holding our breath, a quiet hush, 14,000  people seated on rows of ancient bricks encircled the  ocher earth of killing field…..so quiet, we can hear a chorus of eerie  high-pitched chirps of  a flock  of tiny swallows in a military-blue angel flight pattern …hundreds of tiny black silhouettes   choreographed swoop against the reddish sky.. in a communal anticipation— a mixture of excitement and nervousness, we sat with reverence….the performance, the masterful skill to defy death or to be gored…

a mind boggling respectful silence as  14,000 people intensely watch the toreador  bend his body into a lean smooth curve and the bull foaming pink in the mouth, like a tired heavy boxer on the 11th round..rushes into this curve..

…eerily absent is the roar of the crowd  unlike american boxing or football  sports event..it felt like an  of ancient ritual..a religious experience


bullfight.. ring side at Espana’s  oldest  Plaza del Toro  La Real Maestranza in Sevilla city of orange trees and flowering purple jacarandas.. rock star torero ‘El Juli’ Julian Lopez, taut muscles encased in tight fitting deep red  and  gold, long sleeve jacket golden  epaulette.. artfully swinging his red muleta  cloth on one hand, then arches his body sideways in a perfect curve allowing the  bull’s hefty  body to pass inches away from his..

brutal beauty, taunting death.. bullfights are a confluence of art and bloody ritual.. a few months before this ‘El Juli’ was gored by an angry bull with six sharp  metal banderilla hapoons  stabbed deep into its’ fleshy  neck muscles…but El Juli at it again…he wins this time..


Surreal New Year Rice Terrace-2

on the  last day of 2007 we landed in  manila from gensan—manny pacquio’s mindanao outpost …then onto a van on our way up north to  Ifugao country –Banaue and  it’s glorious rice terraces over 5,000 years old….but first we had to  make a few stops to eat and to drop off our luggage in Angeles City Pampanga… over the phone some weeks before, our guide assured me that if we left Angeles by 1pm or so we will be in Banaue by 6pm.. for sure by 7pm at the latest…we left Angeles City  at about 4pm….i still thought we were good..we’ll be in  Banaue no later than by 10pm…really now! hah!

first off,  traveling on the last day of any year anywhere in the world , is at best a most insane idea…nothing specific or scientific.. just that feeling.. you know, one shouldn’t   travel on unknown  terrain on the last day of the year…and here I was leading a group of  Americans from the southern tip of the island of Mindanao to the northern mountainous region of Luzon!!

we didn’t begin our climb until 8pm…it was real dark ….with only our headlights cutting through the pitch blackness enveloping us..  a two-lane winding road  up the mountain with the fog embracing us completely…the poor visibility forced our driver to slow down to a crawl hugging the mountainside… he feared  driving off an unseen treacherous ravine… then he informs me that he had  only driven this way once before! so a 1 hour drive turned to 4!

like in a surreal horror flick….we felt like  hansel and gretel lost and helpless in the woods ….

as we cleared one bend after another desperate hope  would creep onto our consciousness..  that the  group of lonely houses huddled in the dark & fog mysteriously lit by a dim light bulb  or two would be it…our destination–Banaue….after awhile our  hope turned into  desperation..and we surrendered to the reality the this will take a very long time…

finally a few minutes before midnight, we arrived  at the Banaue Hotel where the new year’s celebration was already underway  full blast…it was from one surreal trip to the next..the hotel once an architectural marvel and the pride of Banaue is now an old fashion relic.. out of sync with the times.. it was like stepping into a time warp at a wanna-be swiss  chalet in lake tahoe in the ‘70s…. a Pilipino band sang  passable country music to a  clientele of  locals and mostly grey-haired and balding middle-aged  white tourists, all happily sauced  from one too many San Miguel…we ate tasteless wonder bread-white ham sandwiches and stale potato chips, drank red wine, sang auld lang syne,  shook hands with a bunch of strangers and greeted each other happy new year… fireworks  were exploding in bursts of thunder and light  in the parking lot…and  all we wanted was a bed to  stretch and sleep..but hold up, after 15 hours we still have not reached our destination.. …tired and irritable we hoisted our luggage and dragged our tired bodies  onto the jeepney… we left the van at the hotel parking lot because the van would literally sink in the muddy road …our local driver drunk as as skunk maneuvered the jeepney…i could feel the frustration seething and bubbling  from my american companions..and i feared i just might find myself  pushed off onto a flooded rice field…..the road was so bad that  a couple of times  we had  to  get off and  walk.. the jeepney was too heavy with all of us in it..monster road threatened to swallow the jeepney whole..…the trek was finally over…what a crazy bumpy slippery ride… we finally  arrived at the Native Inn Village In at 3am….we were  greeted by a chorus of barking dogs and  two sleepy girls

in the morning we were embraced by the magic of the rice terraces.

was 15 hours of travel  worth it? nah…no way.. if you can get there in 5!

