FIELDNOTES: Losing and “YouTubing” the Pantomina

Tito Genova Valiente How does one present Bikol to the world outside? We can talk about the food, for if there is an element in our culture that differentiates us from other cultures, it is the food we prepare: the coconut and the sili. Or, it could be the songs we sing and the dances we dance. Last year, I have witnessed weddings where the dance was featured at the heart of the celebration. It was not the usual dance that wedding coordinators decide upon or the dance that the newly wed opted to memorialize that night; it was the Pantomina. Rightly so: the Pantomina is a courtship dance. Some people describe it as a mating dance. The couple imitate the movement of the fowls – the rooster and the hen – as they initiate a mating. There are no graceful movement because the fowls are never graceful. Or, if you wish, the dance is no more a dance that a simulacra – a representation of something else happening in a ritual. In certain places and in Samar-Leyte area, dance authorities talk of “Sinalampati,” as the dance mimics the movement of two doves when they are in heat. What is Pantomina indeed? Is there an authentic form? To know the dance is to look at the conditions where you find the dance. As with all folk practices, modern societies always resort to gentrification. This is the process where affluent members of a human group re-introduce practices and elements that are less “vulgar” in their perspective. The process involves a sort of renovation, an introduction of new buildings fancier and tonier that, in the process, removes the poorer members who cannot afford the new, beautiful, expensive things. Gentrification also calls for refinement. One need not go to the actual field or location to realize the gentrification of Pantomina; one has to look at the YouTube postings where the dance has ceased to demonstrate the mating habits of fowls. Perhaps, many sectors find that thought to be gross. In many postings mediated by technology, one can see how the dance is always incorporating a wedding. Even in dance competitions abroad among the Bikolano migrants, the participants make sure there is a couple dressed in wedding finery. In these cases, the dance is no more a courtship dance but a choreographed performance where participants are lined up as in the Western line dance. Dance scholars employ their Western knowledge of dance notation – how to write down the steps of the dance – and, in the process, alter the form of that dance. Last year, I had the opportunity to go to Leyte. As a researcher, I never let the opportunity pass to learn from the field. During the break, with participants composed mostly of public school teachers, I requested for a demonstration of “Curacha.” The dance is a social dance and is also a kind of courtship dance. I, of course, was happy enough that they did not refuse my desire to witness in person the famous dance. The movement employed by the teachers in that on-the-spot demonstration, however, were no different from the Pantomina. The overhaul of the Pantomina manifests itself greatly in the “Kasanggayahan Festival, a Pantomina competition in Sorsogon. The dance which articulates the relationship of couples are now transformed into a street dance. The great question is how to move the many dancers from one place to the other. The choreographers make use of the “paso doble,” a double-step movement that is reminiscent of what transpires in a bull fight. Now, that is a real shift from fowls to bulls! Interestingly, the lyrics of Pantomina Menor, the music done in minor key – more languid and sad – refers to a bull but in a different way. It says: kan ika sadang pa , sadang pa man ako/parabaduya ka/ parabakal ako/kan “torilla ka na/torillo man ako/kun sungayon ta ka ano an boot mo! (exclamations mine). I will not translate all of this because if you are Bikolista you should know the language. Merese kung dai ka tatao mag Bikol. But let me work on the notion of a torillo or a young calf. Examine the Spanish language because there is no word like “torilla”; rather “ternera” refers to a young female calf. The vestiges of bullfight remains. The notions are appropriated. But savor the threat: kun sungayon ta ka, ano an sa boot mo. What a splendid sensuality. There is no need to explain the threat of the man. The words go on to illustrate the sensuality of the dance as the moon is referred to as nag serbing recuerdo sa magka-ilusyon. It goes further to tell us how in the tangpi kan baybayon, igwang natugaan, igwang pigpalaom. Sigh. The problem with cultural description is the lack of sensing: we do not smell the dancers, we do not partake of the sweat of illicit romance. In that note, please find the links below where you can hear the sound, and relish the sentimiento of the dance. On a different note, the good Ambassador from Czech Republic, Ambassador Yaroslav Olsa, talked about the polka and wonders how it came to influence Philippine folk dances, like the “Polkabal,” a combination of polka and waltz or valse. People always speak of the dance as Spanish when in fact it originates in the Czech Republic. So many things to ask, so many things to learn about our cultures and identities through dance before they are cleansed by unenlightened scholars.