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WEEKEND REVIEWS / Dance

'Journey' Through Heart of Philippines Takes Wing

August 12, 1996|LEWIS SEGAL | TIMES DANCE CRITIC

As much a community project as a performance by the 6-year-old Kayamanan Ng Lahi company, "Lakbay Diwa: Journey of the Spirit" filled the stage of the Luckman Theater at Cal State L.A on Saturday with more than 50 local dancers, musicians, children and guests--all intent on celebrating the centennial of the Philippine revolution with maximum spirit and splendor.

Roars of audience recognition greeted favorite songs, dances and company leaders during this five-part program of regional suites, with the highly generous character comedy and choral singing in the "Traditional Provincial" finale inevitably proving far more enthralling to Philippine Americans than to outsiders.

Everyone, however, could appreciate the company's skill, discipline and focus on social contexts in suites drawn from the Northern Luzon hill tribes, the Southern island of Mindanao and the Philippine cultures shaped by influences from abroad. Adding immeasurably to the excellence of the event: vibrant percussion and guitar ensembles directed by Leonilo "Boy" Angos.

Choreographer Barbara J. Ele delivered the showpieces you'd expect in any survey of Philippine folklore: the princess stepping elegantly across horizontal bamboo poles being rhythmically slammed together on the floor, for example. Or villagers wrapping votive candles in colored handkerchiefs and swirling them overhead on a darkened stage to create the illusion of synchronized fireflies.

But Ele's greatest talent turned out to be turning dancers into birds: serene, high-swooping Igorot mountain birds, for starters. Plus infant Mindanao eagles, stiffly slapping their wings together while learning to fly. Even hens and roosters, baby chicks and a doomed, predatory hawk with endless gleaming silver talons.

Sometimes whimsical but often deadly serious, such bird dances defined the connection between people and nature in traditional Philippine societies with enough authority and performance power to make Kayamanan Ng Lahi's most ambitious project to date both consistently exciting and a triumph of enlightened cultural preservation.

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