PSi #21 Fluid States - Philippines, Living on Tilted Earth, in the ring of fire and raging storms Dealing with disaster, via performance - by Susan Claire Agbayani

SOMEWHERE in Baclayon, Bohol lies buried the remains of a blue whale. Where did the blue whale come from? And why did it end up on the shores of Baclayon, Bohol? Twenty years after it was buried, its bones will be displayed by townsfolk above the spot where it lies underneath. This Dr. Catherine Diamond of Soochow University of Taiwan found out one afternoon while taking a stroll at the beach across our quarters at Homestay de Bai Bed and Breakfast. It made us think about history -- time passing, and how we mark it -- as well as the connections people make with their environment.

 
Last year, a group of artist-scholars journeyed to and through 51 towns and cities in the archipelago: on foot, and via tricycle/ sidecar, jeepney, van, bus and boat – “rolling on and rolling off” from one site to the next -- to investigate resilience as a response to disaster via performance. We went to the Visayas in March, Luzon in April, then finally Mindanao in July in a span of eight weeks, spread over four months. Thus, the voyage name of “Fluid States: RoRo Journeys.”
 
Performance Studies International (PSi) -- the worldwide professional association of artists, scholars and audiences interested in performing arts, culture and creativity -- throughout last year held PSi#21: Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing, a festival of conferences, symposia and performances across Europe, Africa, America, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific.
 
The Philippine Cluster of this global project was PSi#21 Philippines: Performance, Disaster, and Resilience in Archipelagic Space, which was co-organized in the Philippines with the Committee on Dramatic Arts (CDA) of the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and De La Salle University (DLSU). The journeys included interactions and workshops with disaster-affected communities and theater groups, and performances and conferences in key sites.

Visayas
 
The RoRo Journeys kicked off via its Visayan leg in March, covering Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Bohol, Negros and Panay islands; ending on April 15. Our first stop was Leyte, with a program organized by Joycie Dorado Alegre and UP Visayas Tacloban. Our team visited survivors of Typhoon Yolanda on Ground Zero in Tacloban, Leyte and the historic site Balangiga, Samar; interacted with members of Sirang Theater Ensemble of Leyte Normal University in Tacloban City, the Palo Culture and Arts Organization (PCAO) of Palo, Leyte and members of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) working with PCAO on a post-disaster project. We also immersed with women weavers of Basey, Samar. 
 
In Bohol, we listened to Gardy Labad, one of the prime movers of the arts/culture scene in Bohol, local historian Marianito Luspo and Bohol Local Development Foundation president Nestor Pestelos. In Bacolod, we learned about sugar, the plight of the sugar workers, the role of the church, and the work of Negros artists from Roque Hofilena, Cecille Nava, and Bishop Alminaza. We spoke with Mayor Viscuso de Lira of Balangiga, Samar, Mayor Chris Escario of Bantayan, Cebu, and Gov. Alfredo Maranon, Jr. of Negros Occidental. The Capiz Tourism Office hosted us during their Capiz-tahan.
 
The team watched a community theater show in Santa Fe, Bantayan Island, performances by UP Ideopraxist in UP Visayas Tacloban, Kasing Sining in Baclayon, Bohol, Jao Mobile Theater/ Visayan Mission Confraternity in Jao Island, Bohol, Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, and Dagway Sigmahanon in Roxas City, Capiz.
 
In Negros Occidental, we watched performances of and interacted with members of Teatro Obrero in Escalante, Christian Community Theater in Silay City, Kanlaon Theater Guild of Colegio San Agustin, Kalingaw Ang Teatro Hiligaynon, and Maskara Theater Ensemble of University of St. La Salle (USLS) in Bacolod City and Little Theater of the University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.
 
