Blindspot Collective has Dance, Acting, Language, and Culture Come Together in Kagitingan

Paying a Heartfelt Tribute to the Filipino Veteranos who Fought with the U.S Against Japan in the War  

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Bong Cabrera in Kagitingan. Photo Elliott Hefner

I have a special affinity with the Filipino community because first of all, they turn up! When there is a show, an event, whatever it is that has another Filipino, they show up and I just love and respect that so much. Second, we are like half or long lost siblings because we were conquered by the same, we share names, and last names, our currency is named the same and we even share some words too. When I saw the announcement for Kagitingan, I was clueless. Something that is common in my life and I sort of like it because I go in with no expectations. The title of this show comes from Araw ng Kagitingan which in Tagalog means Day of Valor, commemorating the fall of Bataan to Japanese troops during World War II and officially observed on April 9th. When a show has such a heavy subject matter you think, "How are they going to put that together"? and how are they going to pull through? Well, the company Blindspot Collective answered with an absolute slay surrounded by respect and heart. A project that was born from the doctoral research of Dr. Jimiliz Valiente-Neighbours on citizenship and identity, interviewing 83 Filipino soldiers who fought side to side with American soldiers. The production integrates modern dance interlaced with Filipino folk dances and hip-hop with a really amazing break dance choreographed by Theresa Maigue-Bendorf.

The cast of Kagitingan. Photo Elliott Hefner

The 80-minute piece with no intermission begins with the first interview conducted by Evangeline (Dey Ilagan) with a Filipino veterano as he recounts his experiences while other actors come and recreate them along dance intersections that are powerful as they are tender and full of magic and heart. Through these interviews, we see a live illustration of the dichotomy of the veteranos feeling American as a country that fought alongside The States yet, being discriminated against, suffering racist slurs by their American counterparts, not being fully recognized and not having full benefits as veterans. From the late 1940s all the way to 2013 when Barack Obama signed The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law. 
Bong Cabrera as Hermogenes, one of the veteranos, is an interpretative force not to be reckoned with. He also performs the choreography with precision and grit. Jayden Pagsolingan and Joseph Corrales tore the floor with impressive breakdance moves along with Gabrielle Ocampo, Isaac Brieske, and Leobardo Rubio in contemporary dance. 

Kagintingan is the first show at the new performance space in the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego ​which is a black box-type room where sounds can sometimes get lost in the echo. Still, this production was so wrapped up in love and feeling that after a few minutes, it did not matter. Nonprofessional and professional actors made for a wonderful ensemble thanks to a cohesive direction by Desha Crownover that gave space with room to breathe.  

The cast of Kagitingan. Photo Elliott Hefner

Hsi An Chen's set design with a long curtain from almost ceiling to floor serves as a backdrop for the moving tables and chairs that make for the interviews, strongly complemented by Michael Barahura's Rembrandt-esque lighting design that plays with yellows, blacks, and beautiful shadows that intensify the already hefty feelings and reactions happening in the room. Elisa Vedar's sound design has a mad soundtrack that guides the steps and mood.

Another aspect I greatly appreciated and is an absolute value in this production is the Tagalog. I do not speak it, but there is no need as there is such a communion in the room, and, seeing Filipino audience members understand and laugh at the puns makes it even more enjoyable. Dey Llagan who is also the dramaturg for this production, supervised the pronunciation and Tagalog dialogues. Jessica Mercado who played Bella, an interpreter in the Philipines, graced the audience by speaking Pangasinan, another major language in that country. Assimilation is something that sadly, often comes with migration and the language is one of the first to go. Having Tagalog and Pangasinan here with the dramaturgy work and the supervision is the cherry on top that makes this work whole and round paying tribute to these veterans, their sacrifice, and their families.

​Many times, the value of theatre is undermined and truly underestimated. It's pieces like this that show and prove how powerful the art form is. Not just in entertainment value and aesthetics but as a record and education tool as well. Theatre is memory. 

Kagintingan is closing this Sunday and it is sold out. I recommend not giving up and going just in case there is a cancellation. You never know. More information HERE.

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