It was as if a celebrity had taken the stage in the crescent-shaped McKenna Theater on the weekend of April 1 and 2. A packed house filled the San Francisco State University auditorium, where people held posters of support and screamed loud enough to reach the homeowners across the street.
On stage, a group of approximately 20 dancers sporting vivid costumes performed with bamboo poles, moving in pairs in double dutch-like movement. It was a rhythm they had down to perfection. They are Tinikling dancers, a group of USF students who have mastered this traditional Philippine dance, one which uses the wooden poles to represent the setting of bamboo traps for tinikling birds by rice farmers.
During the dance, a voice could be heard yelling “That’s so cool yo!,” as the theater roared in encouragement.
The largest cultural group on campus, Kasamahan is USF’s Philippine-American organization. Since 1973, they have been sharing annual cultural nights, consisting of song, dance, skits, and spoken word, all sharing what their Filipinx identities mean to them.
This year’s performance was extra special, as it was not only the 49th annual Philippine Cultural Night, but it was the return of the show after a three year, COVID-19 induced hiatus. As such, the audience was bubbling with excitement throughout the performance.
Cat Ling, a sophomore comparative literature and culture major, was one of the spoken word and martial arts performers. After having her poetry read at a prior Kasamahan event, she decided to feature her work in the show. Her poem called “Rooted Love” honors her grandfather who passed away from a neurodegenerative disorder. One of her favorite lines to perform was “I remember his / Scars like bark / Layers and layers of stories carved into corporal parts.”
“Keeping his memory alive is oftentimes difficult for me because of how vulnerable it makes me feel, but belonging to a cultural org like Kasamahan taught me that forgetting the memories of our ancestors leaves us far more vulnerable,” she said.
Ling continued, “My favorite thing about the Kasamahan community is the amount of heart that everyone puts into everything they do. Whether it be adjusting their cast mate’s attire before they step on stage, or looking a friend in the eye when comforting them after a long day, I am so deeply inspired by the amount of heart that my pamilya shares during every in-between moment.”
The theme of this year’s show was titled “Abel.” Abel is an llocono word meaning “weave.” According to the event organizers’ statement in the program, “with the meaning of the word abel, we want to emphasize how each and every community thread makes up a bigger woven piece of our community.”
As cultural co-chair Kiana Star Signey put it, “we truly live in a woven world and it has brought us all here tonight. We have put our hearts and souls into reconnecting with our culture, with our identity, and most importantly with our ancestors who have come before us.”
This notion was woven into every moment of the three-hour long show. “Abel” had its moments of sentimentality, like when Brandon Gagante’s performed spoken word about the meaning of Kasamahan in their life. At other times, it resembled a rock concert, as the audience cheered on the Lawin Lawin dancers, a group of men who shared a traditional Bagobo dance representing an eagle’s maturation.
A series of four skits divided up the separate performance pieces, and followed a shared storyline. In the skits, a group found themselves at the airport in the Philippines for a variety of reasons. The audience followed three different, central characters to delve into issues impacting the Filipinx community, such as the melding of traditional Philippine culture and LGBTQ identities, generational worldview on advocacy, and colorism.
“The skits were my favorite parts of the show because they accurately portrayed topics and themes in life that occur in Filipino households, all the while with a nice balance of humor and seriousness,” sophomore media studies major Scarlet Dumadag said.
Dumadag learned about the show from a friend, she said. As a Filipina-American, she went “to support my culture. It felt so comforting and exciting to see my culture represented so prominently on stage during Kasamahan’s ‘Abel’ show,” she said. “I have never felt more proud to be a part of this community and I never realized how amazing Filipino culture can be, simply because I haven’t experienced a show like ‘Abel’ where I saw so many people that look like me and share a similar identity.”
“Abel” not only shared what Filipino culture has historically been, it showed what it is today, in 2022, in the Bay Area. Following a halftime show from the USF’s hip-hop dance troupe, Junior VarCity, and USF’s Hawaiian dance group, there was a clear shift in the performance.
The stage was enveloped with vivid colors, as the back scrim curtain lit up bright pink. Kasamahan’s Medley Hip-Hop Troupe, also wearing pink hues, danced in what appeared to be a similar choreographic style to an earlier traditional dance, but they performed it in a modern fashion, fused with hip-hop, swing, and waltz styles of dance.
They were followed by the Alpas Troupe who danced to P-Lo’s “Put Me On Something.” Choreographer Unubold Munkhbold noted in the program statement that they “wanted to choreograph my piece to a Bay Area Filipino artist and emphasize some Bay Area dance moves, as well as for everyone to have fun with the dance.”
That is precisely what Kasamahan’s “Abel” did best, merging traditional Filipino culture with modern, Bay Area expression. With a community of more than a hundred performers, and 700 audience members, the show proved that, whether born in Manila or Oakland, one can create an authentic cultural connection.
Prior to sharing a traditional, Indigenous dance in the show, they shared a video of a woman from the T’boli tribe. She sang in her native tongue, sharing the importance of the dance to her community.
Gasps were heard in the audience as she sang: “May you dream of dancing with us in your sleep.” Certainly that is the impact of Kasamahan’s “Abel,” leaving viewers in a trance of astonishment for such a vast, beautiful culture, one that will go on to populate their dreams.
Megan Robertson, a sophomore media studies and performing arts & social justice double major, is the Foghorn’s deputy news editor and general assignment reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.