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Performing Arts in the Philippines


The Cultural Center of the Philippines is considered to be the premiere place for performing arts.  It has local and international world-class guest artists.  

The kundiman folk music is a popular music form that is unique to the Philippine islands. It is music that is a  combination of both words and music.  Also popular with Filipinos is folk dancing.  There are many variations of dances, both ceremonial and traditional, that are performed for many different occasions.

There are several types of dance in the Philippines, those with Muslim or Spanish influences as well as those from the lowlands and mountains.

With over a million Muslim Filipinos residing mainly on the island of Mindanao, there are several dances that are heavily influenced by Islam.   A popular dance, the langka-baluang is one that is performed by male dancers as an angry monkey.  One of the oldest Filipino dances, the singkil is a noble and difficult dance that is based upon a legend of the Maranao people of Mindanao.  This legend, written during the 14th century, retells the plight of a princess in the middle of a forest.  While she is in there the forest fairies or diwatas start an earthquake, and only by avoiding trees, along with her slave, is she finally able to be saved by a prince.  Even now, royal princesses in the Sulu Archipelago are required to learn this dance.  Another ritual is one in which an entire village participates, the pag-ipat.  When a family member is ill, the belief is that an ancestral spirit (tinunungan) has caused the disease and needs to be appeased.  Depending on the severity of the illness and the financial status of the family, this ritual can last from a day to several days.  A folk healer performs the ritual while having possession of the spirit.

The Spanish influence in the Philippines brought about many dances that use a Maria Clara dress (a character in Noli Me Tangere) and an embroidered long-sleeve short made from pineapple fibers for their costumes.  The Filipinos adapted these Spanish dances by using bamboo castanets and Asian fans.  Carinosa, which means loveable or affectionate, is a dance that is known all through the Philippines.  The dancers "flirt" using a handkerchief or fan, by playing hide and seek with them.  Part of a wedding ritual, the sabalan lulay, is a dance that  begins with a man dancing around a woman (his partner) until she consents to dance with him.

The mountainous areas of the Philippines (Northern Luzon - Central Cordillera region) are home to numerous tribes that have many rituals and dances that are an integral part of their life.  Dance is a part of many daily functions from celebrating good weather to fending off bad luck.  The Apayao Courtship Dance, from the northernmost mountain region, is performed by having a couple swing their arms in the air to similate a flying bird while the woman wears a ceremonial blanket draped around her.  The man moves in a way similar to that of a strutting cock who preens himself.  The Kalinga (one of the mountain tribes) have a bloody tradition that is revered, headhunting.  Kayaw, takes place when a peace pact (budong) between villages is broken.  The village who was affronted is allowed to attack the other and take as many heads as possible for trophies.  A successful bird hunt is supposed to take place when they listen to a mysterious bird, Idao.

Possibly the most popular and best known dances are those from the Philippine lowlands.  A place of extreme beauty and love of life and simplicity,  the lowlands have a passion for music.  A spirited dance from Bayambang is the Binasuan, which is basically a balancing act.  The dancers skillfully handle glasses are partially filled with rice wine and usually perform at birthdays and weddings.  Maglalatik, a simulated-war dance, is a four part dance which starts out with mock-fighting and ends with reconciliation.  Initially a depiction of a fight between the Christians and Moros, it is also performed as a mark of respect for San Isidro de Labrador, the patron saint of farmers.

Some well-known musicians in the Philippines include Rodolfo Cornejo, composer and conductor; Antonino Buenaventura, conductor; and Antonio J. Molina, conductor and composer. 

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