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As Marcos Rises to Power, a Dance Ritual Helps Filipino Americans Process Grief, Fear

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SAMMAY presents 'ritual thrivation no.2' at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

At the premiere of ritual for thrivation no. 2 on June 10, a series of audio clips in Tagalog played over the speakers, filling San Francisco’s ODC Theater with harrowing memories.

“There was no newspaper, no TV. I was at home and people were scared,” said one voice.

“Ako ay nasa underground na.” (“I was in hiding.”) “I was 23,” said another.

“Nasa U.S. ako. Sabi pa nga na ibang mga kasamahan ko, ‘Huwag ka ng umuwi, nakakatakot ang martial law,’” said a third. (“I was in the U.S. All my friends said, ‘Don’t come home, martial law is terrifying.’”)

These stories aren’t just part of a performance. They are a part of Filipino history, which Filipino American choreographer and artistic director Samantha Peñaflor Dizon (known as SAMMAY) wants us to remember in ritual for thrivation no. 2. The clips, compiled by queer Pinay music duo AstraLogik, are pulled from real interviews with survivors who were detained or tortured under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, who declared martial law from 1972–1986. Although this history is recent, today’s political reality in the Philippines brings the past even closer to the present.

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Last month, the Philippines’ presidential election resulted in the victory of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of the late former dictator, effectively returning the family back to power. (Marcos Sr. was ousted by popular revolt and exiled in 1986; he died in 1989.) The Marcos name carries a history of human rights abuses and the thieving of an estimated $10 billion from the Philippine economy. One may wonder, “How could this happen?”

Disaffection among Filipinos grew over time, after watching corruption and inequality persist over the decades. Perhaps this created a desire for a strongman leader who can restore order at whatever the cost (see: current president Rodrigo Duterte). Couple that with disinformation and historical revisionism, and you have a recipe for vulnerability.

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

“There’s just so much dissonance around the truth and this work is about remembering,” said Dizon in an interview. “This work is about facing the hard truths of our lives, our lineages and our communities. We need to really face our shadows.”

ritual for thrivation no. 2 is an intergenerational, movement-based performance that explores the shadows of Philippine history and the inner worlds of Filipinos in the diaspora. Like all shadow work, it uncovers forgotten and unspoken truths as a means of necessary healing and care.

“This work lends itself to practicing collective care,” said dance artist and rehearsal director Danielle Galvez, “Here, care means being seen, being heard, and having the permission to share your story.”

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

The story of ritual for thrivation no. 2, co-presented by the API Cultural Center, is performed by Filipino American dance artists including Galvez, Tessa Nebrida, Jai Severson and Harold Albert Quiben Galvez. The work engages themes of ancestral connection, grief, queer identity and remembering pieces of the past that are vital to a future of freedom—aptly performed during the weekend of Araw ng Kalayaan (Philippine Independence Day).

Contemporary and urban dance styles combined with references to Filipino folk dances portray the balance of modernity and tradition that is a distinctive feature of Filipino American identity. One memorable sequence involves Filipino children’s street games and the walis (a Filipino-style broom and household staple), comfortingly familiar imagery that I never thought I’d see on a stage.

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

“I think it speaks to that familiarity we share as diasporic Filipinx,” Dizon said. “No matter where we are coming from or what lived experience we have gone through, we’re acknowledging and really honoring the uniqueness and the nuances of all of our experiences.”

In exploring the nuances of the generational and geographical differences that exist within the global Filipino community, ritual for thrivation no. 2 bridges divides by reminding us of our shared history.

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

“Understanding our history and where we come from is really important,” said Charito Soriano, one-half of AstraLogik. “You need to tell your story and listen to other people’s stories. It’s gotta be a reciprocal thing.”

Soriano believes the reciprocal exchange between diasporic Filipinos and our peers in the Philippines is key to sustaining our relationship with our kababayan (our countrymen), which no amount of time or distance could ever undo. To be in community with one another is where we begin to heal as a collective.

Towards the end of the performance, audience members (many of whom wiped tears from their faces throughout the show, myself included) began to laugh as the dancers played with the walis, tossing them in the air, strumming one like a guitar, and dancing tinikling between two brooms on the ground. The catharsis in the air was palpable. As I joined the crowd in a standing ovation, I felt the ritual succeed in transmuting my grief into joy, understanding and a sense of belonging I didn’t realize I was searching for.

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

“We heal with others in community,” said Galvez. “We can’t do it alone with anything, with healing, with movement, with action.”

Any changes we hope to create for future generations, any movements we build, are made possible by bonds we can’t always see but can always feel. The invisible thread that ties us to our kin is one we weave together, one that only strengthens when we speak, act and move in solidarity.

SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)
SAMMAY presents ‘ritual thrivation no.2’ at the ODC Theater on Jun. 11, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. (Amaya Edwards)

ritual for thrivation no. 2 will be available for digital streaming on Friday, June 17 at 7:30pm.

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