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Jack Anderson

Bathing by Moonlight

Kinding Sindaw: "Pandibulan: Bathing by Moonlight"
Ellen Stewart Theater at La MaMa ETC, 74 East Fourth Street, East Village
April 22-May 2, 2010
Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m., $25, $20 students and seniors
Tickets: (212) 475-7710 or www.lamama.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, April 25, 2010

Musicians accompany the performance on the gabang, Kulintang a kayo, drums and gongs.

Kinding Sindaw is endearing. Now 18 years old, this New York-based organization seeks to preserve the dances, songs, and traditions of various areas of the Philippines, and it does so with warmth and skill. "Pandibulan: Bathing by Moonlight," its latest offering, honors the Yakan people of Basilan, an island in the southern Philippines. I suspect that many New Yorkers with no family connections with the Philippines may never have heard before of either Basilan or the Yakan people. I certainly place myself in that category. But I also suspect that, like me, these New Yorkers will be charmed by this production conceived, choreographed, and directed by Potri Ranka Manis.

To the accompaniment of an ensemble that includes a flute, a xylophone-like instrument known as a gabang, gongs, and drums, "Pandibulan" tells of a marriage: judging from the action, an arranged marriage; yet, also judging from the action, a benignly arranged one. After a panorama of village life, the action focuses on marriage rituals. Dancers gather wearing traditional tribal face paint notable for strongly drawn black eyebrows and geometrically arranged white dots. Men hop atop small stools; women stand on piles of plates, turning them into clattering percussion instruments.

Preparation for a wedding. Center: Emil Almirante, Background left to right: Zeana Llamas, Joey Soldiriga, Flag Bearer Oliver Torretijo, Zebede Dimaporo, Alex Sarmiento. Photo by Julia Slaff.

Throughout the proceedings, footwork is often brisk, while the hands of these residents of a seaside community move lightly and gracefully like fish swimming in an ocean of air. Both bride (Diane Camino) and groom (Emil Almirate) are face-painted by their families and the bride is carried to the wedding hidden in a mosquito net.

First day of the wedding ceremony. Right to left: Cecille De Los Santos, Amira Aziza, Nodiah Biruar Dimaporo, Diane Camino, Jade Enriques. Photo by Julia Slaff.

There are surges of dancers like waves of people. And one of the production's most attractive features is a suite of dances (surprisingly akin to the divertissements in classical ballets) depicting creatures and activities associated with Basilan and its legends. A fish net is spread. Women representing clams clack shells together like ocean-grown castanets. Dancers scramble across the stage like crabs and let their hands creep through the air like turtle flippers. A dancer portraying a monkey scrambles back and forth, chattering wildly. A lunar eclipse threatens misfortune. But disaster is averted. The bride, now pregnant, sits on a rice mortar and when the moon returns bathes in its light and eventually gives birth to a baby.

Although "Pandibulan" usually inspired smiles of contentment, the work had its weaknesses. Film sequences presumably showing Basilan were so extremely blurred (at least they were at the performance I attended) as to be visually incomprehensible. Equally ineffectual was the piece's opening scene in which a woman from the Philippines seeking work in America is interviewed by a supercilious official at an employment agency. Her humiliation there presumably triggers memories of home and the marriage ritual that, in several senses, is at the heart of "Pandibulan." But the employment agency incident is so brief as to be dramatically feeble, and because issues involving this specific woman's plight in America and that of immigrants in general are never raised again, such material deserves to be treated more fully in a separate production.

"Pandibulan" bathes beautifully in its own theatrical moonlight.


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