We observed Holy Week processions in Bantayan Island, Cebu and Catholic Easter practices “hugos” and “salubong” in Baclayon, Bohol. We visited a Spanish fort in Madridejos, Bantayan Island; the cockpit-turned-theater Teatro Porvenir in Bohol; the Church of the Angry Christ in Victorias City; the Gaston Mansion, Museo Negrense, Balay Negros Museum, and Gallery Orange in Bacolod City, Casa Mariquit in Iloilo City and the Basura Garden in Balete, Aklan; then attended conferences at UP Visayas Tacloban, Museo Negrense of USLS in Bacolod City.

Luzon

The Luzon journey took us to Baguio, Bontoc, Sagada, Banaue, Tarlac, Pampanga, Bulacan, Manila, Laguna, Batangas, and Naga and Legazpi from April 20-May 12. We interacted with local artists, visited arts and performance hubs, museums and galleries in Baguio. We listened to Art Tibaldo, Luchie Maranan, and Padma Perez talk about lessons from the 1990 earthquake. We watched a performance by the Tanghalang SLU of St. Louis University, met with Dap-ayan ti Kultura iti Kordilyera (DKK) and Obon di Malayad groups in Bontoc, participated in the Macliing Dulag Memorial activities in Bauko, Mountain Province and got acquainted with TADEK and the Dulaang UP Baguio. And we witnessed the Lang-ay Festival of Mountain Province and the Imbayah Festival in Banaue. Going down to Tarlac, we had a workshop with children of the Abelling community in San Jose and learned about their Anito Festival.
 
We visited the site of the Lenten crucifixion rituals in Cutud, and a church half-buried in ash in Bacolor, Pampanga; met with Barasoain Kalinangan Foundation, Inc. and visited the Barasoain church and its history museum. On our way south we participated in the Labor Day march and rally in Manila, and interacted with ARTIST, Inc. in Laguna. Letran Calamba hosted our forum on flood stories and resilience around the lake. In Naga City we joined the launching event of the Susog Salog advocacy for the Naga River and in Legazpi we immersed in the community theater activities of Sining Banwa.

Mindanao
 
In Mindanao, we visited Sama-Badjao relocation sites through the Ateneo de Zamboanga Center for Culture and the Arts. We traveled to Buug where Bai Labi Sonita Ryde taught us dances of the Subanen; and in Pagadian the St. Columban College offered us performances of their theater group and choir. With local partners we visited the Cotta pilgrimage site in Ozamiz, the Dapit Alim Meditation Center in Lanao del Norte, Padian Market in Marawi, the Xavier Ecoville resettlement for typhoon Sendong survivors in Cagayan de Oro, the T’Boli School of Living Traditions in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, and the Museo Davaoeno in Davao City.
 
We watched performances by Teatro Guindegan of La Salle University Ozamiz City; the Integrated Performing Arts Guild in Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, Sining Kambayoka at MSU-Marawi, Xavier Stage and other groups of the Xavier Culture and Arts Center, Sining Kabpapagriya Ensemble of MSU-General Santos, and Teatro Humanidades of Ateneo de Davao. Also in Davao we had a forum at the Dominican Mission house with Kublai Millan and other artists based there.

In many of these places, we met with Yakan, Sama, Subanen, T’Boli, Talaandig, and B’laan communities and the Badjao village in Matina, Davao. We went to the Palamadani First Moro Arts Festival at General Santos City and witnessed part of the first B’laan Day, all courtesy of the Kalimudan Arts Center. At the “theater and spirituality” conference of La Salle University-Ozamiz, we learned about the work of Fr. Larry Helar, Fr. Dong Galenzoga, and Br. Karl Gaspar. And at Cagayan de Oro, we participated in the conference of the MINDULANI Theater Network coming to grips with the challenges of theater work in Mindanao.

Recurring themes: Water, Bells
 
Clearly, one of the recurring themes during our voyage was “water” – something that gives and sustains life, but also – depending on the form it takes – causes death and so much destruction and grief at its wake. Water in all its power and might destroyed so much of Tacloban, Leyte, which we saw first hand when we interacted with residents of Payapay – or Ground Zero -- a no-build zone where houses were beginning to sprout anew.
 
