Images of Women: Babaylan Ritual Theater: A total experience-A A +A
Yagubyob sa Bulkan
Saturday, August 17, 2013
EVERYTHING in this world is a dance. Every second of everyday is movement. Everything that has life moves.
The dancer is the purest expression of life, in human form or in nature. It may be a grass dancing to the wind, the bamboo forming its roots or the flower unfolding its petals. There is perfect geometry in all living things and they move in a certain order. The flower follows a certain pattern according to its species.
All of which as a process comes from the infinite mystery, the unconscious, the void, the universe, the abyss, the source, the spirit. Who or what makes this everyday miracle happen? I do not have to go as far as the moon to investigate this phenomenon the body is the most perfect vehicle to experience infinity in all forms of emotions and movements.
In the Philippines dance as theater is a way of life of a Babaylan, the cultural bearer, the healer, the priestess, the chanter, the oral historian in the indigenous tribe. She is total theater in all forms. To meet a Babaylan is to experience a dance, a chant, and epic story, a cure for an illness, a counsel for the marriages, ritual for the sick, dead and parted and the playing of musical instrument.
Babaylans are chosen and guided, but not trained or schooled. They have the intrinsic quality with a natural sense of things and deep understanding of philosophy and spirituality. It is the work of the spirit world, rather than the work of man, to train a Babaylan who get inspirations from their dreams and cultural affinity handed down by their parents.
In the study of Physical Theater, acting through dance, images and sound occur interchangeably. "Creation occurs through the body rather than the mind," where "acting is about liberating the imagination" according to Dymphna Callery in her book “Through the Body.” Theater as an art has evolved incorporating image, sound, words and dance.
Jerzy Grotowski emphasized that to make acting a real spectacle, the mastery of spontaneity and discipline should come together. In her book “Through the Body,” Callery wrote that in improvisation, the starting point and process may begin in a blot then it gives birth to a thousand more ideas. Improvisation used as theater technique with preparation through play, games and rehearsals will reflect the kind of involvement of actors in the actual play. In this book the author mentioned and I quote "We do not go to theater to understand but to experience."
In indigenous communities in the Philippines, there is no specific dance floor or stage for performances, but it is present everywhere, everyplace is performance space, theater is their way of life such as in rituals, prayers, weddings, death etc.
Nature is the Filipino indigenous performance space and also serves as their inspiration. Nature is their first teacher, their first classroom, their first drugstore and their first character formations.
Moni Yakim introduced exercises on the elements of nature transforming an actor into a character. The study is not about to show the character but to "be" the character. In this model sessions, he used the following metaphors; cloud, fire, darkness, thunder, ocean, and volcano which he breaks up into specific process from tuning up, then exploration of the character, next is contribution, followed by discussion. The aim of all these exercise is physicalizing the character with spontaneous creation.
Given several techniques in physicalizing theater, mime work has given us a new light, not merely a silent action, but a way of problem solving and creating solutions through body images. Training with mime develops technique to be present in the imaginary world. It is marriage of both the body and mind to make mime work, which needs a great depth of internalization.
In the indigenous practice, the rituals are powerful spiritual theater where the center is God. In the pre-colonial indigenous "Lumad" culture, God has no image or a face and considered present in all nature. For the Lumads, God is all. When a river is destroyed, God is destroyed. It is the integral part of their community life. Everything is centered in this spirituality that reflects all their values and relationship. There is a ritual for every occasion or event which is actual theater in everyday life. One can witness a lavish wedding ritual, welcome ritual to a morning ritual of a death or an accident. Everything is theater; however the dialogue does not only happen between humans. There are many other unseen characters. They are invisible spirits, but the Babaylan communicates with them in the present time with words, movements and chants. Sometimes the Babaylans become the channel or are consumed by the unseen character and some extraordinary event that may happen.
