In March, I participated in the free Flipside workshops offered by the Carlos Bulosan Theatre at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre. I wasn't sure what to expect. I wanted the full experience so I attended all three workshops. And you know what? I enjoyed every single workshop.
Len Cervantes headed the poetry workshop, where we learned about the poetry forms unique to the Philippines. We learned about ambahans, awits, corridos and the poets who mastered these forms. We discussed the rich oral tradition of epic poems and political significance of poetry as both protest and a forum for debate. It's hard enough to argue a point in public, much less in a town square and in poem format. That's exactly what some of our ancestors did.Think of it as the Filipino pre-crusor to the modern day poetry slam. Afterwards, Len asked us to write a little poetry of our own. We converted portions of the Balagtas poem Florante and Laura into our own words while following a traditional structure of four lines per stanza with twelve syllables per line. Extra credit to anyone who could squeeze in a pause after the sixth syllable of each line. We were also working with a time limit of twenty minutes. We were sweating bullets. Afterwards, the results were read aloud. Our stanzas ranged from styles with a modern and casual edge to those with formal turns of phrase. I especially enjoyed a playful take that fused French, Tagalog, and English while staying true to form. The experience made us draw on our creative reserves and I believe many of us were surprised at what we came up with. What do you know- there's a bit of poet in everyone! Anyone interested in exploring poetry further can take part in Len's Poetry is our Second Language (PSL) workshops at Kapisanan later this year.
The second workshop focused on the role of song in politics.You may be familiar with Imelda Marcos and her popularization of the love song Dahil Sa Iyo (Because of You) as a campaign tool for her husband. But did you know that practically every foreign performer who visited the Philippines during the Marcos era recorded that song and that list includes legend Nat King Cole? Mithi explained how Filipino revolutionaries expressed their love for country and desire for freedom from Spanish rule by masking their protest in the romantic language of serenades, the kundimans and haranas. We listened to tribal laments and American influenced campaign jingles, as well as the politically charged songs that touched on violations of human rights during martial law and today's extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The workshop also discussed the growing strength of the imported hip hop/rap genre among Filipino youth in shantytowns to publicly discuss the socio-political injustices and poverty of their daily lives . I thought this workshop effectively fused Philippine musical and political history although we were a little short of time towards the end.
The last workshop was a light hearted and fun exploration of Philippine fashion. Workshop facilitators Jodee Aguillon and Tala Berkes shared their fashion expertise on the history and evolution of Filipino dress (both tribal and European influenced styles). They discussed Filipino influence on international fashion, reminding us that many designers and performers (Lady Gaga must confess!) have borrowed styles like the butterfly sleeves, ikat patterns, carved heels patterned on the humble bakya, and the malong. There were expert demonstrations of how to wear the clothes in the traditional manner and how these same pieces could be transformed into unique and modern looks. Jodee and Tala, who are both former members of Philippine dance troupes, brought their knowledge of how the clothes feel on the body during performances and how to avoid wardrobe malfunctions. They emphasized the symbolism of tribal attire and the need to properly research and present these costumes on stage. Tips on how to care for these fabrics and weaves were also given to the audience. This workshop was well presented, enhanced by the interactive demonstrations, video aids, and gorgeous samples of clothing and accessories. I personally would love to see this workshop grow into a series of classes, perhaps even with a fashion project thrown in!
These workshops were a great way to explore different aspects of Philippine culture. I can't wait to see future installments. To Len, Mithi, Jodee, and Tala- thank you for sharing your time and knowledge!