barrio and Spanish-influenced dances such as tinikling, pandanggo sa ilaw and a variety of jotas, but also are placing an emphasis on dances and rituals learned from various indigenous communities.
“What might surprise most people is that we learn directly from culture bearers, and our resources are often the communities themselves,” says Hazel Karmaz, the company’s dance lead. “We do not claim to be the creators, but rather we carry forward their traditions and present them to a larger audience. It might also surprise our audiences to know that many of the communities we are helping to represent are not as ‘long ago’ as some may believe.”
She explains many of the indigenous communities still engage in their traditional practices. Dances are learned directly from indigenous groups and, before they are presented, approved by cultural elders.
Parangal Dance Company was started in 2008 by founder and artistic director Eric Solano to create awareness about the indigenous people of the Philippines through storytelling, costuming, music and dance.
“The most important aspect of our work or performances is that we serve as bridge and voice for the indigenous people of the Philippines who cannot be here,” Solano says. “We use dance as a medium to learn about our roots and in return about the indigenous people who are still there today; about their rich culture and traditions and also about their needs.”
Solano says the dance company’s art is a reflection of the traditions of the Philippines’ indigenous people or groups who have taught the dancers through field research and immersion.
“They are part of our process,” he says. “Therefore, creativity, activism, storytelling and performances are developed to portray cultures with more integrity.”
Karmaz agrees that Parangal Dance Company is more than just a dance group.
“I was most taken with Eric’s emphasis on understanding the history and intent of the dances we learn, as well as connecting to the indigenous groups that he learns from,” she says. “Learning from him and the other teachers within Parangal has taught me to look beyond the beauty of each dance, and find artistic and spiritual ways to deepen my connection with my culture.”
Even though Karmaz was born in the Philippines, her first time being exposed to Filipino cultural dance was as a high school student in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began dancing for culture night presentations in high school and college. During rehearsals for one such performance as an undergraduate, she met Solano.
“There are shared values among folk dancers that transcend race, ethnicity and cultural groups,” Karmaz says. “Opportunities like being part of Merrie Monarch, where we are invited to perform among talented dancers who also believe in the beauty of their traditional cultures, are opportunities for connection.
“Parangal often talks about building bridges, and I believe those bridges manifest in different ways. We strive to be a bridge between the indigenous groups and our mainstream culture, between Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, and between our culture and other cultures. The inclusivity of traditional arts allows us to further grow our family.”
Even though they are beautiful to watch, Karmaz says carrying on these traditional dances also is a big responsibility.
“We must be critical, thoughtful and intentional about how we do this work,” she says. “I don’t want to speak for everyone in the dance company, or even other cultural arts practitioners, but I do feel that there is a growing responsibility as knowledge of the culture also grows.
“The indigenous communities we partner with have often told us that they want others to continue to know of their existence, and that is important to me. Tantamount to this is how appropriate the representation is, and the respect and care we provide with making sure we strike a balance between passing on traditions and helping our culture progress.”
Solano says that while traditionally there are dances performed by only males or only females, Parangal Dance Company, as a progressive troupe, tries to break those barriers in their presentations.
The group averages between 20 and 30 performances a year, mainly throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, but also takes part in international festivals, including the Latium Festival in Italy this summer.
During its first Big Island tour, Karmaz says audiences will learn about the traditions and communities of the Philippines that are not typically seen, but they also can expect to relate to the stories the dancers tell.
“While we are presenting very specific dances, the themes of the stories told within these dances are universal,” she says. “I think our audiences can still expect to relate to stories of courtship, conflict, healing and celebration. In addition, they can also learn a little bit about some of the legends and stories, such as those told about creation and how to appease the gods. It is my sincere hope that our audiences will walk away inspired by learning about the Filipino culture, and inspired to do even more research to find the beauty in this and other cultures, including their own.”
Admission for tonight’s show is $20. For tickets or more information, call 9829225.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for Saturday’s performance at Kalani. Seating is limited. Prior to the show, there will be a Filipino-inspired feast. Meal tickets can be purchased by calling 965-7828. All proceeds from this event will benefit the Kalani Renew campaign. Admission is a suggested donation of $10$20. For more information, visit https://kalani.com/events/ upcoming.
For more information about the Parangal Dance Company, visit parangaldance.org.
Artistic director Eric Solano says the dance company’s art is a reflection of the traditions of the Philippines’ indigenous people or groups who have taught the dancers through field research and immersion.