Shocking! bet you didn’t know…out of 144 non-European countries of the world, only 8 were NOT colonized by a Europe—Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, Ethiopia, Japan, Liberia, Thailand and Turkey.

“The shadows of the past will haunt the present.” Proverb

My own ancestral homeland, the Philippines was a colony of  Spain for over 300 years–then sold  and became the first  colony of the US.

European invaders/colonizers carved out their territories without consideration to ancient tribal boundaries or ancestral homes… it’s no wonder  the Philippines has more than 50 ethno-lingustic groups, and counting….nation tribes mush together…di ba? warring tribes will less likely consolidate power..super galing.

These islands,  rich in ancient hardwood for shipbuilding, blessed with natural port perfect for  docking enormous galleons and filling them with goods from China, Indian, Burma…perfection!  Populated by  sea faring and mountain peoples belonging to independent tribes–pit them against each other.. and you got yourself a perfect labor pool who won’t form a union! well.. ok.. uhmm …maybe in  300 years?

The ability to divide the world  to  serve only one’s interest…the lucrative movement of  goods, of  slaves/workforce to make the goods? power!

Today, the awful legacy of colonization is embedded within social, cultural and governmental systems…like diseased  genes, impacting generations of  the children of  both the colonized and the colonizers… in seen and unseen ways..katakot, diba?

“Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.” African Proverb

“ My role as an artist is to cultivate the conditions for beauty and truth to emerge. Art is a second chance for us, a second chance of reflection, of feeling like a human being. I believe in that so much… that is so true. This is our second chance – I know that.” Lemi Ponifasio, Choreographer/Theater Samoan Artist living in New Zealand

They say that with in the  specificity of anyone’s  experiences are life’s universal truths.

What if we can examine and challenged ‘known’ history?

What if we can de-construct and re-imagine of our stories?

What if  we can uncover information about our own history and culture which have been dismantled, repressed and hidden?

Is being validated enough?

Can the arts really do that?

Will we recognize  our voice  and silence the  oppressive  noises within?

What if we truly understand the ‘now’ is not yesterday or tomorrow allowing for that destructive voice to morph into another form of energy?

Will the process of healing begin?

It takes courage to  cross that bridge…quick run or slow deliberate steps, kailangan ng  tapang…happy trips uy!

Believe in Re-incarnation

This way you can plan for you next life?

go ahead.. sige na…

pick and chose the characters you want  to meet again or swear not to ever meet or have anything to do with …ever again—ex-lovers, family members, bosses etc.

Pick the places you want to  travel to…but can’t afford to in this lifetime.

Pick the best circumstances you want to experience..

as though you’re planning for the best theatrical  role ever.. complex, challenging and rewarding.

And… be generous!

do ‘it’ for yourself, and  for  your family,

and for your clan,

and for your community,

and for  your country,

and  for the world….

and even for the universe…

you  will be  empowered and inspired to do more and do better …

it  will  fuel  you to do your utmost  best

and it will  direct your path towards  the excellence you are seeking…

Street Dancing Tribu  Style

from kalibo’s ati-atihan to davao’s kadayawan festivals, street dancing in the philippines is a big..real big part of these mega celebrations…it’s greatly impacting  dance choreography creating its own magnificent style and tradition…

in wonderful ways it’s leveling the playing field too…

attended by thousands of people, garnering media exposure, choreographers  living in far flung  provinces, towns and cities of luzon, visayas and mindanao are getting  the opportunity to show their work, as well as earn some money, in  regional and  national street dancing competitions…

with prize money and hometown pride at stake, the competition is fierce!

to make sure the contingents are  engaging and lively throughout the parade route,  there are   several designated judging stands in  the parade route…

