Local Roots in Global Eyes

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.**

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On Origins

The concept of ‘balitao’ emerges from a specific Visayan, Filipinx origins. ‘Balitao’ combines the Spanish word “bailar” (which means ‘to dance’) with the Bisayan word “tao” (which means ‘people’). Alternatively, in Asian philosophy, ‘tao’ also signifies the unwavering, unknowable source that acts as the guiding principle of the universe. Thus, the name ‘balitao’ may be translated to, ‘DANCE OF THE PEOPLE’ (or, ‘dance of the flow’).

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