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Dance Review
by Perry Bialor

Lemlunay: from the epic myth of the T'boli people

May 1 to 18
La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street
(presented by La MaMa E.T.C.)
Th-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm; $20
Box office (212) 475-7710; on-line ticketing available www.lamama.org
Reviewed by Perry Bialor May 9, 2003
Ensemble of Lemlunay

For an hour and 20 minutes a magical world of music, dance and drama came to life on the Annex stage of LaMaMa e.t.c. I can give no better expression of my enthusiasm for the performance I witnessed than to strongly recommend that as many people as possible see it before it closes on May 18th.

The production was conceived and choreographed by Potri Ranka Manis who also performed the lead role of the shaman and was directed by Wayland Quintero, both of whom realized for the stage this mythic epic of the T'boli people of the mountainous coastal region of southwestern Mindanao (The Philippines). The dance-drama was accompanied by master musician Nur Nonilon V. Quintero and several others on hanging and pot gongs, a two-stringed lute, bamboo tube zither, and drums who produced the sweet, other-worldly music of a kind of "gamelon." Scenic design and construction was by Jun Maeda and lighting design by Tom Lee, both essential to the production's realization.

My apology to the other performers whom I cannot acknowledge by name but who performed convincingly throughout, for which I credit instruction by Ms. Manis whose authenticity and intensity was immediately apparent and a joy to experience. The introductory chant and creation dance in which she appeared as if emerging from the pre-creation void set the tone of the performance to follow. With knees slightly bent, her left hip slightly raised, a stance that never left her body, she proclaimed in raucous, shouted T'boli the scenario of the creation myth, her right hand holding a wood staff with clabber that she rattled continuously.

The company's costumes and accoutrements are all authentic as they were purchased from the T'boli. It would have been impossible to reproduce the extremely fine quality patterned textiles woven by the T'boli. One of their slanted looms appeared briefly in one of the scenes. As for scenery, none was necessary as between the lighting and the imagination, a few major props (such as a loom and a wheeled stage) and a few more minor ones (the lengths of cloth, the rice seedlings, the betel box, staffs, etc.) the setting of the drama was evoked.

The 26 scenes of the dance-drama were outlined in the program, required pre-performance reading if one is to fully appreciate the rapid trajectory of the drama, a kind of creation myth and birth of Tudbulol, a first man-hero (Jason Trinidad), bedeviled by Kayong, an evil sorcerer king (Guro Ortega) but protected, and sometimes revived by the shaman (Potri Manis)-whose healing powers seemed to be needed more often than an intern in an ER.

Lemlunay is the edenic land in which the drama unfolds. First, seven sisters are "born," each entering and displaying their different powers. Then Kemukol (Lisa Parker) gives birth to Tudbulol in a birthing ritual; the newborn is wrapped in a special cloth and betel nut is blown through the umbilical cord. All leave but leave behind the betel nut box unattended. This gives Kayong, the evil one in black contorted and fanged mask, an opportunity to curse the betel nut. When the sisters return and each takes a bite of the now poisoned betel nuts, they retch in agony, only to be cured just in time by the shaman.

When Tudbolol next appears, he is a young man. He dreams of a young woman who is to be his wife. His sisters prepare him for his wedding. Metengkil (Desiree Seguritan), the bride to be, is also prepared, red dots are applied to her cheeks and her head covered and veiled in a red canopy headdress. The wedding ritual is performed on a wagon-stage rolled in for the occasion followed by celebratory dances. Tudbulol now wears his headcloth as a married man.

Following a musical interlude, Tudbulol appears as a hunter accompanied by his youngest sister Nga Libon (Malaika Yasmin Queano) who can speak to animals. He performs a ritual to the gods to gain permission to hunt. He next appears as a slash-and-burn farmer to perform an offering to the god of life. Kayong appears with him, as, in an earlier scene, Kayong had transformed himself into the likeness of a human being and inveigled himself into the confidence of Tudbulol as a guest-friend. But we, the audience, know that he awaiting his chance to do no good. His every effort to imitate human movement is belied by his grotesque stance, which goes unnoticed by the trusting Tudbulol and his sisters. (Mr. Ortega, who is a martial arts expert and teacher as well as a senior member of the company, is not, on first view (his sagging mid-section), what one would imagine to be a dancer. And so I congratulate him on what I consider a superb and nuanced performance as Kayong, the evil one.)

The shaman then leads the sisters in a rice planting ritual and dance. When the others leave, Kayong slips in and destroys what was planted. The men dance a water ritual. Kayong is not finished; he now casts a spell on Metengkil who must then prove that she is still "chaste"-a word used in the program but which I find difficult to use, considering that she is a married woman. The shaman's betel nut comes to the rescue and she is purged of Kayong's spell. A celebratory dance follows in which the wealth colors (red, yellow, blue/green length of cloth) of Lemlunay are displayed.

Kayong's human guise is finally unmasked and a battle ensues between Tudbulol and Kayong in which Tudbulol is wounded. The shaman performs a healing ritual and Tudbulol is empowered and geared with sashes of power, sword and shield to return to the field in a second battle with evil, who, this time, is defeated. However, Metengkil is accidentally wounded and placed on the rolled-in wagon (now a bier or "altar") as she is near death. The shaman performs a healing ritual that restores her to life and Tudbulol. With this resolution, there is cause for celebration and a dance praising D'wata and Lemugut Mangay "for all of life's blessings." (And then, as Melina Mercouri in "Never on Sunday" said: "We all went to the beach and had a picnic.") [PABialor]

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