LIKHA – 25 Years of Promoting Philippine Dance and Culture

 LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble. (Photo by pc@amazestudios)

LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble. (Photo by pc@amazestudios)

This year marks 25 years of perhaps the most exhilarating performances by an iconic group in San Francisco’s Filipino American community. LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble has been an envoy for Filipino culture through dance and music since 1992 when it was founded by Rudi C. Soriano, a former dance soloist with the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company.

What makes this anniversary stand out from past ones is that the company’s program will highlight signature pieces of legendary dance and music masters from the Philippines, with some of the living national treasures flying in to attend this year’s event, “KARANGALAN,” at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco.

Educating the Public Through Dance and Music

Soriano has an extensive background and expertise in traditional Filipino movement. Aside from being a Bayanihan dancer in Manila, Soriano trained with the prestigious Alice Reyes Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance Company. He also studied under Lianne Dayde of the Paris Opera Ballet and Rosella Hightower's modern dance company in Cannes, France. After settling in San Francisco, Soriano continued to choreograph and at times dabbled in fashion design until he founded LIKHA. In 2001, Rudi was honored with the Pamana Award for Folk Dance Arts Education and in 2007 he was awarded an outstanding choreographer award by World Arts West, the organizers of the acclaimed San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.

Since its first presentation in San Francisco State University's McKenna Theatre, the goal of LIKHA, which means creation in Filipino, has been to collect and preserve indigenous Philippine art forms as expressed in music, literature, dance, arts, crafts and costumes.

Exposure in the Bay Area

LIKHA has made big strides in becoming well known in the world of dance in San Francisco as well as all over the United States and Europe. Their yearly performances have wowed audiences as they employed authentic dance moves, music and costumes straight from the Philippines where its members go for research and training with the original masters.

LIKHA has represented Philippine culture by participating in many international folkloric festivals not only in the US but across the globe, including Belgium, Peru, Italy, Greece, Netherlands, France, Canada and Brazil.

 LIKHA dancer poses for a photo with Dutch teens during their tour in Netherlands. (Photo by pc@maedayimages)

LIKHA dancer poses for a photo with Dutch teens during their tour in Netherlands. (Photo by pc@maedayimages)

It also performs in major events in the Bay Area sports arena. “We started Filipino Heritage Night with the San Francisco Giants years ago,” said Mae Oliveros, communications director and dancer. “This has become now an annual event – we are called to perform for the SF Giants once or twice a year.”

LIKHA also performs with the Oakland Raiders and the Warriors, is part of the annual SF Ethnic Dance Festival and featured in events for the Filipino American National Historical Society. Its presence in San Francisco and the Bay Area has made it the most called upon Filipino folk ensemble, not just for its outstanding performances, but also for its authentic and vibrant costume design, props and accessories and live music that bring the audience straight to the mountains of Benguet, or the shores of Zamboanga.

 LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble performing tinikling during a Warriors Game. (Photo by pc@amazestudios)

LIKHA Pilipino Folk Ensemble performing tinikling during a Warriors Game. (Photo by pc@amazestudios)

School of Dance

Years after the ensemble started, Soriano developed a youth program called LIKHA School of Dance focusing on traditional folk dances from all over the Philippines, to teach younger dancers the proper movement and meaning behind the dance. Students of this school have been performing live and some have progressed to being part of the traveling ensemble. The school also provides a way for the dancers who were born in the US to learn more about the culture of the Philippines through its workshops, trips and rehearsals.

Carolyn Sideco, who teaches at Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco, recalls how her son Myles Sideco Williams ended up in dance school. “Although I was familiar with LIKHA from seeing it perform at various Filipino cultural events, it wasn't until my friend told me it was offering free adult classes that I looked into learning cultural dance for myself. LIKHA offered the complimentary adult sessions before the kids’ session, so Myles and I would take BART on Sunday mornings to its Oakland studios at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. The warm and friendly LIKHA family created a fun and powerful space for everyone to learn cultural dance.”

She added, “My favorite part was learning about the histories of dances and the symbolism that feeds the importance of Likha existing in our communities. Myles enjoyed learning Sagayan (a Philippine war dance) because he got to learn a dance that included swords and a shield.”

 Indarapatra Show, Circa 1993

Indarapatra Show, Circa 1993

Honoring Culture Bearers

To celebrate its 25th year, LIKHA brings to the stage its new production Karangalan, which means honor. This special program will showcase esteemed cultural bearers in Philippine music and dance through inspired signature pieces of the honored artistic masters. It promises to bring colorful, lively and moving performances hailing from the Northern mountains of the Cordillera region to the Southern islands of the archipelago.

