Monday, May 07, 2007


UC Davis PCN was well PCN, 3.5 hrs long with varying levels of dance skill. Fortunately our cousin was dancing 4 dances which meant we couldn't ditch at intermission. ha!

It was UCD's 20th annual PCN and many of the students commented about how they were only tots when the first one started. So, I began to wonder what function does PCN serve? 20 years ago and even say 12 years ago, information about the Philippines and the current events of the country were fairly inaccessible: no satellite tv, no Tagalog in some of the colleges, a handful of books by Filipino authors available, no brain drain retirees criss crossing the ocean every 6 months. So is PCN Filipino culture? And if so, what about Filipino culture does it evoke?

The dances themselves are based on Bayanihan's categorical standard of the different dance suites. The costumes, particularly, in Barrio suite are meant to evoke an idyllic countryside of farmland, but it's not like people in the barrio wear bright flourescent flora patterned outfits all the time.

PCN is really more a reflection of culture from the eyes of Fil-Am college students trying to sort out the varying degrees of what makes up "community" and "culture". Barrio when the plot deals with the nostalgia of an elderly character's youth. Spanish for courtship. Modern and Chip-Chop (cha-cha hip-hop: the suite for everyone else who wasn't dancing Modern) to present the current state of affairs. Mountain and Muslim suites to evoke the sense of rebellion and activism. Those two suites in particular are used for the students to have very masculine warrior (ie strong) roles.

Their story narrative has not changed, though their arcs were decently complex even though it took us more than half way to figure out how they all tied together. The grandfather figure was still a "manong" who picked asparagus in 1966 in Stockton, though they didn't address the waning presence of Filipinos in the fields at that time. "Manong" from what I could tell was a Baby Boomer generation as opposed to the Manongs of 1920s and 1930s.

Divided families, regrets, pressure on the children to be "somebody" though the path to riches now includes real estate agent along with medical doctor as opposed to the child's desire to be an artist. Frankly, in their story the kid wasn't good at dancing even though it was his "passion" and I was about to scream, "you should listen to your father!" And of course, a balance of comedy and drama, and working really hard to bring it all together to one happy/funny ending or reconciliation. The family, in the end, always coming back together no matter what.

And so I wondered when the narrative would change. These kids aren't necessarily from immigrant families and they're not necessarily from immigrant families that were poor, as evident of one of the characters being the niece of GMA. There was a scene of Wowowee used more for dramatic catharsis for the middle aged couple to profess their love. And a bit of an ironic twist of putting traditional dance and a plea to help the invalid squatters on Wowowee, which did feel like a Sally Struthers commercial, and from the mindset of a Filipino in the Philippines, is probably something that would never happen as in one sense the plea for donations to the squatters robbed the people of their dignity.

So the script reflected the conflict not just of generation or of culture, but really of this college aged Fil-Am crowd trying to reconcile their American interpretations of the present state of Filipino society. Why are there so many poor in the Philippines? Why is Wowowee so popular? And does it really make significant change to uplifting people's lives?

The quality of the dances varied. I know they're students and I know that after you've seen really good dance, it's hard to watch ok dance. But in one sense, the awkardness in dancing the traditional dances for many of the dancers as opposed to an ease and freedom when they danced Chip-Chop and Modern reflects their awkardness in figuring out how this past is brought into the present. And while my parents generation learned folk dances to perform at festivals, today's kids in the Philippines learn the latest routine from shows like Wowowee.

And I wonder that if in 10 more years, if Philippine ethnic and traditional dance will be found mostly outside the Philippines and that if PCN will be the living archive of these dances.

PCN does serve a function on the campuses as a way for socialization and exploration. Some treat the learning of the dances quite seriously, while others are more non-chalant about how precise they need to be, just the fact that they're in PCN is good enough to have cultural significance to them.

Overall for a PCN UC Davis' PCN was pretty decent and the scripts comedic lines really kept it afloat. The Tinikling "stick tricks" were impressive. But 12 years after participating in PCN myself, I find PCN feeling more like a school recital than a showcase of culture. I still think PCN is important, but I think the focus of importance has moved from the audience to the students themselves who still use it as a vehicle to try to bring disparate understandings/interpretations of what they believe their "culture" to be as well as voice their opinions to their parents about how they would like to lead their lives in a subtle way.

No comments: