Saturday, March 29, 2008

Street Dance, Time Travel, and a Zoo

Congratulations to Cal State Long Beach's Pilipino American Coalition (PAC) and a successful Pilipino Culture Night (PCN) a week ago! It was an amazing show, and yall packed the house on Good Friday (when Lola should be prayin Novenas). A three and a half hour show, and yall kept them the whole night!

Like we've been discussing here and here, young Pin@ys have been involved in creating and performing large-scale theatrical productions for decades (since the late 1970s at UCLA). During the early 1990s, hip hop dance forms emerged as standard vernacular for PCNs. At first there was resistance to this because of hip hop's "blackness" and its threat to "authentic" Filipino culture, and all that jive.

Now, it's incredible to see this tradition in choreographed street dance triumph in such a high-profiled venue as "America's Best Dance Crew." Kaba Modern and JabbaWockeez (who come out of the Fil Am choregraphed street dance scene and share the same circles) certainly brought this spectacle into America's households. PAC Modern, the street dance branch of PAC who put on a dope set for PCN, is a powerhouse in the West Coast choreographed street dance circles. I have no doubt that if the best members of PAC Modern joined AMDC (there are more than 50 troupe members), they would bring enough heat to be in one of the final episodes (before America divides up the funky Asians).

The 22nd Annual PCN at CSULB--entitled "The World's Fair"--highlighted an important moment in Philippine and U.S. history-- when Filipinos were displayed in a "living exhibit" as newly acquired colonial possessions of the U.S. at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Like a zoo exhibit, Filipinos were displayed in their "native" habitats reconstructed on-site in St. Louis. Much more, Filipinos were depicted in progression of most savage Filipinos (Mountain People, Negritos) to most civilized (Visayans, who were apparently seen as most Westernized because of Spanish influence).

The World's Fair was a deliberate attempt to justify U.S. occupation of the Philippines (beginning in 1898) and the urgency of the "civilizing mission" (or "White Man's Burden") of the U.S. in this benighted part of the world. It was like Western colonization of the islands version 2.0-- molding Filipinos into a better Western image that the Spanish failed to do. Well, they had one thing right--Filipinos certainly adapted an American (read "African American") performance tradition (beginning with Vaudeville forms brought by Black Buffalo Soldiers serving in the islands during the Philippine-American War).

Anyways, the PCN risked perpetuating this "zoo" spectacle (like many PCNs do) by exotifying and objectifying Filipino culture as "other," a voyeuristic journey for both Filipino and non-Filipino audiences. However, the cast delivered a subversive production, craftily telling a story of the political duplicity of U.S. interest in Filipino participation in the World's Fair, and how fucked up it was "Uncle Sam" ordered Filipinos from savage-to-civilized who ultimately need American assimilation to become fully human. (Oh how the reverse was more close to the truth).

Anyways, I'm sure the audience learned something that night. But what was more impressive is the talent of the student organization. The production even had original music played by student musicians (complete with a seven-piece rondalla). And the whole skit cast sang (pretty good)! I always wonder how these steady reserves of Filipin@ talent keep replenishing Fil Am orgs, since people graduate. Apparently, the talent is always there among young members of our community.

So how did the PCN skit integrate the ever-present "modern" dance? Well, one of the tents at the fair was a "Tent of Tomorrow" and whoever steps inside, gets a glimpse of what's to come. What happened when the main characters stepped into the tent? Well, let me paraphrase the words of ring leader, who spoke to the Filipino characters: "Step right up! Come see what your great great grandchildren will be doing: spinning records on two machines, writing strange words on walls, and dancing on the floor!" Wow, so much for resistance to blackness in the early 1990s-- and now it seems like hip hop is an integral part of the Filipino American experience? I would agree with this. Would all agree, though?

PAC Modern at Vibe XIII, January 27,2008
Check the oh so fresh funkstyles: 2:20-3:20

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