The Babaylan can go in a trance and the instinctive self comes into contact with human. Yakim describes in his book the instinctive self as the one that has no calculated reaction to inner urges that does not plan and respond without the use of the intellect. This is the realm of the innocent, of pure manifestation of non-judgment, a state of no right or wrong. This is the experience of the now, where actors act instinctively, which brings out spontaneity. In this state, the actor reveals the truth and being in the moment as a character.
Yakim noted that there are "three components in the instinctive self which is a combination of instinct, spontaneity and truthfulness. They cannot be separated. The practice of the instinctive self, the releasing of your instincts, is what enables you as an actor to physicalize your character with increased truth, believability and strength. The intensity of your reactions is the measure of the passion portrayed." Yakim explained more in detail that the instinctive experience becomes the actor’s impulses that are sensitive, alert and exposed. The degree of stimulus impact touches the actors and reflects the intensity of their reaction.”
Dance as healing art
In the context of my study, what is essential in this movement of ritual dance is the healing that goes with it. It is pure theater when people engage in powerful movements, sometimes fully engaged with themselves like solo performers but also sometimes as a medium of a higher self.
This is a spectacle that many of who have experienced it would say, “it's beyond words.” The actor is not aware of the actions or movements while being in a trance. So this kind of making it a physical experience is not meant for performance, but rather as a spiritual enhancement of the actors.
The woman: The dance artist as babaylan
In Mindanao, we have one respected choreographer Agnes Locsin, former artistic director of ballet Philippines, who has experimented with many ethnic inspired creations. One of the most powerful unforgettable experiences of Agnes’ work was the dance of the "Babaylan" in Encantada that was showcased in 2002. The statements below are an excerpt from Agnes Locsin’s forthcoming book, Philippine Neo-Ethnic Choreography: A Creative Process citing the ethnic influences in the contemporary work of Filipino dance artists and choreographers.
"In transforming ethnic dance to neo-ethnic, it is a must to first align the mind to the fact that the creation of a new work, even though ethnic inspired, is simply that—a creation. And, since it is to be neo-ethnic, its intention as an artwork should pay tribute to the source of origin.” Locsin added, “Authentic ethnic dance loses its magic when performed away from its natural environment.” In many cases, some artists were not careful of the details that they lose the authenticity of their work.
Myra Beltran known for her artistic direction in Philippines and who was originally trained in ballet, trained abroad for 7 years, asked the following questions to herself, when she came back to the Philippines, about dance as an artistic practice.
"How does one exist as a dance artist in the Philippines? What is the root of our dance, and would our culture, therefore, support a dance artist?"
Then she encountered the story of the story of the "Babaylan as dancer, creator and the original and true Filipina dance artist." Babaylan considered the "mediator between the two worlds." The Babaylan becomes the medium of performance in her own community while invoking powerful images from the spirit world which are then communicated through her dances. In the way of the Babaylan, "spirituality preserved the erotic - sensual, senate and ever present, human body" where both the physical and spiritual vision of dance is present. In her individual process of her studies about the Baybaylan, she gained an important insight on "the naming of bones" as part of Bagobo (tribal community in Mindanao) myth.
From Myra's own words, this is how she states her vision: "What is important for me as a practicing dance artist is not the outward form, but the tradition of radical revisionings, imaginings that are the tradition of the Babaylan.
Hence, I view contemporary choreography as a ‘critical practice’ in whatever outward form in takes." "Our duty as artists is to help our public think radically about things, to provoke, engage the audience, to go into those spaces, both physical and psychic, that are considered "marginal" it not slightly "unpopular."(118)
In the spirit of Babaylan, we are reminded of the "resistance" which preserves the "art of making imagery" favorable to the every human being. She labeled here self a "hybrid' which makes her dance radical as she crosses borders. While in struggle to find her roots, she proposes that traditions also evolves with time and space. "This is not the case of the Babaylan. We don't really know how she danced, but we can sense her spirit. It is one that is moving, uncontainable, one which has survived co-optation by any power, and whose mystery is its weapon for survival."
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 18, 2013.