nytheatre.com review by Hilary Krishnan
April 23, 2010
La MaMa E.T.C's Pandibulan: Bathing by Moonlight left me feeling as though I myself had been participating in the epic dances and folkloric ceremonies of the Yakan people of the Southern Philippines. While at times this new dance work seemed to be missing a certain theatrical understanding about staging and timing, there was never a lack of heart or devotion to the stories of their ancestors.
Kinding Sindaw, the company of dancers and musicians, create a warm and welcoming environment for us as we enter the theatre. We are voyeurs spying on an unfamiliar way of life, as we see the performers working on looms, children in tow. The musicians drum out complicated, chaotic rhythms that set the tone for what will be an evening of dance and beautiful traditional costume. The dancers use symbolic props to aid in the narrative of their myths: they present magical platters of food offerings, host grand wedding ceremonies, apply traditional face paints, and dance upon stacks of porcelain dishes. Toward the end of the piece, however, they incorporate a long series of projections that complicate the storytelling, rather than support it.
The Yakan people come from Basilan, in the southern part of the Philippine Archipelago. It is boarded on the west by Sulu Sea, and consequently these people are a seafaring community. The fluid, yet brisk, movements of the dances are evocative of the movements of sea creatures, birds, water, and the wind. The simplicity and repetition of these movements (along with the live percussion music that accompanies the dancing) create a soothing, undulating tempo. At times this pace lent itself to the elegiac storytelling and, at other times, it warranted paging through your program to read a description of a scene for clarification.
According to the publicity, the piece is about "a Yakan woman from the Philippines, [who] dreams of tales from her youth as she works as a caregiver to strangers in a foreign land." This is set up with an opening scene, which seemed to be hastily written or improvised, that shows us a Yakan immigrant being turned down a job for her apparent inability to speak English. I think this was an unnecessary attempt at forcing a narrative upon an evening of dance that could have simply stood alone as a collection of stories and myths of these indigenous people. I would have been content to have experienced the myriad tales, related or not, and didn't feel that I needed a central journey to make the piece meaningful to me.
In the end, I was glad to have witnessed something new and sacred. I understand the importance of finding ways to bring different generations closer together, and Kinding Sindaw accomplishes that even within their company of performers, who are as young as eight years old. The piece lacked a keen eye for the theatrical and a clean way to open and close the show, but it was filled with exuberant performances and a truly unique style of dance.