Dance of the Firefly

Alitaptap, a new Juneau-based company, presents traditional dances of the Philippines

Posted: Thursday, October 14, 2004

Since July, Ellery Lumbab has been teaching about 30 Filipino dances to Alitaptap, a new company of about 60 dancers, ranging in age from 6 to 60.

All of the dancers are Filipinos living in Juneau. But not all are familiar with their country's traditional dance forms.

"Most of the children that we are teaching have not been exposed to these kinds of dances, because they're Filipino and American, and they are born and raised here," Lumbab said. "The parents of these kids know about the dances, so they've also been helping me."

Alitaptap, named after a Tagalog word for firefly, performed last July during the Manila Square dedication downtown. This weekend they have their biggest show so far, two evenings of dance at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16, at the Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium.

Tickets are available from FilCom (586-4116), Hearthside Books and Northern Echoes Bible Shoppe. Proceeds from the show will go toward scholarships for Filipino students in Juneau.

Slightly more than 700 Filipinos live in Juneau, said Jenny Strickler, vice president of Filipino Community Inc. That group has been together for 66 years, she said.

"We're doing this as one of our cultural activities to share the Filipino culture with the Juneau community," Strickler said. "It's never been done before."

The performances will highlight four different suites, or cultures.

The first, the Cordillera, refers to ethnic groups and communities amid the Cordillera mountain range. They're known for their complicated, synchronized footwork, handwork and fingerwork. Dancers mimic the movement of birds, squirrels and fishes.

"There are nine different tribes in this mountain range, and they have different dances and different cultures," Lumbab said. "In some, the men are wearing G-strings and the music is coming from a gong."

The Spanish-influenced suite showcases dances influenced by four centuries of Spanish occupation.

The Muslim suite includes dances from the southern part of the country, heavily influenced by Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The kulintang, a brass instrument, is often used during these performances.

Finally, the rural, or villages suite, highlights traditions from fishing and farming villages.

"They demonstrate the joy in all aspects of life, utilizing the everyday use of bamboo, glasses, candles, coconut shells, fishing nets and paddles," Lumbab said. "The friendly, sunny nature of Philippine country folk is evident. It's full of frolic and delight, and it's colorful."


When: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16

Where: Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium

Tickets: Available from FilCom (586-4116), Hearthside Books and Northern Echoes Bible Shoppe; proceeds go toward scholarships for Filipino students

Lumbab grew up in the Samar region of the Philippines. He studied folk dance through college, where he trained in workshops with the world-famous Bayanihan Philippine National Dance Company. He didn't tour, because he didn't want to cut his shoulder-length hair.

He moved to Juneau 12 years ago and has acted with Perseverance Theatre and the Juneau Lyric Opera.

"I thought about the Filipinos here, and I'd like them to know more about stage production and performing arts," he said. "Most of the dances that I'm teaching are coming from the Bayanihan dance company."

Lumbab has also studied with the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group. Obusan spent 30 years studying traditional dances in caves, coastal villages and mountains. He now travels all over the world.

"I'm trying to bring all these dances from these big-time companies to Juneau," Lumbab said. "About five percent of the dances that we're performing here have been danced in Juneau. Most of them are very new to the Filipinos."

Lumbab now works for the U.S. Forest Service. Delma Olam has been helping him teach the dances.

Lumbab returns to the Philippines every year. He purchased 60 percent (nine boxes) of the costumes during a trip to the Philippines in April and May.

"Some of the costumes are really authentic," he said. "They were hand-woven by people in the mountains."

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