By Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal
This past Sunday, October 20, 2019, Annielliele Gavino presented Patawali, an immersive evening performance, at the Asian Arts Initiative. The evening began in the downstairs gallery, where the guests could mingle and stroll amongst the art. After being led upstairs, Gavino invited the audience to partake in a traditional Filipino meal. With the tantalizing scent of fish, rice, spices, and flan wafting through the air, the feeling of camaraderie between performers and audience members grew.
After the meal, the dance began. Portrayed by Gavino, it told the story of Gibhari, a young goddess who wanted to explore Earth. Her mother and sisters, danced by Sevon Wright, WeiWei Ma, Maggie Zhao, and Evalina Carbonell warned her not to stray too far from home. Unfortunately, Bighari’s curiosity got the better of her and she went to explore the earthly garden, where she enjoyed playing with her new friends, danced by Luisa Lynch and Julianna Reyes. Having spent so much time away from home, however, she forgot her native language and found herself displaced in an unfamiliar land, a plight faced by many immigrants.
Gavino’s choreography beautifully conveyed the plot and moral of the fable. As her daughter, Malaya Cassandra, narrated the tale, Wright, Ma, Zhao, and Carbonell entered the dance space with slow, gliding steps. Sumptuously swaying and pulsing, they wrapped their bodies in large skirts, rhythmically slapped them against the floor, and used them to hold their legs in a high side extension. The qualitative juxtaposition in the choreography between quick, martial movements and sustained, circular phrases highlighted the dancers’ individual movement styles and emphasized the connection to classical Asian dances.
The introduction of the goddesses seamlessly transitioned into a solo piece performed by Gavino, in which Bighari revels in Earth’s beauty. The choreography featured precise shifts and isolations, smooth pliés and extensions, and a large sheet of plastic that she tossed above her head, creating the peaceful sound of crashing waves. The plastic sheet, a recurring prop from a previous show choreographed by Gavino and Carbonell, Mujeres, created a solitary tone. Slowly, as Bighari realizes she is lost, she begins to shake. The trembling quickly escalated to open-mouthed convulsions and gasps, a beautiful and ghostly expression of deep grief. Desperately trying to regain her culture, Bighari tried to practice her native language and writing. Malaya called out different characters and Gavino traced them on the floor and in the air with her body in an intricate improvisation. Unfortunately for Bighari, with nobody from home to practice with her, the memory of her language faded away, a risk many immigrants face. Lamenting her loss, Bighari’s tears became a rainbow, a bridge connecting Earth with the heavens.
Once the dance ended, the performers strutted across the dance floor in a fashion show inspired by traditional Filipino garments such as the large wrap skirt and glittery dresses made in the María Clara post-colonial style. The fashion display highlighted the dichotomous nature of Filipino culture, as it included native clothing and Spanish influences. It was an excellent segue into the video performance. Presented in the style of the popular Netflix series, Drunk History, the video, directed and edited by Jasmine Lynea, told the story of the battle between Magellan and Chief Lapu Lapu. Rather than continuing his journey, as is often taught in western schools, Magellan was defeated and killed in the battle. This anecdote was hilariously compiled and portrayed by Frankie Markockie as Magellan, Malaya Cassandra as Lapu Lapu, Nicole Fatima Patriarca, Faith Lynn Diccion, and Olivia Wood as Pigafetta (Magellan’s crony).
The evening ended with laughter, humor being an excellent teaching tool. With the dancing, artwork, food, and video, Patawali created a bridge between performers and spectators and cultivated connections between audience members of diverse backgrounds. The show encourages all of us to learn about the people around us and to celebrate our differences.