Electric MassKara: Escape or Export?

Festivals celebrate the past in the present & pave way for futures: The final MassKara Festival weekend kicked off with an LED-lit moving float competition on Lacson Street, which turned a town’s main street into an immersive tourist strip. 

 

A Coca-Cola sponsored “Electric Zumba” event started the festival’s sugar-high vibes, with two macho male dancers from Cebu leading a group of mostly middle-aged and older women into mass choreographed dance spectacleIntuitively, it felt contradictory that a high-calorie sugar-filled drink would be the sponsor for a fitness dance class, but alas, it attracted the attendants to participate and mesmerized their audience to spectate – & fun cannot be computed in the rational realm!

 

Though wildly hypnotic, amidst  immersive LED-lights & sound-speaker blasted electronic dance music, I also felt a bit dizzy from the flood of electro-data stimulation. As I’m writing this, almost one month since the event, I’m still struggling to give words to the experience. How to make ‘sense’ from sensory overload? >>

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Physical Education & Visionary Imagination

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.

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Congrats to the champion winners of MassKara Festival 2018, Barangay Tangub! (photo from MassKara.ph)

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.

Secular Humanism: Margins of the Masses

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.

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photo from Uplift Connect: “Plants Communicate Using An Internet of Fungi”

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 International having 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.

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“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.”

from the Humanist Alliance Philippines International

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Embodied Memory, in eMotion

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.

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“The woman is a caretaker of the Earth”

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).

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Day of the Dead: FOMO & BloodRoots

I arrived in San Carlos City on Kalag-Kalag (November 1), a ritual of remembering those who’ve passed, between the veil of the living and the dead.

Similar to Dias de Los Muertos celebrated in Mexico, Kalag-Kalag in Philippines is a day for the living to visit the cemeteries and honor those who’ve passed to the other side. Meanwhile, in a town in Victoria, Tigkalalag Festival took place, in a merry-making dance of aswang spirits.

Instead of going there, I go to San Carlos to process my first festival experience, MassKara, and prepare for my next festival, Pintaflores. Only the second festival & I’m already steeped in massive FOMO <fear of missing out> – seems to be an ongoing sentiment for my research field, because Visayan festivals and fiestas happen somewhere, everywhere, all the time (“should I go there or here? omg, that’s happening this weekend too?? which one should I go to??” -soundtrack of my mindscape)

I should have gone to see my family cemeteries all in Bantayan island (where both my parents derive their origins), but I knew that the travel time there and back would be tiresome for my body, brain, soul. When I texted my mother that I made it safely to San Carlos, she blessed my presence and told me that, actually, I had arrived in the city where my Lolo (grandfather) was born. Before WWI, his family moved there for business, before returning to Bantayan island. I felt relieved that even though I did not go to the cemetery where my Lolo is buried (and where the rest of my family went to ‘celebrate’ Kalag-Kalag), I at least visited him in his place of birth. (I also began to ask questions on ancestral activities, why my great-grandparents were in San Carlos, Negros for business, while raising my Lolo (grandpa) back in Bantayan, where he went on to build a fishing boat enterprise from his inherited trade networks.)

<Let’s get real: It’s hard to describe the kind of loneliness I started to feel on this trip. On one hand, I am getting an incredibly opportunity to study Visayan festivals; on the other hand, surrounded by crowds of strangers celebrating their community’s history that is not my own, is a naturally alienating situation. So I am touched by my mother’s news and such surprises of interconnection.

“The Pintaflores Festival was born out of the city’s search for a cultural identity and tradition. In 1992 after successfully holding two activities with the Nabingkalan Tattoo Festival and the Dances of Flowers as highlights of the city fiesta, the idea of blending the two concepts to come up with a presentation that could be considered the city’s very own started what today is one of the most popular street dancing festivals in the region, the present-day Pintaflores Festival.” –Wikipedia

Similarly, I am amused to learn that Pintaflores Festival is based on a myth of an ancient princess who is healed from getting a flower tattoo. I myself have 2 flower tattoos, one of which I got to heal a hurtful experience of a 3rd-degree burn which left permanent scars on my skin; it also became a marker for my search for cultural identity. OK so I am not a princess PER SE, but I vibe with this myth, as part of my spiritual pilgrimage to experience Visayan festivals and reconnect with my roots through movement-based research. SO, w/ FOMO & all, I’m excited for the journey between worlds.

Murder in “Sugarlandia”

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.

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Quan Restaurant‘s display of delectable sugary treats makes any visit difficult to make decisions

For Bacolod, the site of MassKara Festival, a bite of its history is sweet, with a twang of blood, sweat & tears. 

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At the curator’s talk & tour of the exhibit, Georgina Luisa O. Jocson points to Susanito Sarnate’s Memories in Red & Pink – an almost purely terra-cotta diorama of the sugarcane field as child’s “playground of socialization,” in which multiple contestations to land & power constructed a real theater of war

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. 

PLEASE READ: from New York Times :

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During this year’s MassKara Festival, NINE PEASANT FARMERS ON A NEARBY SUGAR PLANTATION WERE KILLED. How did we get here? >>>> Art is a place to start controversial conversations >>

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Festival Foundation

FIRST STOP on FESTIVAL PILGRIMAGE: MASSKARA FESTIVAL in “City of Smiles,” Bacolod, Negros Occidental

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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.

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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 politicswith 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,

“What makes MassKara so special?”

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