Pandibulan: Bathing by Moonlight

“Pandibulan: Bathing by Moonlight” by Kinding Sindaw is a new dance work in which a woman from the southern Philippines, working as a caregiver in New York, rekindles her strength of spirit through the folklore and lifecycle rituals of the Yakan people of Basilan Island. Tales of her ancestors, stories of the sea, dazzling dreams of dragons that swallow the moon and magical struggles for the earth and sky at once sustain her and make her nostalgic for her village and home. La MaMa E.T.C. will present the work’s premiere April 22 to May 2, 2010 in its large Ellen Stewart Theater.

Kinding Sindaw (, led by Potri Ranka Manis, is renowned for its majestic dance theater productions which recreate the traditions of dance, music, martial arts, storytelling, and oratory of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines. This piece recalls folklore from the Yakan people of Southern Philippines and is a unique interweaving of traditional Yakan tales with the contemporary issues of modern life for a caregiver with her feet on two continents.

The Yakan people, like many other tribes of the Sulu Archipelago, have their own epics, distinctive dances and folkloric rituals (particularly wedding rituals) which are not well known, even in the Philippines. The movements of Yakan dances are brisk, linear and graceful, imitating the flight of birds and swimming of fish. Mimic dances tell stories of the creatures of the ocean, including sea horses, turtles and starfish. Other dances are based on movements from the rice paddies, imitating their way of life (sloshing through mud) and the creatures encountered there, including a Mud Fish called “haluan.” There are lots of leaps, jumps and rolls, but hand movements dominate the art; they are mimetic and very fluid.

The makeup in this shot imitates the charcoal (black unibrow) and rice paste (white dots) makeup used by the Yakan people of the Southern Philippines. Photograph of Amira Aziza by Steven De Castro, Esq.

Yakan dancers traditionally don a tribal face paint that employs a distinctive black unibrow painted with charcoal and patterns of white dots that are applied with rice powder. Being a seafaring people, their celebrations are held at the seashore. Celebrations enact folkloric myths, such as fights between good and bad spirits. These and other distinctive arts of the Yakan people–including weaving, mat making, jewelry, wood carving and music–will be used in the production.

The name of this piece evokes a traditional Yakan ritual associated with an eclipse. There are widespread beliefs among the indigenous people in the Philippines that in an eclipse, the sun or moon is swallowed by a snake or dragon called Naga. An ancient Yakan belief is that fetuses will develop black spots on their skin during an eclipse, so pregnant women must be protected.

To-date, Kinding Sindaw has debuted five of its major works at La MaMa, each drawn from a separate people of the Southern Philippines. Productions by Kinding Sindaw take on one tribe at a time. Yakan rituals have not yet been presented in an evening of their own, although elements of Yakan wedding rituals had been used in vignettes, without the context of their stories. So this is the first time that Yakan myths will actually be used in a narrative way.

There will be a company of fifteen, including eight dancers and five musicians. Music and chanting will all be enacted live, as will Yakan textile weaving. There will also be multimedia. Yakan instruments used will include the gabang (like a xylophone, made from bamboo on wooden carved base) kulintang (graduated brass gongs), Kulintang a kayo (wood hung laterally on ropes, like chimes), drums and gongs.

“Pandibulan” is conceived, choreographed and directed by Potri Ranka Manis. It will have lighting design by Federico Restrepo and set design by Jun Maida. Production Manager is Diane Camino. The dancing/acting ensemble will include: Amira Aziza, Rose Yapching, Emil Almirante, Nodiah Biruar, Zeana Llamas, Annie Llamas, Cecille de los Santos, Mohamad Zebede Dimaporo, Alex Sarmiento, Jade Enriquez, Shaina Gonzalez, Renia Gardner, Diane Camino, Lisa Parker, Malaika Queano, Guro Frank Ortega and Oliver Torretejo.

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Potri Ranka Manis

Artistic Director Potri Ranka Manis is Bai a Labi a Gaus of Borocot, Maguing, the 15th Pagawidan of Pat Pangempong ko Ranao, the daughter of a Sultan of the Maranao people of Mindanao, a true modern-day princess and tradition-bearer. She was trained since childhood in the traditional dance, music and martial art forms of her people and of other Philippine indigenous groups. As a child, she accompanied her father to gatherings with other tribes. At these festivities, she learned numerous social dances, mostly from other children. She now lives and works in New York, carrying with her a rich wealth of cultural experience from traditions that are now facing extinction. Many of the cultures that spawned them are disappearing. She notes that throughout the Philippines, 95% of the population has been Latinized. Only Mindainao retains its indigenous heritage (it was never colonized by the Spanish). Her choreography is developed partly from her own memories and partly from artists of the various tribes whose traditions are being enacted. All of Kinding Sindaw’s dances are created in collaboration with authentic members of the tribes they are drawn from.

Kinding Sindaw (Dance of Light) was founded in 1992. Its repertoire is taken from the arts of the T’boli, Maranao, Maguindanao, Yakan, Higaoonon, Tausug and Bagobo peoples of the southern Philippines. By asserting their arts and traditions, the historical and contemporary stories of these peoples are brought to life. In addition to La MaMa, the troupe has performed at the Museum of Natural History, Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the World Trade Center, Theatre of the Riverside Church, the Alabama International Festival and various community and grass-roots events. Its La MaMa debut was “Rajah Mangandiri” (2000), an adaptation of The Ramayana which was performed in a vibrant tapestry of royal court dances of the Sultanate, secular dances derived from animal movements, Silat martial arts, colorful silk costumes, kulintang music, gandingan the talking gongs, dabakan native drums, kubing bamboo jaw harp and haunting indigenous-chants from Maranao, Tiboli , Tausug and Maguindanao.

Members of Kinding Sindaw in Rajah Manganditi at La MaMa. Photo by Corky Lee.

David Lipfert, writing in Attitude, The Dancers’ Magazine, recounted how “Kinding Sindaw’s twenty-six-scene compact version packed in ample action and pageantry to tell the story but keep an American audience highly entertained. Manis’s dance sections were a marvel of color and pageantry, and her appearances throughout the show as Oracle and Chanter were models of stylistic clarity. Quick entrances that enabled the players to explode onto the Annex playing area seemed to be her specialty. Up to seven live musicians playing instruments related to those in Javanese gamelan ensembles only added to the fun. La MaMa should be applauded for adding Kinding Sindaw to their lengthening list of dance-oriented companies to appear there.”

The company’s “Lemlunay” (La MaMa, 2003) was a dramatic adaptation of a sacred epic myth of the same name from the T’boli people of Mindanao. “Parang Sabil” (2004) intertwined Tausug dance, music and storytelling with the recreation of the 1906 massacre of the Tausugs, and event of American imperialism that particularly outraged Mark Twain, whose texts were used in the production. “Sultan Kudarat” (2005) was an account of a 17th century ruler who endured defeats by the Spaniards and rival sultans and eventually freed his people of Maguindanao (Flooded Plains) from Spanish domination. The ensemble for this production included four Maguindanao Master Artists who were descended from the Sultan. “Bemberan” (2007) was based on a chapter in “Derangen,” an epic of the Maranao tribe, and culminated in images of an historical event, the American-committed massacre in the Battle of Bayang in 1902.

Performances are April 22 To May 2, 2010, presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in its Ellen Stewart Theater, 74A East Fourth Street. The performance schedule is Th-Sat at 7:30, Sun at 2:30. Tickets are $25, $20 seniors/students. The box office number is (212) 475-7710. Tickets can be purchased online at