Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories

story conference b
Tan-ok choreographers and tourism officers from around Ilocos Norte
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director
Aian Raquel, Tan-ok Creative Director

It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.

I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.

Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.

I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.

At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.

In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.

Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012.  Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.

In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.

But why has Laoag consistently won? Continue reading “Notes on the 2014 Tan-ok: Spotlight on stories”

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES

Dear Mesdames and Messieurs:

Thank you for accepting the noble task of sitting as judges in the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals. You were, of course, chosen on account of your sterling credentials and unquestioned integrity.

I argue that no singular activity has raised awareness of and pride in Ilocano greatness more than the two-year old Tan-ok. With tens of thousands of people watching it live and many more witnessing it on television and online, it is no doubt the most witnessed event in Ilocos Norte history.

It is a wonderful activity worth every centavo (or million) spent for it, and Governor Imee Marcos is right to push for this showdown of the respective festivals of every Ilocos Norte town and city. Its return of investment cannot be quantified; in fact, it is priceless. The greatness of the performances on stage permeates the consciousness of our people, who in turn reflect and multiply greatness in their respective spheres of influence.

I have one concern though, and this is on truthfulness. Some groups have won in previous years because the performances were really artistic and entertaining though lacking in authenticity while some authentic festivals lost mainly because they were dull and unexciting.

Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and Tan-ok organizing committee head Ianree Raquel wrote an article for The Ilocos Times when he was still an arts instructor in a state university. It was aptly titled “Awe inspiring but untruthful.” During a municipal fiesta, he witnessed a festival performance which, he observed, gave primacy to entertainment over truthfulness, artistic license over cultural integrity. His essay, excerpts of which follow, details the same words I wish to convey. Continue reading “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES”

Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’

Up, Sarrat Mayor Edito Balintona (left); Down, Bangui Mayor Salvacion Cimatu (center)

In her welcome remarks at the phenomenally successful Tan-ok ni Iocano Festival of Festivals, Nov. 17 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City, Governor Imee Marcos noted cheerfully that the delegations were well supported by their respective ‘stage mayors’, using the term in the same context as ‘stage mothers.’ Two mayors, however, went several steps further and took the stage, the center stage no less, and literally.

On a night of splendid dancing, heart-stopping stunts, and an overflow of Ilokano Talent, Honorable Edito Balintona, mayor of Sarrat, was no doubt the lousiest performer. Nearing the climax of his town’s Binakol Festival presentation, Balintona came out seated on top of a huge wooden structure, not unlike a parade float, together with a lady who, I would later learn, is his tourism officer, Dona Siazon. The mayor, who seemed at a loss, was seen being given instructions by Siazon as the performance went on, no doubt an insult to the efforts of dancers who attended painstaking practices for long hours so that they can perfect their act. But there was one thing the mayor did so well… wave at the crowd, a sea of humanity so huge it could have been impossible for him to resist the temptation of appearing on stage …to wave.

“What is their mayor doing there?” asked some spectators who also made comments that are too disrespectful to see print. Judges, sources say, gave Sarrat’s performance one of the lowest scores.

Honorable Salvacion “Vacie” Cimatu, mayor of the windmills town of Bangui, can surely dance. And I know she can sing as well. It was the second time she top-billed her town’s number. She performed, too, in last year’s inaugural edition of Tan-ok. Continue reading “Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’”