What many Visayan festival spectators look forward to seeing is the street dance – if they even have the chance to see it at all. Between the crowd and the heat, it’s not easy to get a peak. But if you do, you realize how mesmerizing it is to watch dance from the sidewalk.
What is visible in the dance is months of hard work, years of cultivated choreography and costume design, communities coming together, cooperation at many levels of society.
What is most exciting, for me, is the youthful spirit of the dancers and the visionary wisdom of the choreographers.
Before the start of the street dances, I got the opportunity to meet a choreographer (and physical education teacher) and a principal (and festival organizer). Below, I offer 2 videos (rough sketches) of a larger moving image project in which I explore the importance of embodied archives for preserving these memories of Visayan community arts.
An experiment in embodied memory: Segundo “Panoy” Jesus Cabalcar, Jr. is a physical education teacher and a visionary champion choreographer of over 27 years for MassKara Festival in Bacolod, Negros, Philippines. His passions in dance art innovation and education have shaped his community – and will continue to for decades to come. What is the future channel of his wisdom?
Big thanks to Bacolod National High Principal Lila Valfor Arro and participating students, and 2018 Champions of Barangay Tangub dance team! Especially Gillian Vargas, Steve Michael G. Magarang, Dallen Jean M. Cantero, Rose Ann G. Manalingan, Jiasen P. Balleza, (Mar) Mharjor Supena, Ronel V. Cruz and all the smiling faces behind the masks. May your dance continue to bring joy & blessings!
(Note: Audio from the full interview with sir Panoy will be uploaded soon!)
An experiment in embodied archives: Filmed at Patricia Homes Elementary School the day before the MassKara Festival school street dance competition and arena showdown. Principal Mary Grace L. Mallen discusses her role as appointed festival organizer in the field of education and reflects on her childhood experiences dancing behind the mask. Even as MassKara Festival evolves and expands every year, still, it is the children and their dancing that draw out the crowd to watch the live spectacle. How will we remember and honor their contribution to this living cultural heritage of community dance arts?
BIG THANKS to Principal Mary Grace L. Mallen, Renelyn D. Jutayero, MAED, and the incredible smiling dancers of Patricia Homes Elementary School for MassKara Festival 2018. Thanks to Silver MassKara Foundation for providing contacts, and Asian Cultural Council for opportunity to study Visayan festivals.
One of my key interests in festival culture is its “mushroom effect” – it’s capacity to grow new worlds within communal relation. Mycelium is the mushroom network that grows in rich soil and nourishes its development –& this is how plants learn to speak to each other across distances.
Festival cultures breed new modes of communal growth, gathering and assemblage, upon which future communication networks blossom. So when I heard of the Humanist Alliance Philippines Internationalhaving their yearly General Assembly in Bacolod, coincidentally during MassKara Festival, I got excited about this happening.
In a country like the Philippines, forever transformed by Spanish Catholic colonization, notions of “secularism” fall far from the mainstream discourse. That this secular group organizes humanist-based community development projects without turning to the logics of “god as a savior” is a novel mode of service orientation for this society. Yet, it felt apt, that a festival like MassKara Festival –not based on religion, myth or history– would be a meeting place for this kind of organizing.
“HAPI promotes secular humanism as a progressive philosophy suggesting that human beings, given the right education, can be ethical and morally upright even without divine interference.”
Trying to learn more of Bacolod’s art history, which is a crucial part of MassKara Festival origins, I got the chance to meet Rafael Paderna, a painter, illustrator, sculptor, ceramics artist – a jack-of-all-trades & a living cultural heritage of Bacolod’s art history.
One of the original founders of Arts Association of Bacolod, whose most active member Ely Santiago coined the concept of ‘MassKara,’ Rafael Paderna belongs to a generation of artists that have memories of the burgeoning arts scene of Bacolod in the 1960’s & 1970’s. At the same time, he is also part of an artist generation that left the island during adulthood, only to return later in life with a different perspective on community arts organizing (bridging the insider/outsider divide).
How to learn the history of a place? Start with native tongues.Its language and the taste of its foods. Or, go to its “museum” of art & history.
For Bacolod, the site of MassKara Festival, a bite of its history is sweet, with a twang of blood, sweat & tears.
The current exhibit up at the newly renovated Negros Museum, “Unrefining Sugarlandia,” is provocative for its re-presentation of Bacolod’s complicated social past, positioning the viewer to consider its place in the conditions of the present.
FIRST STOP on FESTIVAL PILGRIMAGE: MASSKARA FESTIVAL in “City of Smiles,” Bacolod, Negros Occidental
Each festival is unique to place. Each festival commemorates unique histories & geographies. Each festival celebrates unique convergences in space-time. Yet, despite this diversity, Visayan festivals all have a common feature of street dance celebrations. But within this universal spectacle is also a massively complex infrastructure to make public dance possible.
As an “outsider,” I’m still learning the “insider” histories.
Most Visayan festivals organize through municipal politics to manifest. Meaning that they depend on the elected officials to finance the street dance production (meaning that during election years, city leaders may opt out of festival celebrations due to ‘budget’). The biggest festivals, like MassKara, have a private foundation to produce the festival outside of complicated city politics, with the city’s economic interests in mind. MassKara, and its festive parties, is now one of Bacolod’s biggest sources of revenue.
I got the opportunity to interview sir Eli Tajanlangit, the director of Silver MassKara Foundation, the private organization made in the early 2000’s to manage the growing festival of “masks.” His insight on the history, transformations and speculative futures of the festival illuminated my driving question,
As much as I want to believe that Visayan street dance spectacles reflect truly local talents, it would be false to claim such colorful creativity as mere representations of “folk” imagination. Modern Visayan festival culture, rooted in spiritual abstraction & social realism, evolved out of international investment in its innovative local arts.
Even though Ati-Atihan is an event that celebrates the religious icon of Santo-Nino (Baby Jesus), its representation is far from “realist” aesthetics of religious devotion; full of color, life, indigenous animism and international creative support, it reflects many layers of local adaptations and global influence.
One of my first contacts on festival culture in the Philippines, Susan Arcega, director of Aliwan Festival, established a firm foundation for the role of international production involved in supporting regional street dance cultures. With a background in communication arts, Susan Arcega began her professional career as a program director hired by US information services at the US Cultural Assembly to study Philippine festivals. She later worked under British Council for its Cultural Center focused on East Asia, scouting and supporting artists to do collaborative work in the Philippines and Filipino diaspora communities in the UK, while also witnessing festival cultures across Southeast Asia. At this point, I am only speculating the international political linkages that influenced region-wide creative direction of these local street festivals, so I can further explore the role of international investment involved in local cultural arts.**