..….the presentation  must  thrill.. it must amaze…it must be phenomenal…it must be larger than life….it must be sublime…. It must be a delicious spectacle….it must tell a story with in the allotted time of 5 minute.. watch out! over or under time will be penalized…

the choreography and staging must rise above the insanely manic crowd to catch the  attention of the judges sitting on their perches with their score cards… judges sit far enough to see the dazzle of overall  choreographic design and close enough for intense scrutiny of angles,  timing, or–heaven-forbid–errors,  mis-aligned props and any lazy dance mechanics..

the live music must be wondrously infectious… pulsating rhythm…the instruments and sound system must be mobile and loud but pleasing… forget about guitars or rondallas..it’s usually drums, gongs, percussion instruments and more drums and gongs…

the tricky formations are ofter kaleidoscopic Busby Berkeley confections….staging is both vertical and horizontal..yes tall bamboos for dizzying acrobatics…not your usual pangalay sa patong…

sharp precision of 200 or more dancers plus musicians all moving forward… costumes of luscious profusion of colors…inventive use of props….sets that magically put itself  together then magically morph into something else…

and that   high pitch scream of youthful exuberance by the dancers at  precise moments, eliciting a  spine tingling thrill..an explosion..a sonic boom… of  indescribable electric charge through the body….out of this world!

my first trip to the island of Mindanao. ..1989 Lake Sebu, where the T’boli people live, was one of the places I visited

after a 3-hour bumpy ride from Surallah on a muddy, pot holed road we arrived at Sta Cruz Mission.

a large group of tribal people were waiting for the clinic to open.

some squatting..  some leaning against the clinic building.

some were sitting under the shade of a huge tree.

the men looked  a bit bedraggled with their faded trousers and shirt, teeth stained red from betel nut chew.

but the women! what a sight!

the women were wearing colorful ‘malong’ circular  skirt, some with forearms covered with brass bracelets, brilliant bead necklaces and earrings, carefully drawn eyebrows, red lips, stained teeth from years of betel nut chewing  and yes, those coil brass rings on all fingers. Rough hands and fingers from planting and harvesting rice, corn, camote yams..weary bony fingers from weaving the tinalak..

yet they exude beauty difficult to explain..

they stared at us and we at them..

the leaves of bamboo trees swayed, swished and rustled in the breeze..ahh a real national geographic moment! a moment to remember.. this was the first glimpse of an experience of a life time.

Kulintang Arts Ensemble  was on tour with performances in Baguio and Manila..we decided  to hop on the plane and visit remote villages in the southern islands of the Philippines.

while I was eying the brass coil rings at the shop, Gabril, the local T’boli who latched onto us–our self-appointed guide–explained that the rings, worn by the T’boli people on all fingers, were for personal adornment. however, he added, for those who had not  converted into Christianity, they believe the rings  protect them from bad spirits… from sickness..like a talisman, the rings may mean good luck too..

i thought Gabril can sure give a heck-of-a sales pitch… we need all the protection –seen or unseen–while traveling the wilds of mindanao…i bought 10 rings. it was 1989 and we were at the Sta Cruz workshop/store where the locals brought their goods to sell.

the T’boli people are animist and conducted many rituals. i was told that  when traveling the T’boli  pray  and give offerings to the spirits for protection, especially when the travel includes crossing a treacherous body of water or trekking in the jungle. if no offering has been prepared a prayer and  one of these coil rings can  be thrown into the water  or placed under a rock.

practical too, unlike the heirloom necklaces made of colorful glass, brass bells and gold beads, the coil rings are made of cheap brass.

in 2004, i was participating in a 4-day ritual… the Maguindanaon locals were a twitter handing each other coins. ..they claimed that holding the metal coin  allows for a smoother passage of the spirit through the body–a kind of electrical conductor for the spirit’s energy.

this way the body convulsions caused by entrance of the spirit will be less painful.   i was wishing i was wearing my T’boli rings.

