The design of the violin – those sensuous, feminine curves of the shoulders, waist, and hips ( Man Ray famously superimposed the instrument onto the back of a shapely woman) – is the result of a long simmering stew of intellect, practicality and some mysticism. It has been thought that the violin’ shape and workings were influenced by such varied forces as the geometries of Pythagoras, the transcendent theorise of Plato and the workbench savvy of Stradivari and his forebears. But the real reason a fiddle looks the way it does is simply because that’s what works best-though no one really knows why. “ - John Marchese, 2008

As design of the violin is described as a confluence of a ‘simmering stew of intellect, practicality and some mysticism, including a workbench savvy of Stradivari’ by John Marchese that suggests a timeless display of world-class talent and performance, so was the Kultura’s Dance, Rhythm, Harmony: Mabuhay! at the Ford Amphitheater. Almost perfect! A crowd in the parking lot, who I got to know for a brief period, described it as “ perfect and awesome! “

Ted Benito said it best: "Flawless rendition. I think the most fascinating thing was the triumphant union of 3 powerhouse cultural groups here in Los Angeles: Kultura, Philippine Chamber Singers and FASO. Kultura, whose dancers I am appreciating as some of the best that I have seen, put on some of the most captivating interpretations of Filipino folk dances. Banga's Alexandria Diaz Defato captured my soul and the abbreviated Muslim suite took your breath away. I define Philippine Chamber Singers as simply a flawless harmonization of vocal prowess. Period. The original songs they sang were irresistibly charming and clever. "

For me, it was less than flawless, only because I believe Perfection belongs to the Highest Maker, God, and we, as imperfect beings, can only claim close to perfection. But when one sees the grandeur of Kultura, its 25 dancers who were diverse in ages, bound by a common denominator of precision, skill, prowess and soulful meaning in their dance steps -- I began to understand the audience’s fascination in seeing dancers move not just to the beat nor the music, but possessed by the period characters they embody.

One cannot help, but join in the crowd, in their enduring standing ovation for five minutes, yelling “Bravo, Bravo, Encore!“ For indeed, our search for embodied greatness and excellence got fused in Kultura’s dancers, Indio and Philippine Chamber Singers!

After all, my husband and I started our cultural quest of deepening our heritage as Filipinos back in the seventies, when Enrique and I took our two young children to every Pilipino Cultural Night (PCN) events, whether it's at UCLA, CSUN, or UC Irvine and even FILAMArts. It became our children’s immersion into our culture. We found ourselves locating the bamboo poles, as they evolved -- now performing their dances in their own PCNs, teaching their friends in high schools and later, UC Irvine and Berkeley. My daughter, Corina, learned the Highlander’s Fury dance, from the tribes of Northern Luzon’s mountains. When she balanced a single palayok on her head, she considered it a big success given sweat from dedicated practice.

But, Kultura’s dancer, Alexandria Diaz Defato adeptly balanced six nesting clay pots secured by a turban which barely cradled the bottom of the six. The audience was mesmerized -- would her risky dance steps drop all six nesting clay pots as she moved her body? Though conscious of the load on her head, she gracefully moved and kept dancing.

When the Mindanao Tapestry dance showed the pre-nuptial encounter of a man and woman as seafarers on their journey, two bamboo poles simulated the movement of an outrigger boat, sailing to distant shores. These two poles were carried by two men on their shoulders, while the royal princess, Alyssa Capili skillfully balanced herself, climbing up the bamboo pole as she danced gracefully using ‘languid arm and wrist movements to ward off evil spirits,' craning her neck as her feet slid, struggling to stay on, and her precise training paid off, as she kept her balance.

She was lifted, while standing, dancing, barefoot on the smooth, curved bamboo poles. You could hear folks gasping, quite nervous and hoping that she does not fall off. It was as intense as watching someone do triple lifts on figure skating and holding one’s breath until they touch the ground, landing on one foot.
My husband had one word -- “Competent!“ Indeed, it was culturally competent, but it was also heritage-rich and musically and artfully literate!

What an evening of understated elegance, grace, and well-scripted fusion of dance numbers from Celia Defato, Alexandria Diaz Defato, Greg and Candy Sanchez, and the entire cast of Kultura. The musical genius of the Indio tenors: Pete Avendano and Gelo Francisco and shyly ramping up guitar renditions of Ric Ickard, whose guitar plucking is of the highest order, and the vibrant, alive voices of the Philippine Chamber Singers with synchronous sounds from the Filipino-American Symphony Orchestra (FASO) made the dance quite riveting to watch!