At the grotto on a hill called Bukid Fatima, we had a bird’s eye view of the city ravaged by the disastrous storm -- beautifully set in a landscape dominated by water on all sides -- ethereal in the morning mist. But getting down to the coastal villages, we came upon the wreckage of ships flung inland by the mighty waves and the locals’ effort to plant mangroves as buffers against future storm surges.
 
In Capiz, it was heartwarming for us to see the abundance of mangroves by the shores of the progressive and bustling Roxas City.
 
Another recurring theme was of bells: bells that have signalled major events in the lives of the islanders – bells in Dumaguete that warned residents of approaching pirates who would “dagit” or snatch the women; the bells of Balangiga that signalled the attack on the American forces in their plaza in 1901; and the bells of Pan-ay, among them allegedly the biggest bell in Asia; and most of all, bells that called the “faithful” to mass and gathered them within the visitas and pueblos of the Spanish reduccion, to live bajos de las campanas and thus under the control of the colonial masters.
 
One of the most touching performances the group watched was that of the reenactment of the then 29-year-old Escalante massacre in the “agit-prop” tradition by Teatro Obrero of Escalante City, Negros Occidental.  The travelers interacted with the youth actors of the group, with a lot of earnest knowledge-sharing among the travellers and performers.

Learning, Sharing, Organizing
 
The travelers were a “fluid” group of artists, academics, and cultural workers led by organizer and project director and head of NCCA-CDA Jazmin Llana. The group constantly changed from site to site, increasing or decreasing as they were joined by locals, or as members left to go back to their regular work. Most of the core travelers were Execon members of the NCDA, joined by international/ visiting scholars from the PSi global network and theater leaders in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Individual aims differed but a common desire was to learn and to share.

Fresh from her three-year training in theater at the Intercultural Theatre Institute (ITI) Singapore, Denise Mordeno Aguilar performed the 40-minute play “Hope Floats” at the repurposed cockpit-turned-performance space Teatro Porvenir in Baclayon, Bohol, thanks to Gardy Labad. She had previously performed the play at the Manila Fringe Festival.
 
“I wanted to share whatever I had learned at ITI, and live up to its mission that artists-graduates ought to go back to their communities and help contribute significantly to theater-making processes and development,” Ms. Aguilar said.
 
UP Professor Belen Calingacion, with Rosalie Zerrudo of NCCA-CDA and other artists, eventually returned to Jao Island in Talibon, Bohol to train teachers in the arts.
 
The young performers of the YATTA in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental conducted a workshop with their slightly younger peers of Teatro Obrero, while the theater leaders of Teatrokon, MINDULANI, and the Lusong Network continued to conduct training sessions in acting, directing, playwriting and to organize network-building conventions and workshops.

Learning “modules” were in fact embedded -- sometimes impromptu -- in the “RoRo” activities with Paul Rae of the University of Melbourne at one point talking about performance studies and his own practice as an artist and academic. Evening reflection sessions became productive exchanges between Luzon travelers Lindsay Goss of New York University Abu Dhabi and Mary Carling and Matty Camfili of DKK, or between Visayas travelers Catherine Diamond of Soochow University and Rudy Reveche and Charles Kevin Tan of Kanlaon Theater Guild.
 
Dessa Quesada-Palm, Artistic Director of YATTA, sums up her “RoRo” experience in a nutshell: “Traveling with the RoRo team in the Visayas allowed me to appreciate the invisible thread that connects our contemporary theater praxis with our rich histories, the hard work of our elders, an ever-morphing sense of local and national identity, and the stubborn, untiring passion of artists to reflect, to imagine, and to create. Shortly after our journey, I reconnected with some of these kindred spirits in a meeting that was to be the precursor of Tabok (Bisaya for "hopping from one island to another"), a network of theater groups newly organized in the Central Visayas region.”

For Ella Parry-Davies, PhD student at King’s College London and the National University of Singapore and visiting scholar in the Mindanao “RoRo” the journey calls out for a response that she makes initially with a set of “postcards.”