Anitos, Diwatas, Spirits Roam  Urban America?

a few years ago i was a  guest artist speaker for a class at stanford.. i spoke   on the  role of  indigenous spiritual practice  in  the development of my work… a dancer shared this  experience….while visiting New Orleans, she was drawn by the infectious rhythm of the drummers in Congo Square…. she  joined the dancing crowd… and pretty soon she was ecstatically swept up into the middle dancing  vigorously with a throng of people ..… then…next thing she knew she was flat on her back on the ground, sweating profusely   looking up at strangers’ faces … she seemed to have fainted or lost consciousness .. they told her she  went into a trance and was taken by the spirit….

she asked me if it was really possible for an outsider, like her,  to be taken by the spirit like that…

my staunch response was ‘no way!’… ….hah! what an arrogant answer…if asked today,  my answer would be different..

for  the past 10 years  I have  participated  in numerous rituals in Mindanao where I’ve witnessed native  people consumed by the diwatas  perform  magnificent feats .. here’s a few…

he leaps across the yard in flight, streaks of yellow and green warrior  wrap-around-cloth cut the air,  his kampilan sword glints faintly against the dark sky, ahh.. the moonlight illuminates his muscular curves… an apparition? No, a man in a tranced state dancing, embodied by the divine warrior spirit, Bantuggan..

a local  B’laan healer starts with a mumbled prayer then eyes blazing..sucks the sickness out of a cancerous body part…he chants again.. tells the sick girl she’s well..three weeks later she comes back fully re-covered… same shaman tells the young man, a foreigner,  that he will travel far and will experience many  unpleasant and dangerous adventures,  but will be ok… neither of them knew at that time that the young man was to be sent to fight in Iraq..

an old lady ritualist, with her offering of live chicken, crocodile-shaped black & yellow rice on shiny  green banana leaves, eggs and flags.. twitching and stretching her arms in sensuous wing  like flight, walks into the dark  waters to commune with her twin spirit.. the river…

an Ifugao elder reads the innards of my chicken offering and tells me my  project ahead will be fraught with difficulties but with perseverance all will be well….the project was a huge struggle, a total bear of a project.. but I survived it!!

the shaman forcefully swishes  the 3-inch tip of a sharp sword in his mouth and the insides of his cheeks.. he turns the tip of the sharp kampilan sword into his belly.. stabbing  his sides…without sustaining a single cut!!!

they say the spirit world is alive in the Philippines..kasi wild pa rin dun.. unlike here in the US where we’ve literally paved over the earth..sementado lahat…  our greenery  eloquently landscaped.. controlled growth…deliberately placed and designed….

But..hold up..teka muna…. chiang-ka man yo… sandali lang po..check these out..

a frantic text….i was singing a chant during a show, my face started to feel thick and i started to  be so emotional..tears pouring down my face….my muscles are stiffening and cramping up… i  don’t know why.. i’m scared…all i could do was leave the stage?

another text.. what to do? I stopped singing the chant but  every time the baylan character is to appear..i get that overwhelming feeling….and my muscles stiffen and cramp up again…what does it mean?

in the 1980’s a friend in a Brazilian group, during a show…. rigorously dancing with  eyes  blazing,   she convulses, her eyes roll back, she  falls down foaming at the mouth… luckily the director, a Brazilian, knew what to do….

a 4o year-old woman tells me…as a child  she would sometimes blurt out   people’s “secrets”…these are people she just met…and sometimes she would tell  their future…. she did it often enough that  her dad would beat her up every time she made these  crazy talks….

a teenager would ‘see’ desperate  scenes of people in trouble except these are people from a distant part of the planet and maybe even from a different time.. she would sometimes speak in a foreign exotic  language to communicate with these  ‘people’ …one time  a kind of click language of Africa, another an Indian language of the Andes..asked  how she thought she can help these people.. clearly the people she was  talking with  were not in her present physical reality..she would simply say.. “my prayers help them…even if they don’t see me they hear me…”

yes you guessed it.. these are all Americans.. Americans of color…born and raised in this country..some have never been to their ancestral homeland..

so i’ve been thinking that maybe  spirits are like electric  current..energy.. and we, humans  are like matter with various level of conductibility.. some of  us, like me, are  like rubber, zero-zilch- nada  non- conductors.. while others  are totally  live wire… like the folks i mentioned above…. basically they are gifted with this ability to see, feel, speak to, or embody energy-soul-spirit-diwata-anitos….and the rest are  somewhere in between?  what do you think?


photo #1- Tigwa ritual;  photo #2- Maguindanaon sagayan; photo#3- Klagan woman; photo #4- Ifugao carvings, Banaue; photo # 5- carabao horns, skulls & jaw bones Ifugao house; photo #6- Talaandig