The AlunAlun Dance Circle performed for the 60th Anniversary Celebration of French-Philippine Relations (1947-2007)
By Nannette Matilac
To dance in Paris is an exciting dream, for it is said that â€œthe whole world sings and dances in Paris.â€ But to dance a little-known Philippine dance called pangalay in Paris is more than a fulfilled dream. It is a provocative cause to promote good faith between two peoples and two nations in celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Franco-Philippine relations.
On 27 June 1947, the Philippines and France signed the Treaty of Amity in Paris that established diplomatic relations between two countries with intersecting historical and cultural paths. As far back as the 1500s, 15 Frenchmen among Ferdinand Magellanâ€™s crew already came to the archipelago. By the early 1800s, a French community settled in Jala-jala and French traders already did good business exporting Paris fashion and goods to Manila while importing our indigo. Of course, the greatest contribution of France lay in its revolutionary history and libertarian ideals that inspired Filipino heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto.
But do you know that in May 1828, French navigator and geographer Dumont d’llrville visited Jolo and offered gifts to the Sultan of Sulu? I imagine he was beguiled by the beauty of the Sulu Archipelago with its majestic seascape, colorful traditions and exquisite arts as evidenced by the pangalay dance style. Pangalay is a pre-Islamic dance style related to the classical dances of Cambodia, Thailand, Japan and other Asian countries.
With such a rich heritage behind it, dancing pangalay is a boon to international relations. It was Ambassador Jose Abeto Zaide, Philippine ambassador to France, who worked for promoting diplomacy through pangalay. Having seen the AlunAlun Dance Circle perform 2 years ago at the Ateneo de Manila, the ambassador professed, â€œThis is the group I must bring to Paris.â€ The ambassador sought help from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Zuellig Group of Companies and the Dome Xâ€™Pats Group. And thenâ€¦
From 8 June to 3 July 2007, I danced pangalay in France with my teacher and choreographer Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa; fellow dancers Louanne Mae Calipayan, Joy Grace Ricote, Rama Marcaida, Mahail Hajan and Trini Derbesse; stage manager Perry Dizon; and photographer Richard â€œBahaghariâ€ de Guzman. During our stay, the AlunAlun Dance Circle also conducted dance workshops among Filipinos at the Philippine embassy. We performed in 7 different venues: the Philippine Embassy, Paris’ new Quai Branly Museum, the Ambassadorâ€™s residence, the Maison des Cultures du Monde (Institute for World Cultures), the Maison de lâ€™UNESCO-Grand Auditorium, the Pistang Pilipino in Stade de la Muette and the Eglise Saint Severin.
In almost all performances, the show began with a French narration of â€œWhat is Pangalay?â€ The lucid translation by French Filipino Trini Evangelista-Derbesse endeared us to French-speaking audiences. The pure narration with no music was animated by seamless movements as dancers flow from one gesture to the next wearing colorful and authentic costumes of the Sulu Archipelago.
The dance-narration prepared the audience for the succeeding pangalay choreographies –sassy in â€œLa Vie en Rose,â€ wacky in Yoyoy Villame Suite (â€œGranda,â€ â€œButsikik,â€ â€œMag-exercise Tayo,â€ among others), somber and majestic in â€œStillness in Motionâ€ (with original music by Isha Abubakar).
At the UNESCO Auditorium on 27 June 2007, the international audience was regaled by the creative collaboration of the AlunAlun Dance Circle and the Philippine Madrigal Singers. We performed innovative dance compositions to the Madrigal Singersâ€™ touching renditions of â€œImportance of A Rose,â€ Yanniâ€™s Aria from â€œFlower Duetâ€ and Gary Granadaâ€™s â€œTagumpay Nating Lahat.â€ The latterâ€™s choreography creatively utilized two long cloths representing the banners of France and Philippines joining together with the number 60 in between, replicating the 60th anniversary logo.
By the end of our Parisian adventure, we were filled not just with memories of celebrated performances, but also with experiences so telling of the good faith between French and Filipinos: like Ligaya catching pneumonia but still dancing out of sheer commitment; Mahail collapsing with near-death experience at the Arch of Triumph and treated wonderfully by the French ICU staff; and myself getting lost in a deserted train station at 2:30 a.m. and escorted home by a French stranger.
We will always remember the rare opportunity of sharing pangalay with Pinoys in Paris. They made us feel at home in France, sharing with us their homes, their lives and their cooking. It was a great privilege to dance for them. Majority of our audience were OFWs who clean houses and look after children or aged citizens of French families. I learned that in France, having a Pinoy as housekeeper or nanny is quite a status symbol.
Thus, I realize that one of the essential meanings of the 60th Anniversary of Franco-Philippine relations is what Pinoys make of Paris. I think the city of lights is a better place with Filipinos around.
[The writer is the managing director of the AlunAlun Dance Circle, a dance group dedicated to the conservation and popularization of the pangalay.