A Co.ERASGA production. At the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Thursday, October 4. Continues until October 6
Alvin Erasga Tolentino knows how to make a dramatic entrance, and Colonial’s opening is no exception. His deeply personal work begins as the audience enters the theatre, with dark leafy jungle imagery projected on the stage’s two giant, angled screens, rain forest–like mist, and the sound of birds. In silhouette behind the transparent screens, Tolentino holds giant, flamelike bundles of raffia, making them shiver and come alive through dance.
Where he’s taking us, in this atmospheric opener, is vividly into the primordial, precolonial heart of the Philippines, when indigenous people lived off the land and communed with nature instead of a Catholic God. Here, he channels the Babaylan, a sort of mystical medicine man-woman in a multitiered skirt.
Tolentino has always been a charismatic solo artist, but Colonial’s true strength is as a collaboration with Philippines-based artists. Jon Lazam creates striking video imagery, making archival photos of indigenous Filipinos come alive against black-and-white moving video of jungle foliage and beach surf. Later, in the second section’s exploration of colonial rule, he plays with images of retro televisions and horse carts, clever symbols of the American cultural invasion. Meanwhile, Filipina Marie Angelica Armecin Dayao mixes contemporary and traditional sounds into a score that’s rich and multilayered. Colonial tackles a complex, concrete subject—the centuries of domination of the archipelago by foreign rule—but its artistic team takes it to a very nonliteral place, a sort of mystical, meditative headspace. One of the most effective transitions comes between the Babaylan section and the colonial one, when the simple sound and images of repeating church bells become a haunting symbol of the arrival of Spain.
Tolentino is at his best when he’s staying nonliteral with his dance as well. For the Babaylan, he draws on indigenous, earth-based movement, from an ancient time when dance was a spiritual act. And in the final, third section, devoted to finding transcendence over the colonial past—the sinag, “light” in Tagalog—he appears in an ethereal spotlight, spinning and reaching skyward.
Still, Colonial is less interesting as a choreographic study than it is as a multimedia experiment that is coolly contemporary, progressive, and provocative—with a fiery spirit of the revolutionary about this project. It’s a fascinating window into a new Philippines, as well as a new generation of Filipinos and Philippine-Canadians who want to challenge the norm as much as they want to challenge art forms.