By Felicitas F. Santiago, MD UPMASA NJNYCT Chapter, Past President, 2019-21
After a five-year dance drought aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the internationally
recognized and multiply-awarded LDT- Leyte Dance Theater of Jess de Paz Foundation, Inc is back on to
its 9th US tour. PAFCOM- Philippine American Friendship Community, Inc’s sponsorship on May 13, 2023
was a pre-Mother’s Day visual and auditory celebration, a welcome back to social circulation. The timing
was reminiscent of our homeland’s traditional fiesta times of May, plus the significant US national
recognition of the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Also embraced was PAFCOM’s
additional homage to the LGBTQIA, the disabled, the young and the elderly.
And a “Wow” did the LDT deliver, fully showcasing the vision of its founder, Jess de Paz, from
our northern indigenous pre-colonial, “Dawn at the Highlands” suite to its post-modern nationalistic,
“Bayan Ko” in a historical amalgam of five dance suites. With renewed vigor, strength and lots of
coordinated choreography, the dance execution showed focused discipline to look breezy in their
coordinated highly challenging moves. Classical ballet incorporated to story-tell our local flavors delivered
a seamless appreciation of fusion-dance genre. The leaps and bounds, from solo, pas de deux to company
pirouettes were seen throughout the many figures of their movements. There was liberal use of local
Philippine ethnological home-decorative and functional basketry. Martial artsy props, colorful outfits and
headgears brough to the fore the deeper density of the visual story line. The balance from the sky-high stack
of earthen pots, crowning the Igorot tribal-dancer’s head, was supported by her sturdy neck and delicately
swaying hands and arms. It definitely brought the tribe a few dainty steps closer to their highland heavens.
The second suite, Mardi Gras de Principalia, in quick-figures’ succession was a vow to the Castilian
influence during our colonial acculturation. The scarf, umbrella, fan, cane and hat gave a romantic run for
the altar, in a bamboo-castanets-sleigh-of-hands tap-dancing signature and romantic melody.
The Uncharted Sari-Manok Trail was a definite awe-provoking Maranao dance suite. The simple percussions
of Muslim time-signatured homophony with a mythical Sarimanok bird-song could tell a very nuanced
story. Who could have conjectured how those eight colorful bamboo poles in their myriad reconfigurations
could be a stretcher to transport a sick princess, totem pole to climb up to a prize, a tribal prince’s pyramid
pole to reach up heights, and a bird trap and cage to ensnare a cure? This, was in addition to the final
clacking celebratory multi- geometric foot works permutations of their newly recovered-beloved princess.
Back to Terre Firme, the fourth suite, “Life at the Rurals”, was reminiscent of the halcyon days of our
simpler lives, the daily lives and the bario menfolk’s’ love of cock-fighting. The cacophony of banters,
shrieks and final barrio dance fest to rondalla music confirmed that it took just a little nudge to break to a
dance. The final “Bayan Ko” suite reminded us that through dance, the fight for freedom across obstacles
needed no words. A mother’s gnawing scream of “anak ko”, as her son fell, was its denouement as he was
soon lifted and marched up by his compatriots to his monumental pantheon via a pillar of bamboo poles.
I have enjoyed many genres of the ethnic and classical dance performing arts in the Big Apple, with
some travel sights of the Ballet Folklorico Mexico, Thai, Chinese, Indian folklore dances, and some
European homespun dance shows, like in Vienna’s Rat Haus. The dance repertoire of our thirty-year young
Leyte Dance Theater has definitely leaped and bounded to its global caliber and glory. It befits the accolades
and recognition in those numerous awards it has received. It transformed and produced our rich history,
folkways, myths and lore to movement and local music. Let us nurture more highly disciplined devoted
Phil-Am students and alumni-dancers to a global audience. Hopefully, beyond the marquee, across, our new
generations of Phi-Ams and others in the audience, will have more chance and opportunity to really
appreciate and support such Philippine ambassadors of artistic global goodwill. Hep hep, hurray, Mabuhay.