LIKHA is honoring these dance teachers and musicians in its 25th anniversary program by including their distinguished works in the repertoire:

  • Ramon Obusan – Dance (Posthumous) – Filipino dancer, choreographer, stage designer and artistic director. Obusan was an acclaimed archivist, researcher and documentary filmmaker who focused on Philippine culture. He was a recipient of multiple awards, including the prestigious National Artist of the Philippines for dance in May 2006.

LIKHA members were blessed to have spent time with Mr. Obusan before his death. His work in the field of documenting rituals, dances and music of more than 50 ethnolinguisitic groups in the Philippines is unparalleled. LIKHA will perform Obusan’s choreography “Todak” from the Bagobo ethnolinguistic group.

  • Mark Hajan – Dance – Choreographer and researcher of Linggisan, a dance with steps imitating a bird in flight. Hajan is one of the first students of Ligaya Amilbangsa, a National Living Treasure known for her studies and promotion of the pangalay dance tradition of the southern Philippines. LIKHA met with Hajan last year in Tawi Tawi and will present his piece, Igal/Linggisan Samal, a dance originating from the Samal tribe in Zamboanga.

 Elder Tawi Tawi dancer by the sea. (Photo by pc@maedayimages)

Elder Tawi Tawi dancer by the sea. (Photo by pc@maedayimages)

 Dancer with janngay (nails) – Kristin Pahati in Linggisan. (Photo by pc @amazestudios)

Dancer with janngay (nails) – Kristin Pahati in Linggisan. (Photo by pc @amazestudios)

  • Cirilo “Sapi” Bawer – Dance – Educator, community leader and peace pact holder, Bawer is the local ethnographer of Lubuagan in the Kalinga region. Bawer (or “Manong Sapi” as he is usually addressed) taught LIKHA members Cordillera dances, music flute, tongatong (a percussion instrument made from various lengths of bamboo), and gansa (musical instrument consisting of tuned metal bars). Bawer also taught the troupe the meanings of the different weaving patterns used in Kalinga culture. His two daughters will be performing in Karangalan in his honor.
  • Lucretia Urtula – Dance (Posthumous) – Urtula was a choreographer, dance educator and researcher. She was the founding dance director of Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company, choreographing artistic dances based on her extensive research on ethnic dances. She was named as National Artist for Dance in 1988. In her honor, LIKHA will be performing Singkil Bayanihan, a staged adaptation of the famous Muslim dance that, in contrast to the traditional Kasingkil, includes men and more sets of bamboo poles.

  • Earl C. Pasilan – Dance – “Ethno choreologist and ethnologist, whose love of indigenous music, dance, textile, weaving and dress influenced and shaped the arts.” LIKHA will perform Pasilan’s signature piece, Pansak si Laley, a Yakan dance of Basilan.

  • Uwang Ahadas – Music – LIKHA’s research in 2016 led them to the doorsteps of Uwang Ahadas, another national living treasure. Ahadas, who is nearly blind, is a Yakan master musician whose instrumental music connects the agricultural cycle with the social realm. His signature piece, Kayu, will be performed in KARANGALAN. Unfortunately, because of his age, Ahadas will not be able to attend.

  • Bryan Pangilinan – Music – Composer of music for Seguedillas. Pangilinan offers a statement for KARANGALAN, “Learning about Filipino folk dance and music at a young age was really the first time in my life that I felt proud of who I was and where I came from. Practicing folk arts became my rock and foundation from where I could launch a career in service to our communities. I am forever grateful to Kuya Rudi Soriano and LIKHA for giving me the amazing opportunity to not only create new music with talented musicians and dancers, but also the once in a lifetime gift to share Filipino folk arts across the world. Through LIKHA, I am blessed to have made lifelong friends and build a close and loving community here in the Bay Area. I am sincerely honored and touched to be recognized and look forward to continuing our tradition of creating soulful new works for the Filipino American community.”

It is certainly a “not to be missed” event – some of the legendary masters of dance and music will be flying in from the Philippines to see their works performed and to witness an emerging culture bearer, LIKHA, continuing their legacy of preserving Filipino dance and music in their most authentic forms.

LIKHA’s 25th anniversary program, KARANGALAN, will be showing at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco on September 23 and 24. For more ticket information, check: http://www.likha.org/ or contact Mae Oliveros at (415) 758-3655 or mae@likha.org.

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Manzel Delacruz is a freelance writer living in San Francisco.


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