“Splendor of the East 2013” (SOE 2013) has lived up to its billing as a spectacular cultural show. But aside from its being a spectacle of sights and sound, it was also a magnificent theatrical work not unlike a major Broadway production.
The theater goers agreed: Several days after the staging of SOE 2013 on May 11, 2013 at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center in Dearborn, rave comments continued to pour in on the Asian cultural event, which is a yearly fund-raising production of the Council of Asian Pacific Americans (CAPA).
CAPA President Robert Riparip and Production Manager Toni Martinez were swamped with emails congratulating them and the other CAPA officers on their excellent work.
Subtitled “Crossroads – Cultural Influences,” the show presented dances depicting the age-old, time-honored eastern cultures brought to America by Asian migrants. It also featured dances that indicated the incorporation of the American culture into the eastern cultures.
SOE 2013 was off to a merry start with the opening act that paid tribute to American entertainment and “the arts of Broadway.” With Filipina Fely Taghap-Villegas singing the song “All That Jazz,” the dancers, wearing Broadway-like costumes, swung and spun in an ebullient, gaudy way.
Choreographed by Annabelle Cudilla, the dance performed by dancers led by Aimee Calasara reflected the indomitable Asian spirit that “In America – the Land of the Free – we can bring forth our own culture as Americans.”
The second part was presented by the Troy Chinese Folk Dance Group. Choreographed by Janet Yang and Jane Cheng, the dance is in honor of “Mulan,” a Chinese legendary hero whose war exploits were prominently mentioned in Chinese history. The dancers gave a peek into the revered original Chinese theater which is noted for terpsichorean talents of its dancers.
The third part provided a glimpse of the history of Taiwan when Formosa (the old name of Taiwan) was discovered by Portuguese sailors in 1554. Choreographed by Li-Hsuan Huang and Sharon Dow, the dance portrays the emergence of the Taiwanese “aborigines in the world of music and its influence.” The dancers’ green, shining costumes and their smiling faces portrayed happy, innocent natives welcoming foreigners to their beautiful country.
The fourth part was about Philippines-Japan relations. The dance, choreographed by Annabelle Cudilla, portrayed the emotional separation of a Filipina girl from her mother, who was going to the land of cherry blossoms, to earn a living there “so she can provide a better future for her child.” The mother and her child danced to the slow tune of “Hibik,” an original Pilipino composition. This part was capped by the singing of Japanese song “Amagi Go’e” by Filipina singer Fely Taghap-Villegas with the special participation of Japanese Natsuko.
Then came the impressive performance by Japanese drummers Brian and Mayumi Sole who were amazing in their expert beating of a big taiko drum. In performing “Umi Nari” (Cry of the Sea), Brian and Mayumi appeared to pour out their pent-up emotions as they struck the drum hard and, at times, fast and furious. Their intensity and focus were palpable as they echoed with the drum the “Cry of the Sea,” which was about the “flowing emotions we leave behind and irreplaceable memories like the roaring cry of the sea.”
Next came a wondrous combination of colorful costumes and flowing movements. In performing the “Plum,” choreographed by Chinese ladies Jianping Zeng and Susan Qu, the dancers paid tribute to the plum, the most popular blossom in China. The white and red costumes of the dancers conjured a spectacular sight greatly enhanced by the theater’s spotlights. The dance is symbolic as the plum reflects the perseverance and resiliency of the Chinese people.
The Chinese group was followed by the Tagumpay Dance Ensemble of the Philippine American Community Center of Michigan (PACCM) who presented “Polynesia (Hawaii/Tahiti).” Choreographed by Anabelle Cudilla, the dance is a Maui Broadway excerpt from the musical “Ulalena.” Wearing colorful, Polynesian costumes designed by Lulu Rodriguez, the dancers swung and spun as they paid homage to Hina, the lunar goddess in Hawaiian mythology. Hina became the wife of Tahitian God Ru. One scene surprised the Filipinos in the audience by the cameo participation of FILAMCCO President Ryan Rosario, who played the role of God Ru.
The PACCM presentation was made more memorable by the special participation of Gabrielle Angeles, a performer from Los Angeles, California, who mesmerized the audience with her scary aerial-dancing art. She did the aerial dance without a harness, and this made the audience fear for her safety. But Gabrielle appeared fearless as she climbed with her bare hands to a height of about 30 feet. In an interview after the show, she said she is a member of a circus troupe performing at various events and shows.
Then the “Untold Story” about the two Koreas came next. This number, performed by the Korean Cultural Dance Team, resonated the anguish caused by the Korean War that split Korea into North and South. The split resulted in the separation of many families.
This was followed by India’s “Bollywood” presented by the Nupur Academy of Dance. The first dance was “a traditional Indian folk style with the music score set in classical symphony that brings suspense, mystery and climax to the plot. Dressed in colorful costumes, the dancers showcased the blending of traditional dances and new wave of jazz.
Then, the Tagumpay Dancers returned to the stage to portray the Spanish influence in Philippine culture. They danced the “La Jota” which still packs the fire and fury of the dance’s Spanish version. The music shifted from slow to fast tempo which is typical of Spanish dances such as the flamenco, bolero and fandango. The dance was a creative work of choreographer Annabelle Cudilla.
The finale was highlighted by the singing by all the performers of “Let There Be Peace,” with Fely Taghap-Vlllegas leading the singing.