Gala Review - From a Choreographer’s Perspective 

By Brian J. Rodriguez

Seven years ago, our dance troupe was formed by Mary Ann Ar under my father’s presidency.  It seems like only yesterday that we started, each weekend practicing - from the basements and homes of our dance members to church gyms and now to our new home of Stanley Steemer.  I remember in the ‘old’ days where we had to buy our own costumes or borrow from neighboring associations; I remember first learning the Tinikling and polishing dance movements from head to toe.  It’s amazing to have been apart of every gala, watching our dance troupe grow and grow.  During this time, I’ve learned our traditional dances, learned each story, learned about costumes and how to put on a production, how to perform and show emotion through dance.  I’ve had a good teacher – the very best in fact – our very own Mary Ann Ar. 

As the excitement and stress of putting on such a large production has died down – I’ve taken time to reflect.  I’ve sorted through pictures, watched video – and the emotions I felt that night as both a performer and a teacher are nothing but pride and happiness.  I can’t help but get excited to relive these moments again.  So here it is, a Gala Review through my eyes:

We started our show this year with an almost ‘improv’ type number – I say this because we learned this dance three days prior to our performance.  But, I wasn’t worried – we had our veteran dancers so I was confident we would pull it off.  Set to lively, invigorating music – we started with a Karatong/Subli number.  Full of acrobatics, jumping, balancing acts, flair and color – it was the perfect way to start our evening off. 

We then highlighted our beautiful ladies in the balancing act that is known as Binoyugan.  Balancing custom made local pots, our ladies showed their skills and talents manipulating their bodies all the while balancing their pots on their head.  I was very proud as they were all in synch throughout the dance, and even more proud that no one dropped their pot!

Next up was our youth dancers in the number Tiklos.  Keeping true to our theme for the year, Pista Sa Nayon, Tiklos is a dance that celebrated the work of the common person.  It’s a people’s dance with lively stepping and jumping to bright and cheerful music.  For me the music in itself seems to inspire and mimic the personality of a Filipino – lively and fun, bright and cheerful.  Our youth delivered and seemed to have fun throughout the dance.  I can’t imagine being their age and performing in front of such a large group of people, but they did well. 

A highlight each year is this growing group of dancers – each year we watch this group as they definitely have become the ‘scene stealers’ because they are all so cute.  It was time for the Bulaklakan – the flower dance.  Our little girls are so impressive each year and just make the crowd go crazy over the cute factor.  Imagine being that young and having to memorize a dance that long.  Truly these girls have talent and truly they are being groomed to become seasoned dancers – passing on our traditions and customs that will be carried on with these girls.  For that is our job and this group makes me smile each year to know that the traditions that have been passed on from my parents will continue to generation after mine.  Becoming beautiful flowers, these girls have blossomed into the new stars of our dance troupe.  Good job girls! 

Next was what we like to call, our ‘oldies but goodies’ group – even though no one in this group is really all that old.  I joined them in this round with the men looking dashing in white barongs and the women so regal in their maria clara inspired outfits with beautiful jewel tone gowns.  It was a story for sure – a game of chasing and romance as the men and women take turns flirting and courting as in olden days of the Philippines.  This group did a fantastic job – as I looked around while I was dancing I could see the smiles on many faces of not only the audience as we brought back memories of home, but also true smiles on my dancers’ faces. 

Time for the two harder dances of the evening.   Pandanggo Sa Ilaw / Oasioas had to be one of my favorite dances this year for its shear drama and elegance.  The lights were off with nothing but the flicker of our candles – talk about a dramatic entrance, right?  Our ladies entered first in beautiful gowns with the candles balanced on the back of their hand.  As I entered along with the other guys, I could see how beautiful a picture we had painted with the hint of our shadows against the glimmer of our candles.  As the lights slowly faded on, the harder our dance got.  With each sequence the girls added more candles until a candle was on each hand and on top of their heads.  Then it was the men’s turn with candles wrapped in cloth twirling around our heads and then a candle balanced on each of our foreheads.  Once again for the final sequence, the lights were turned off – candle light flickering and twirling about.  It was like fireflies on a summer night. 

Finally, our final dance – a dance several of us have diligently studied for several years now.  They are known as our ‘Veterans’ – probably one of the hardest working groups around.  They are our clappers, they are our dancers, and even some of our choreographers.  It is our national dance, Tinikling.  It is the one dance we perform at every Gala, and each year there is brand new choreography.  Each year we try to make it bigger and better – more grand than the year before.  I’m worried because this had to be the best we’ve ever come up with, and coming up with something new next year is going to be hard to beat.  It was full of drama and unexpected surprises that most people wouldn’t think to see in a tinikling.  We highlighted our clappers first off with their own set of choreography dancing with the bamboo poles.  Then it was the dancers’ up – making their entrance and doing acrobatics and even having a few ballet inspired moves.  Switching and having two travel sequences was difficult this year – plus we introduced new music this year.  Showcasing two different couples throughout the dance – it was the final sequences that involved two of our boys lifting their partners in between poles – and then the dramatic finish as the two pairs increased their speed and moved skillfully through all four sets of bamboo poles. 

To wrap up all our hard work – it was time to party with the most fun curtain call we’ve ever had!  While at first it seemed like a normal exit music to Tinilkling – things got a little funky as it turned into a dance remix of the traditional music.  Tradition with a modern twist.  Full of fun, and a lot of relief – it was a great time for our entire dance troupe who have dedicated so much time and effort to make this happen.  Truly it is a proud moment as both a dancer and teacher to see the excitement and pride each dancer has when they know they put on a good show. 

A production like ours takes so much work behind the scenes, from practices to coordination, making and organizing props, costumes, fittings, picture shoots, backdrop and stage design, advertising…the list goes on and on.  But each year while we can’t wait to get the show over with, there’s always a part of us that can look back at the past 6 months.  They are memories, bonds that have been made by seeing the same people every week, working together as a community for a common goal – having fun, celebrating each others’ company.  Truly it has been an honor the past year as in all years past – to grow together and to make the FAC-WNC Dance Troupe one of the best in the Carolinas. 

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this years success – to all donors and advertisers, to our Mrs. Valentine’s court and their fundraising, to all our volunteers, to all our officers, and to our audience for showing an interest in our passion to preserve our culture.

See you all next year!

Gala 2008