Maség, an Artistic Tempest

Kapre (Gregory Manalo) and Panglima (June Arellano) (Source:

Kapre (Gregory Manalo) and Panglima (June Arellano) (Source:

Maség’s (typhoon) rigorous dance movements, vividly textured costuming by June Arellano and spirited music score that delivered lyrical and percussive experiences in beautifully interwoven conversations swept the audience off its feet during its world premiere in San Francisco last November. The show is a seamlessly sustained, highly sensual moment in time, much like the way I experienced the energy of the Philippines, where the story takes place.

Maség is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Creative Director/Producer Alleluia Panis and Master Choreographer Jay Loyola re-imagined and set the story in the 1400’s pre-colonial time, on a fictitious Palawan island called Puló (Tagalog for “island.”)

“Though the story is not based upon any actual tribe,” Loyola says, “I got inspiration from various imageries of Palawan people—their gestures, physical forms, the rituals, the elements and nature itself.”

Building upon this framework, Maség investigates stories of immigration, subjugation and finally, reconciliation. This theme parallels major elements of Panis’ definition of her career’s work: decolonization through the arts, indigenous spirituality, self-representation, authenticity and striving for excellence.

Maség investigates stories of immigration, subjugation and finally, reconciliation.

What a formidable creative team. Loyola has created over 50 Filipino folk dance pieces that have been performed in Asia, Europe, Canada and the US over the past two decades. When I asked him where he received inspiration for Maség, he explained, “Philippine indigenous dance has been developed and refined into the distinct, systematic structures we recognize in Philippine dance today. In these dances lie the Philippines’ deep cultural traditions. Philippine dance is, therefore, capable of depicting scenes from any time period--ancient or present—in a striking, vivid way.”  

Composer Florante Aguilar was trained as a classical musician from the age of 16 at the University of the Philippines College of Music. He wrote and produced the award-winning 2012 documentary “Harana.” He also composed “Lalawigan—a Tagalog Song Cycle” in 2009, and “Aswang – Tales of Lore,” in 2013.

For his Maség pieces, Aguilar used the script written by Loyola and Panis as his guide. From there he was given freedom to interpret the type of music he felt would be effective in a particular moment or situation during the storytelling. Aguilar plays each of the 17 instruments in his compositions: guitar; kulintang; seronai; hegelung; agong; kagul; bungkaka; kubing; sludoy; bamboo flute; gambal; cajon; taiko; celesta; African shakers; Brazilian drums; Logic Pro.

Characters from  Maseg  (clockwise from top left): Sultan Surab (Fernando Padilla), Kapre (Gregory Manalo), Dang Kalipay (Alexandria Diaz De Fato), Kisig (Jonathan Mercado) and Panglima (June Arellano) (Source:

Characters from Maseg (clockwise from top left): Sultan Surab (Fernando Padilla), Kapre (Gregory Manalo), Dang Kalipay (Alexandria Diaz De Fato), Kisig (Jonathan Mercado) and Panglima (June Arellano) (Source:

His creative process is organic. “In my studio, I’d usually have a kulintang pounding session, often after eating breakfast and being well-caffeinated, to see if something interesting came up. If I found something I liked, like a nice melodic phrase, I’d expound on it and record it right away. I would play additional instruments on top of that and before I knew it, I had recorded all twelve parts and had a six-minute piece.”

The role of guiding the shape of Maség–the storm tracker so to speak—belongs to Panis. Regarding her role as director, she relates, “It is my responsibility to shepherd the vision of the work through the whole creative process. It is also my job to keep the artistic process in line with the core story, while also allowing for creative changes to happen, as they often do during the actual process.”

As producer, Panis oversees the entire project: fundraising; managing budget; hiring and firing of all production personnel, artists, managers, designers and tech consultants.

How did these three artists come together to collaborate on the highly energetic production? It was Panis who, having worked separately with both Aguilar and Loyola in the past, recognized the great possibilities in bringing these two together. Once she confirmed the leading artists, her guidance was “creative intensive; each lead artist worked separately and then the team met weekly” while she made sure the schedule was met. On matters of dispute or disagreement, they “decided consensually, with each one leading according to his/her expertise.”

The synergy from this union resounds on every sensual level imaginable. Since the world of Maség is imaginary, the artists had a lot of artistic license to create outside the boundaries of any particular region. 

Given this freedom, Aguilar says of his process, “I did not want to simply give Jay twelve counts of the same thing just so the dancers could count and use it as a cue. There are usually no regular measured counts, so I am actually amazed that Jay and the dancers knew exactly what and when to do certain movements.”

Loyola identifies innovation, enigma and physical challenge as three major elements that define his creations. Indeed, the large movements, highly energetic artistry in Maség dances made me gasp with excitement; it’s a sustained, relentless high.

Says Loyola, “Dance is my vehicle to manifest and interpret culture, my platform on which to participate and articulate the evolution of culture as it is informed by my experiences and choices. In Maség, the audience witnesses more than a dance performance. It’s a life experience; Philippine dance that they’ve never seen before. You can let go of categories and boundaries, to be open to possibility and acknowledge that whatever you see or feel while experiencing the performance is grounded in your own personal experiences and knowledge.”

To experience Maség is to be in a percussive, fierce fiesta.

Lisa Suguitan Melnick

Lisa Suguitan Melnick

Lisa Suguitan Melnick is a professor at College of San Mateo, teaching in both the Language Arts and Kinesiology divisions. In the 2014 Plaridel Awards she earned honorable mention in two categories: Best Investigative/In Depth Story, “Celestino’s Crusades” and Best Personal Essay, “Just Because.”

More articles by Lisa Suguitan Melnick:

Eat All You Can
November 6, 2012
First-time visitor Lisa Suguitan Melnick discovers the quirks of Filipino life.

Vangie Looks Back
February 6, 2013
Vangie Canonizado Buell, descendant of a Buffalo Soldier who was stationed in the Philippines, is a beloved figure in the San Francisco Bay Area Filipino American community.

Book Review: A Big Hearted Book On Little Manila
September 11, 2013
Author Dawn Mabalon digs up the past and brings Stockton, California’s pioneer Filipino community back to life.

Celestino’s Crusades
October 17, 2013
Filipinos who own property in California owe a lot to pioneer Celestino T. Alfafara.

Just Because
November 2, 2013
A first-time visitor to Manila, the grandniece of a late missionary nun, navigates its traffic maze to find the missing piece that will fill the longing in her heart.

Rosa Linda Who-Loves–Her-Job
October 13, 2014
In Cebu, the author finds the key to a surly Ice Castle Restaurant server’s heart.