“The name of the RoRo project uses the phrase ‘On Tilted Earth’ to suggest the precarious condition of life in the Philippines: Sa Tagilid na Yuta. But in the stressed third syllables of sa tagīlid na yutā, the rhythmic rocking sound of the phrase (at least for the [non-Visayan/]non-Tagalog speaker) contains the memory and motion of the sea even as it speaks of the land. The language of water seemed to permeate the ways in which we felt and spoke about our experiences…. Our journey through Mindanao placed us in syncopated rhythms with […] archipelagic lives, so that there became something especially relevant about the fact of travelling as a method of research, or as a way of thinking through the movement of the space. Memories of places we had left resurfaced as we heard similar stories of conflict and displacement again and again, and as our own transitions brushed against the migrations of the islanders….  In responding to the RoRo journey with a set of seven ‘postcards,’ I have attempted to engage with [disparate economies of mobility] via a form which I hope maintains some kind of fidelity to the experience of movement and displacement,” Parry-Davies said.
One of the strongest images we encountered at the tailend of the Visayan journey was that of an Aeta woman carrying a baby, her gaze transfixed on a fire dancer at one of the restaurants in Boracay. She seemed mesmerized by the moving flame, as we were -- standing just outside of the restaurant’s strip of space on the beach -- outsiders looking in. She was probably an original resident of the island, we mused, but now she was merely a spectator.
 
PSi#21 Philippines was co-organized by Performance Studies Philippines, the Literature Department of the College of Liberal Arts of DLSU-Manila, the Committee on Dramatic Arts of NCCA, the College of Arts and Letters of the University of the Philippines, PETA, Teatrokon West Visayas Theater Network, MINDULANI, the Leyte-Samar Heritage Society, Back to Square One, YATTA, and various universities, culture and arts institutions and groups. The Lusong Luzon Arts and Culture Network, Inc. managed the project. Check out www. fluidstates. org. 
 
***
 
SIDEBAR:
 
Performance scholars, artists and cultural workers converge in MLA for International Performance Studies Conference 
 
Performance scholars, artists, and cultural workers gathered for PSi#21 Philippines: On Tilted Earth: Performance, Disaster, Resilience in Archipelagic Space,” the international conference of Performance Studies International (PSi) at DLSU-Manila and University of the Philippines Diliman from November 5-8, 2015 for panel and roundtable discussions, keynote talks, performances and exhibitions.
 
Theatre Research International Senior Editor Dr. Paul Rae of the University of Melbourne opened the conference with a talk on “Publishing Internationally: The View from Theatre and Performance Studies.”
 
Conference delegates were welcomed by PSi President Maaike Bleeker and DLSU Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Dr. Raymond Girard Tan and College of Liberal Arts Dean Julio Teehankee, and were joined by Performatura Festival Director Victor Emmanuel Carmelo D. Nadera Jr, and DLSU Department of Literature OIC Chair Genevieve Asenjo. Talaandig artist Waway Saway rendered a special performance at the welcome program.
 
The keynote speakers at DLSU were Datu Migketay Victorine Saway on “Land, Culture, and Security of the Indigenous People: The Talaandig Experience;” University of Wollongong Australia professor Dr. Merlinda Bobis  “Sa Tagilid na Daga | On Tilted Earth: A Fluid Balance;” University of Melbourne professor Dr. Paul Rae on “Performing Islands: RoRo from the Visayas to Vanuatu;” PSi President and Utrecht University, Netherlands professor Maaike Bleeker  on “Enacting a Sense of These Things that Happened: Performance as Thought-Apparatus.” 
 
Day 2 opened with a plenary session on “Fluid States Philippines’ RoRo Journeys: Archipelagic Encounters” -- a report on journeys from March to July 2015 covering 51 sites in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao -- which UPD professor Dr. Elena Mirano responded to. 
 
