marked the first event for La Salle Dance Company-Folk’s (LSDC-Folk) 10th anniversary celebrations with the premier of Biyahe sa Pulo. The lecture series explored multiple aspects of Filipino arts and culture; but whatever medium one tackles—from documentary filmmaking, lobbying for artists’ welfare, or preserving Filipino textiles—Biyahe sa Pulo showcased how the passion of various artists can be incorporated into professions today.
The term “pulo”—as host Nicolo Carrido explained—means island. “Ang rami kasi natin, or napakarami nating estorya, napakarami nating experiences, at marami tayong aral na pwede nating mapulot at matutunan doon sa 7,640 na isla natin,” he shared, providing an insight into the event’s name. Bianca Natalie Yap, host and division manager for Finance at LSDC-Folk, explained that pulo also means ten in Bisaya—perfectly apt for LSDC-Folk’s 10-year anniversary.
(We have so many stories, experiences, and lessons that we can learn from our 7,640 islands.)
Dance, diaspora, and the dynamic spirit of the Filipino
The first lecture, titled BayLehan sa Ilalim ng Buwan, featured Dr. Patrick Alcedo—a full professor and chair of the Department of Dance at York University. As a Kalibo, Aklan native who now resides in Toronto, Canada, he opened his lecture by describing his love for dance, noting that he has always had a “lifelong interest in social justice issues, but from the point of the dance.”
With the intent to disseminate his research to as many individuals as possible, Alcedo has turned to various platforms and methods, becoming a multimodal scholar. Apart from producing scholarly works, Alcedo has also ventured into filmmaking, producing documentaries about Filipino art and culture, and directing live performances of Filipino folk dances. In today’s globalized world, Alcedo believes that scholars have to consider the contemporary importance of multimodal mediums in disseminating research.
Alcedo’s lecture was structured in three parts–the Ati-atihan festival, folk dance, and documentary filmmaking. Deep diving into the Ati-atihan festival first, he disclosed that it had been an integral experience from his childhood. He highlighted the festival’s history and colonial influences, noting the festival’s intent to celebrate the Sto. Niño.
He then transitioned to how folk dance survived and adapted during the pandemic, sharing his amazement at how technology has enabled the possibility of online folk dance workshops, such as one organized by the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company. “That workshop made it possible for their attendees and their teachers, [as well as] members of Bayanihan…to form a temporary virtual community,” he shared. However, he acknowledged that this medium still cannot replace the experience of dancing in a group in a physical setting.
The final part of Alcedo’s lecture discussed documentary filmmaking as a moving art form. He expressed that his realization of the medium’s full potential to shed light on Filipino culture and society was when he made a feature about the youth in Kalibo who were training in boxing in hopes of becoming the next Manny Pacquiao. Meanwhile, his other film, Dancing Manilenyos, explored the intersection of dance, class, and urbanity.
Alcedo then closed his lecture by sharing his commitment to continue exploring the Filipino identity and culture through dance and documentation. “As a Philippine studies scholar and a Filipino, I devote my energies and resources to fleshing out who [the] Filipinos are…from the point of view of dance,” he expressed.
Championing artists’ welfare
AdLawbokasiya—Biyahe sa Pulo’s second lecture—featured Jennifer Bonto, executive director for both the Artists Welfare Project, Inc. (AWPI) and the Ballet Philippines Foundation. She chronicled the story of AWPI, a Securities and Exchange Commission-registered nongovernmental organization geared toward supporting artists in the Philippines through various programs while lobbying for their rights and welfare in the legislative sphere.
Examples of AWPI’s programs that Bonto discussed included their Master’s Degree Program in Culture and Arts, providing artists an opportunity to expand their knowledge and education and to further their credentials. Another is the Health Maintenance Organization for artists. Bonto explained that freelance artists often lack access to affordable health insurance, a benefit common in most contractual employment setups. Through its partners, AWPI was able to provide artists and their families with health insurance at a lower rate, which they can then use to cover their medical-related expenses. AWPI also assisted its members on legal matters, whether it be in looking for lawyers, or on matters pertaining to intellectual property.
However, Bonto lamented the devastating effects of the pandemic on artists, noting that many of them have had to adapt in numerous ways just to survive. While she credited their resilience and creativity in searching for means to support themselves, Bonto stressed the importance of improving the economic opportunities of artists in the Philippines.
On that note, she encouraged everyone to carry on with their artistic hobbies and passions and not hesitate to reach out and ask for help. “For everybody who is passionate about creative work, just keep at it,” she shared.
Keeping the Filipiniana alive
Rounding out the trio of lectures was Paghabi ng Tala, a discussion on Filipino textiles, featuring fashion designer, heritage conservationist, and environmentalist Patis Tesoro. Her lecture talked about the preservation and use of traditional Filipino textiles, such as the piña—a material commonly used in Filipiniana designs. “Piña is a status symbol; [it] is something that identifies us as a nation, as Filipinos,” she shared.
However, the textile is difficult to source and is labor-intensive to produce. Tesoro attributed this fact to the prohibitively expensive cost of purchasing traditional Filipiniana outfits, which have become more unaffordable to consumers over the years. This has led to a slow but steady disappearance of the designs. Nevertheless, Tesoro stressed the importance of keeping the Filipiniana alive. One way to do so is by finding innovative uses for these textiles.
“If you keep it in its pure state, you [can’t] afford [it]. But if you, say patch it on, and use bits and pieces of it, it can be affordable…the point is to keep the tradition alive,” Tesoro explained.
Tesoro further encouraged the youth to continue to buy and use these traditional pieces of clothing. She noted that we do not necessarily need to buy the more intricate and expensive pieces. What’s important is to find something more contemporary, and to find more uses for them outside of formal occasions.
Will we see a resurgence of traditional Filipino wear? Tesoro had this to say: “Will you see it in your lifetime? Maybe bits and pieces [of the materials]. But will your children see it? Maybe not.” Ultimately, she reminded viewers that the fate of these traditional Filipino textiles will depend on their continued usage.
Just the beginning
As the final lecture of the series came to a close, Yap expressed her gratitude to the speakers for the time and effort they have rendered for lectures. “Maraming salamat sa aming speakers for their love in preserving and appreciating different aspects of our culture,” she expressed. On that note, audiences are reminded that this event is only the first of what LSDC-Folk has in store for its 10th anniversary, as their anniversary concert will be arriving soon.
While Biyahe sa Pulo has come to an end, the quest to further enrich and expand the horizons of art in the Philippines lives on. Truly, Alcedo, Bonto, and Tesoro are some of the many fine examples of individuals who continue to champion the Filipino’s artistic spirit, whether through dance, documentaries, textiles, and fashion and in advocating for the welfare of our artists.