Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Day the Dancers Came: Redux

It felt like this to me the night Bayanihan Dance Co came to town recently.

In this neck of the woods, the center for the arts very rarely features any Philippines or Fil Am group. The last time was in the 90s when the Ramon Obusan Folkloric group came to the same stage. Naturally the local Filipino community was abuzz with excitement and they came to fill the venue.

They were thrilled and beaming with ethnic pride. One elderly matriarch even said: For the first time in my life, I feel proud of the Philippines! We know what the under-handed compliment means, don't we? Whether lamenting the local community's internal politics or listening to the network news about the latest scandal or latest catastrophe from the Philippines -- it all comes down to feeling somewhat embarrassed or ashamed about one's country of origin. But tonight there was something she could be proud of!

The day the dancers came to perform at our city's major arts center made the predominantly Filipino audience proud that we have this world class talent on stage. Never mind that during the pre-show interview with the group's directors, they stumbled on their words and sometimes gave the wrong facts (at least not very many noticed). Never mind that they didn't seem to understand the question and so the answer didn't seem coherent. (A friend said that the interview reminded her of the Venus Raj moment.). During the awkward moments of the interview, I wished that they were better prepared with answers. Their talent manager could have asked for a copy of the interview questions so they could have prepared a script for their answers. But all of this was quickly forgotten when the house lights went down and the dancing began. From one suite to the next, the hungry and thirsty audience was more than satisfied, some even mesmerized. On stage their beloved homeland was represented in dance, song, beautiful costumes, and beautiful women and handsome men -- satisfying their longing and homesickness.

Naturally, after the show, the community wanted to meet the dancers to say Salamat, to have Kodak moments. They heard that there was going to be a "meet and greet" time after the show and many lingered and waited. A small group who was privy to the instructions on how this was going to happen made its way to the stage where two white female docents were waiting. The docents were instructed to lead the 15 people on the list to a small room to meet some of the dancers for a brief 15minute meeting. But there were more than 15! The befuddled docents kept on insisting that there should only be 15 but the folks wouldn't budge. After a while, they relented and started to walk the group to a very small windowless room. The dancers obliged and posed. The folks got their souvenir photos.

I was on the list of 15 but there were six students from the university who wanted to be there so I  and others on the list gave up our slots to let the students have their time with the dancers. The docents told us that the reason for the brevity of the  meeting was because the dancers had to rest as they had to be back to the same stage the next day to perform for the schoolchildren of Sonoma County. Ah so....

But still. If the Bayanihan dancers are official cultural ambassadors of the Philippines, could they have arranged their schedule to include making time for connecting with their kababayans in a less hurried, less formal, less bureaucratic manner? What's with the stiffness of procedure? What's with the small windowless room? Okay, I get it. The group is managed by Columbia Artists Management, Inc. The group is on a tight schedule and who knows what other terms of contract they have to abide by.

Am I so naive to wish for the old ways of connecting? Ba-ya-ni-han spirit. We are a very friendly and happy people and we like to share this with the world said the two directors. I wish they had meant it that night.

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