Kultura 2009 brings on the summer heat

by Christine Balmesoriginally written for The Philippine Reporter

TORONTO — No rain, city strike, or recession could cool down the epic hotness of this year’s Kultura festival. As in the past three years, the 2009 showcase was abundant and multidisciplinary. Sumptuous visual exhibition, catchy musical acts, witty short films, and provocative play readings abounded. Local Filipino artists created them all with a young Filipino Canadian audience in mind.

On right, Performer Maylee Todd kicks off festivities with wacky exercise routine

There were several changes this year, only a few of them deliberate. Because of the downpour, most of the events had to be held inside the basement space of the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture. Festival organizer Karyl Agana didn’t sweat it. “It let the audience discover the space. A lot more people saw the gallery. People were talking to each other, to artists. It was really tight,” she explained.

This was also the first year that Kultura had a curated themed: Balikbayan Renaissance. Festival organizers explained it as “the artistic movement inspired by the overwhelming sense of belonging, an awakening to the true meaning of Home that Canadian-born children of Philippine immigrants get when they first touchdown on the islands.”

Some of the short films featured at Kultura 2009

The reconnection occurred for artists and audience alike. Illustrator Juan Solon, who submitted a powerful black on white illustrated print of Lapu Lapu, used his admiration for the datu as inspiration for the piece. “National heroes like Pacquiao have always reinvigorated a sense of national pride into myself,” he said, “but Lapu Lapu was the first to resist Spanish invasion. It’s a breath of fresh air to learn about my history and create something related to my culture for Kultura.”

Another standout was Jodinand Aguillon’s 2-minute film “A Filipino Pinoy Coming Out Story,” a clever short that stomped on the double tripwires of reconciling with one’s Filipino-ness and sexual identity and set the room bursting with laughter. “I have a little confession,” he began, “you see, growing up in rural Alberta, Canada, I wasn’t like the other kids. Deep down inside I just always knew that I was, well, different.” The suspense ended when Aguillon affirmed his Filipino, though not his sexual, identity.

On left, Poet Myk Miranda defends "Hindi dapat pork is a Filipino staple" in a Balagtasan with Len Cervantes (not featured)

Santa Guerrilla—the music and performance collaboration of KAPISANAN members—is the movement’s voice box. Last December, member Alexander Punzalan flew to Cotabato City to purchase a kulintang set which quickly became the centrepiece for the collective. The ting of the brass gongs as well as the group’s inspiring lyrics thrilled this year’s crowd. In their song Supernatural, emcee Myk Miranda declared, “I’m proud to be Filipino.” As the audience cheered, he shouted, “Taas noo, Pilipino!”

Carlos Bulosan Theatre, the KAPISANAN community partner, took care of the theatrical side of things with a 5-piece platter of play readings from playwrights-slash- thespians Byron Abalos, Renna Reddie, Andrea Mapili, and Catherine Hernandez. Hernandez presented a one-woman puppet show, “Eating with Lola,” that was an imaginative delight.

No doubt, Kultura 2009 is only a glimpse of the remarkable things to come from the Filipino community in the GTA. Watch out for future presentation from this solid group of creators, for, as the Santa Guerrilla chorus asserts, “Our time is now.”

This year’s Kultura was made possible by the tireless efforts of its volunteers. To find out more about KAPISANAN and how to get involved, email info@kapisanancentre.com.