Filipino dance company impresses with vivid costumes and stunts

Liana Hofer

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The Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company took the Plaza del Sol stage Tuesday night to entertain a packed house and transport spectators into the distinct world of Filipino heritage.

The internationally recognized performance company took on the task of representing cultural pastimes, themes and stories from the Philippines through music and dance.  For more than two hours, the group held the attention of a captivated audience through its creative and lively performance.

Made up of approximately 25 dancers and a small group of musicians, the ensemble clicked its collective heels through a variety of traditional Filipino folk dances that could be broken into different sections.

The dances celebrated Filipino culture and the many facets comprising it.  For example, water was a prominent theme in the show and was represented with dances of women washing clothes and men rowing through a raging sea.

One section was devoted to the work of Fernando Amorsolo, a national artist from the Philippines.  The group cleverly recreated live-action versions of his artwork while his paintings were projected onto a screen behind them.

Much of the music was played by a mariachi band of strings and xylophones, and every so often, members of the band would let out an encouraging “whoop” during a high point of a dance. It was during these exuberant moments when it felt less like a performance than a festive family gathering.

To counter the playful rhythms, there were many numbers that relied solely on the intense beat of drums. Gongs and timpanis brought a somber mood to these performances, which generally revolved around a battle.

Visually, the dances were nothing short of stunning.  Costumes were characterized by bold colors and flowing skirts, while ornate masks, embellished umbrellas and long metal fingernails were used as accents.

Props abounded in the performance from beginning to end, and usually had more uses than one.  Large 10-foot-long bamboo poles were as useful as balance beams as they were for sound effects,  as dancers clapped the poles together with the beat. At one point, two men carried these poles on their shoulders while a female dancer balanced effortlessly, swiveling and swaying all the while. Decorative weaponry was made to look like blooming flowers, and candles were much more than light sources.

Their stunts were impressive, ranging from performers who kept bottles of liquid balanced on their heads when rolling on the floor to a woman and man dancing precariously atop a large stack of benches.

During a particularly arresting moment in the show, an underwater scene was created, and three men were carefully lowered from wires as if diving toward the ocean floor.  It looked so authentic, one couldn’t help but imagine tiny air bubbles floating to the surface.  And in an interesting reversal of roles, the entire audience held its breath while the dancers-turned-divers slowly swam towards the surface.

Through its performances, the dance group highlighted the diverse background of the Philippines.  At times, one might have forgotten they were watching a Filipino dance troupe.  Thanks to the heavy influence of the Spanish in the Filipino culture, there was enough flamenco dancing and castanets to keep even a Spaniard happy.  Yet, traces of Asian performance and costume were also evident in the show.

Judging from its enthusiastic presentation, it was clear that the Bayanihan Philippine group took pleasure in bringing its cultural heritage to CSUN. And if the standing ovation the group received at the end of the night was any indication, the internationally recognized dance group did not disappoint.