Throughout Day 2, there were parallel panels on disaster, memory, media, and research, theater advocacies for resilience, performance as response to large scale trauma, displacement, encounter, and response, environmental protection in the Philippines, meditations on disaster and resilience, cultural heritage protection in times of crisis, and spiritual ecology.
 
DLSU’s Dr. Jeremy De Chavez moderated the plenary roundtable session on “Cultures of Disaster.” The speakers were DLSU’s Antonio Contreras and poet Marjorie Evasco, UPD’s Flaudette May Datuin, playwrights Bonifacio Ilagan and Rody Vera, and PETA’s Beng Santos Cabangon.
 
On Day 3, delegates had “RoRo Journeys in the City” with visits to the Golden Mosque in Quiapo, and Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, and the Lumad Manilakbayan. Bobbi Santos Viola and Nicki Legaspi gave talks on the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista and on Quiapo. At the mosque, Ateneo de Manila professor Jose Jowel Canuday gave a talk about how the Muslim section of Quiapo and the mosque came about and, at the Manilakbayan, the group listened to a sharing on the situation of the Lumads by Kakay Tolentino of KATRIBU. The day was capped with a performance of Himagsik ng Huling Heneral, a play on the life of Miguel Malvar written and directed by Edward Perez and performed at the Bahay Nakpil-Bautista by the Korido Theatre Ensemble of ARTIST Inc. and Kalantog. Xiao Chua of DLSU gave a prefatory talk before the show.
 
The conference moved to UP Diliman on Day 4 where the delegates were welcomed at Abelardo Hall by UPD Chancellor Michael Tan, College of Arts and Letters (CAL) Dean Amihan Bonifacio-Remolete, and conference organizers Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez and Belen Calingacion, with performances by Kontra-Gapi and the UP Singing Ambassadors.
 
Adelina Amparo III Umali moderated the Keynote Panel featuring Kinnari Ecological Theatre’s and Soochow University, Taiwan’s Catherine Diamond on “Tilting Thailand: Ro-rowing over Land and Water;” UPD’s Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz on “A Score, Voice and Force: Notating Dance and the Art of Tilting”; and where the audience watched a video sent over by PSi#21 Project Director and University of Zagreb’s Marin Blazević.
 
There were parallel panels on “The Archipelago and Beyond,” “Public Space Performance and the Art of Protest,” and “Performance in an Ecology of Contexts.”
 
UPD’s Flaudette May Datuin moderated the Closing Roundtable Discussion on “Performance Studies: Encounters, Engagements, Encumbrances.” Speakers were Felipe Cervera of the National University of Singapore, Mick Douglas of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, Sir Anril Tiatco of UPD, Sunita Mukhi of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, and Hayato Kosuge of Keio University, Japan. At the Abelardo Hall, various artists performed at the closing program on “Performing Resilience, Remembering Yolanda” on the second anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.
 
Teddy Co moderated screenings of films Shifts on typhoon Sendong from Cagayan de Oro and Nick and Chai on typhoon Yolanda in Leyte for the session “Filming Disaster and its Aftermath.”
 
Mick Douglas, performance artist from RMIT University, Australia, performed “Salt Body” at high tide throughout the conference, evoking specific local human connections to global ecologies through the medium of salt from around the world.

Nights were capped by events of “Performatura: Performing Literatures Festival” of CCP’s Intertextual Division.
 
The conference was organized by Performance Studies Philippines based at DLSU’s Department of Literature, with the help of the DLSU Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, CLA Office of Research and Advanced Studies, and the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center; the Office of the Chancellor of UPD, CAL, Department of Arts Studies and Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts, College of Music, and College of Mass Communication; the Lusong Luzon Arts and Culture Network, Inc; Back to Square One; and NCCA.
 
The Manila conference is the Philippine cluster of PSi#21 Fluid States: Performances of unknowing, a distributed conference program with events in the Asia Pacific, Africa, Europe, and the Americas throughout 2015 (www.fluidstates.org).

Manila was its last stop.

Tags: Mobility Travel Transport and Performance   

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