It is beautiful to see FASO’s technical orchestral proficiency grow. They were smooth, with no discordant notes. But somehow, I could only feel the feelings of FASO’s conductor, Bob Shroder, as the musicians played their instruments. In time, this young orchestra will age beautifully like fine wine! On their third public event tonight, their youngest musicians who are under 20, are now at ease. I will soon see this orchestra’s promise and potential on display when FASO Goes To The Movies next Saturday at the Pasadena Civic Center, let us not miss their repertoire!

I was enchanted by Gelo Francisco’s harana and his courtship with the dancer, Janice Santa Ana, a staged interplay that shows how the fan (abanico) in Pamaypay ng Maynila become the reservoir of unrequited love -- indirectly expressed through this lyrical kundiman or love songs. With some encouragement: a look, a smile, a playful dance of the senorita and Gelo singing the harana so lovingly, it was pure joy to watch and their brightly-lit faces had enough wattage to light the stage.

It was an inspiring performance that I could not help but be moved to tears. It has been a long time since I've gone to more Music Center events that I care to catalog, but even with their technical prowess, I could not be moved to cry.

Tonight, Kultura gave me not just the music that cradled me, but one that I suckled to as a baby, while being fed by my mother, Asuncion. As I looked around the audience who were also in tears, we lovingly affirmed our love for our culture and heritage!

I got goosebumps as Gelo Francisco and Pete Avendano sang the Ave Maria duet, alternating their solid tenor voices, so superlative, and majestically rendered. It was their ode to God, which they carefully, generously and so kindly shared on center stage. When they sang Usahay, even if I did not know the Visayan words, I felt their emotions of love, grace and playfulness.

But, let me tell you what got me prouder – it was the coconut dance! Kultura’ s program described ‘coconuts as the tree of life because of its many uses -- and for the performance, it was coconut shells recycled as musical instruments. There was a pounding of dancers’ bare feet on stage, as they rhythmically struck the coconut shells attached to their bare-chested bodies, heads, backs and knees, in Maglalatik and complimented by the clever use of Filipino martial arts called Arnis. I have seen this dance before, but the dancers of Kultura had varying body sizes, mirroring the true population, some with beer bellies. They were not selected based on physique and physical attributes, but for their prowess and literacy in rhythm.

Yes, there is literacy in rhythm. When you feel there is a beat, the guitar strings are plucked. It is not slow nor fast, but a soulful rendition which connects the audience to their spirits, their inner beings. Their tears, as well as mine, are moved to flow, regardless of gender. When the tunes change, it makes a person sway their arms, stretch up into the air, sway their bodies, not caring to sit or stand, but simply to move with the beat. When bamboo poles were slowly put up for the Singkil dancer to ascend, when she balanced her body, we, the audience, with our pounding heartbeats were careful not to exhale too loud so she would not fall out of grace!
Yes, the audience gave Kultura their utmost respect, not a sound, not a whimper, not any side discussions, for they respected them to showcase their talents completely, withholding none! They respected the cultural heritage, such that their performance had an imprint -- a continuity of tradition dating back to the centuries when our ancestors were culturally competent. Almost every word or utterance from their mouths was either a corrido, a composed sonnet, a composed lyric, a spoken word of poetry or a kundiman!

My, not only are Filipinos hopeless romantics, but our hearts were made to love and to be loved back by our people in their music through dance steps and musical arrangements and compositions.
Celia, Gelo, Nadina, Greg, Ed, Pete, Anne, you have not only created art, but also a legacy of richness in creative spirits -- something we are proud of to call our own! And to Indio tenors, Gelo and Pete, I forecast a future richer than Il Divo's, for you share your talents, not with the endpoint of wowing the audience, but with a soulful integrity, a watchful generosity that God gave you these talents to share flawlessly with others!

I whispered to Ted Benito: “There is now a new standard of excellence and quality you must aspire to, Ted, and you saw it tonight!” He smiled. Indeed, it was nearly flawless! Tonight, we cried, we stood up in tears, we clapped so loud, we hollered Bravo, Bravo, Bravo for an enduring standing ovation of over five minutes to Kultura. Kultura brought us home again!


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