Performing Connections, Connecting Performances
The stage transformed into one glimmering, colorfulworld of its own, with people resplendent in traditional attires and inventive costumes, communicated and communed through smiles, gentle sway of the hands, rhythmic thumping of the feet and songs. Everyone came from different places but they came together, for the first time, for a short time, and interacted as if old friends. Performers danced and sang. Audiences watched and clapped. They met and merged at the end, becoming one exuberant sea of people, the exchanges many times wordless but all brimming with admiration, gratitude, respect, appreciation, openness, affinity, solidarity and other emotions. They sang in unison, while it rained gently of confetti, until words came and also laughter, ebullient, excited and warm. The Budayaw: The BIMP-EAGA Festival of Cultures came to a close with a grand performance. But the scene constantly happened throughout the duration of the festival, at almost every performance, attesting to the power of dance and music.
Traditional dances and musical performances formed a substantial part of the Budayaw Festival and proved to be the most popular. Even largely and essentially non-performing components had interludes of dances and music, creating a multi-sensory affair. Performances put the festive in the festival.
Performing troupes, both school-and community-based, from the BIMP-EAGA countries made the round of the venues as well as to a few communities in the province of Saranganias outreach activity. Their repertoires almost entirely comprised folk and traditional performances. Events have all been jam- packed with audience, who were very receptive, responsive.
Dance and music, as well as theaterand ritual, are compelling, persuasive and infectious. In different cultures around the world, they play important roles in social activities and gatherings, with multiple functions—to entertain and give pleasure, to serve as spiritual conduits/drivers especially in rituals if not the embodiments of rituals themselves, to facilitating social cohesion, to tell the stories of a people, and now to serve as vital components in cultural diplomacy and exchanges.
Dance and music are the most primal of human creative expressions. With the mind and body as main resources, we are able express a range of emotions, ideas, concepts, and create beauty, mostly ephemeral but impactful. Their permanence relies on being shared and being passed on, thus facilitating cohesion in a family, in a group, in a community and in a culture. At the same time, they are also identifying elements of a culture.
Dance and music are integral in the cultures of the BIMP-EAGA countries, which exhibits diversity in their developments as well as commonalities, reflecting centuries of sharing and influences and similarities of sensibilities, experiences and aspirations. These were brought to fore at the BudayawFestival, where delegations crafted repertoires most reflective of their cultures but remaining easily relatable to any people as well as entertaining. Receptions ranged from curiosity and fascination to familiarity and surprise at the similarities.
“Jewels of the EAGA,” mounted in different venues, particularly at the SM City General Santos Trade Hall and KCC Convention Center, showcased traditional dances as well as contemporary creations which were heavily inspired by traditions. Some performances were interactive, inviting audience to participate and dance with the delegates.
Most of the dances depicted common life cycles and were meant to accompany certain events and ceremonies. Others drew inspiration from episodes of beloved tales and epics, and from their environments such as the movements of animals.
Brunei Darussalam’s adai-adai, from Ayer, translated the life in water villages and fishing into graceful motions, while jipin tar was festive and colorful.
The Philippines also presented a substantial repertoire of dances from the different ethnic groups of Mindanao such as the Meranaw, Maguindanao, Tausugand Tboli. The delegation from Palawan created a program for “Kaambengan: A Celebration of Palawan Culture,” a sweeping show divided into the “Ethnic Suite,” inspired by the indigenous groups Palaw-an, Tagbanuaand Batak; the “MolbogSuite,” inspired by the Muslim groups Meranaw, Molbog, JamaMapunand Tausug; the “Cuyonon Suite,” inspired by Cuyononculture; and the “Modern Suite,” featuring contemporary dance and music.
In “Soundscapes of the Earth,” indigenous sounds were highlighted, with performances by traditional musicians, emphasizing a shared heritage in music such as the prevalence of gongs, bamboo instruments and string instruments in the region.
“Young Voices Rising: Choral Concert Series” was a youth chorale concert featuring the Gensan Ambassadors Chorale, Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Colleges Himig Choir, MSU Gensan Chorale, MSU-IIT (Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology) Octava Chorale and In Unity Chorale of Malaysia. This culminated in a dramatic Grand Tutti, where all participating chorales performed together on September 24 at the KCC Convention Center, singing “Bituing Walang Ningning,” “Anak,” “Tagumpay Nating Lahat,” and the Budayaw theme song.
The theater component of the Budayaw Festival was the “Reframing Kasalikas: Mindanao Theater” which featured an impressive theatrical production of “Maharadia Lawana,” the Meranawversion of the Ramayana story.
The story of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana is one of the greatest stories of the world. As the story was retold and travelled, there exist many versions, or tales and other literary forms inspired by the epic. Most countries in Southeast Asia have their own Ramayana stories, affirming linkages with India or among these countries. In the Philippines, the Ramayana took the form of a prose folk narrative of the Meranaw, “Maharadia Lawana,” documented and translated into English by Professor Juan R. Francisco in 1968.
“The influence of the Rama story in the literature of Malaya, Indonesia, Borneo and other countries in Southeast Asia is no longer a debatable problem. As such it ranks high among all other stories of definitely Indian provenance. It is the source of much aesthetic inspiration, apart from the inspiration it has created in literature. Its influence upon the art of the region is too famous to need any reference here just as its pervasive spirit has permeated human imagination—“crude” or refined—among the varied peoples of Southeast Asia,” Dr. Francisco wrote.
For festival director Nestor Horfilla, this gathering of Mindanao theatergroups evoked the essence of Kalasikas Mindanaw, the first theatre festival of the island more than thirty years ago. The adaptation of “Maharadia Lawana” was timely, resonating with the context of the Mindanaonsas they struggle against the arrogance of power and spoils of war to advance their aspirations for freedom.
Maharadia Lawana consisted of the “Prologue” by the KaliwatPerforming Artists Collective of Davao City; “Episode 1: The Winning of Potre” by the Kagay- an Performing Arts Troupe of Cagayan de Oro City; “Episode 2: The Abduction of TowanPotreMalailaGanding” by the KabpapagariyaEnsemble of Mindanao State University (MSU) in General Santos City; “Episode 3: The Search for Potre Malaila Ganding” by the SiningKambayokaEnsemble of MSU in Marawi City; and “Episode 4: The Return of PotreMalaila Ganding” by Sining Kandidilimudan Ensemble of MSU in Maguindanao.
The showing of the traditional and the contemporary side by side did not feel incongruous but instead it illustrated that the two are not separate but part of a long tradition, of continuity, of ongoing evolution, despite some forms are non-indigenous but still embraced and moulded to be vessels of their own cultures, as Budayaw itself demonstrate a continuing connection despite political delineations and disruptions. Now made aware, may people further strengthen old links as they form new ones.