BWW Feature: Dulce Capadocia and The Silayan Dance Co. Honored At First Ever Filipinafest
Corona Choreographic Chronicles:
Dulce Capadocia & The Silayan Dance Company were the featured honorees for the first ever FilipinaFest planned to honor the late Sonia Capadocia, Silayan Dance Company Founder in celebration of National Women's History Month.
Earlier this year, plans were set to honor the creator of the Los Angeles-based Silayan Dance Company by her daughter Dulce, a choreographer trained in both Philippine traditions and American Modern Dance forms. Silayan is the first Philippine-American dance company as well as the first culturally specific arts organization founded in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles, California. Sonia, in addition to being an award winning director, teacher and civic leader was also a talented seamstress. The Philippine Expressions Bookshop in San Pedro, California offered to create an installation of her personal collection of beautifully hand-sewn gowns and elaborate Silayan costumes. This was to commemorate a series of book readings in celebration of National Women's History Month. As word got out in the larger Philippine-American community, it grew into an entire Festival - aligned to be the first "Filipina-Fest" Los Angeles Festival. First. Ever. Produced in partnership with FilAm Arts (the Association for the Advancement of Philippine-American Arts and Culture) and spearheaded by Giselle Tongi Walters, the event was to take place at Philippine Expressions in San Pedro at the end of March to recognize the important contributions of Filipina leaders who greatly contribute to the civic life of our great city. Important women civic leaders and "movers and shakers" in the community were chosen to participate and partake in an exciting live dance performance, fashion show and festival parade of the handmade garments.
"Her Name is Woman," honoring the life and cultural Legacy of Sonia Capadocia, was to include a performance of Silayan Dance Company's "Singkil Stories" (featuring performance artist Tomas Tomayo in drag to portray Sonia) while highlighting the gowns and garments Sonia had sewn with her artisan hands for her Silayan Dance Company. Philippine arts and crafts would be sold, book readings were to be shared, culinary delights were to be feasted on and performances of dance, music and theatre were to be enjoyed on this day of this first ever Filipina-Fest, an event that blossomed to now receive major funding through the City of Los Angeles' Cultural Affairs Department.
Then, the covid-19 pandemic hit with full force, cancelling the entire festival after months of heavy preparation. Dulce had been rehearsing her dancers and performers, writing the script, gathering all of the elaborate costumes and coordinating the performance programming of the day. She had just finished selling her ancestral home, had just closed escrow, had moved and stored all her belongings in PODS, and was staying in hotels with plans to relocate to the East Coast after the festival.
Through a series of events and with the aid of some amazing "guerilla" filming and editing by Kate Johnson of EZTV, excerpts from Silayan's repertoire were shown in a "live" web presentation on FilAm Arts Facebook page. Filipina-Fest Live persevered and aired on March 29th.
Silayan remains the first culturally specific arts launched in Southern California. The word "Silayan" (pronounced see-lie-yan) is Filipino for "reflection" as in a ray of light. When light is reflected, it diffuses into many different directions creating patterns of shadows and color.
Silayan Dance Company is an acclaimed award-winning Los Angeles ensemble founded in the '70s in the heart of what is now "Historic Filipinotown". Spearheaded by the late Philippine Folk Dance authority Asuncion "Sonia" Capadocia, a civic leader, NEA Choreography fellow, and a schoolteacher by profession, she invited young inner city Filipino-American students to her "Temple Street" home to vicariously teach them their culture through Dance. A performing arts group blossomed. By the late 70's, a 50-member group premiered their first full-length concert appearance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 1990, under the artistic direction of her daughter Dulce, the company transformed from its grass-roots based folk arts identity into a vibrant multi-ethnic group of trained performing arts professionals. Often embellished by impressive arresting film images, photography, set design, spoken word, powerful storytelling, and informed by Philippine field work and research in remote regions of the islands, Silayan's dynamic multicultural productions speak of the Philippine-American experience.
Garnering many organizational grant awards from the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, California Arts Council, California Community Foundation, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, AT & T Association Rewards Program, as well as accolades from critics and audiences worldwide, Silayan has produced and presented its celebrated works in notable theaters, performance spaces, schools, universities, community centers, festivals, and in unconventional venues throughout the city of Los Angeles, the state of California, the East Coast, and in the European Festivals of France & the Basque regions of Spain. Hailed in Ann Haskins' L.A. Weekly Dance Pick of the Week column as "Filipino Dance for a new generation and for uninitiated audiences", Silayan's deftly crafted dance dramas, paired with sound scores by multiple Emmy award-winning Sound Designer Darleen Stoker, investigate how traditional art forms are preserved, influenced and transformed by today's culture and society.
A multiple Lester Horton award nominee and winner in several categories for artistic excellence in Concert Dance, Silayan has been honored by the Los Angeles Dance Resource Center as one of the city's "Milestone Dance Companies" for over 25 years of professional participation in performance, leadership and service to the Los Angeles community.
Dulce who grew up in a dance home, spoke of her late mother - her teacher and mentor, explaining:
"When I was growing up, I often wished I had someone as sweet as Carol Brady for a mom. Instead, I had Sonia Capadocia! In her presence, you either rose to the challenge and excelled, or you ran for your life! Either way, it was never easy. She was an unforgiving and critical theater mom and parent.
But look at all the amazing, creative roads she paved - not just for me but for everyone that came across her often hard mentorship and person. She came from the school of hard knocks so it is not a surprise that her teaching style is a reflection of her experience with the world. She was a graduate of Philippine Women's University, the mothership of the famous Bayanihan Dance Company created to bring Philippine culture to the world. Mom's major was English and Physical Education which means Dance. Folk dance.
Unlike most people who immigrated to the U.S. for work or because they were petitioned by a family member, tragedy brought her here. She arrived in Los Angeles by herself to nurse my father who was in a near fatal car accident. He had come here first from our hometown of San Jose De Buenavista, Antique, Philippines. A scholar sponsored by a cross cultural exchange program between the Philippine and Spanish governments, he completed his graduate studies in Spanish in Madrid and decided to come to Los Angeles to visit. The accident left him in a coma and impaired; my mom nursed him to health and bravely persevered. She moved on to start a dance company and gathered inner city youth to our home to teach them dances. She was a teacher by profession. Most of her students were U.S. born Filipinos who had no access to culture or the arts. It started out as a hobby, perhaps. Perhaps it was a way to avert her sorrow. She did this right after the heated civil rights movement and during a time when women of color didn't have a voice in American society. It is amazing what women can do when they decide to put their mind to it. Weirdly, we grow up greatly wanting to be our own person only to realize that a lot of the great qualities of our mothers are in ourselves.
Mama, not a day passes when I don't think of you; you made us all tough - just like you; you made us all persevere - just as you have. During life's hard times (such as this one), all I can do is get on my knees, raise my hands to the sky in exaltation and give thanks to the good Lord that you were my mother."
(Three Generations, top left, Concordia Estuche, Dulce's Grandmother, bottom left, Sonia Capadocia, on right, Dulce Capadocia.)
The culture of the Philippines is deeply interwoven into all of the original work presented here. This form of dance is very emotionally and truthfully portrayed and I feel there is so much traditional and ritualistic influence in the story of each piece.
The following video running order includes:
"Sign of the Times" television interview with Socorro Swan
Diwata, Fly (music by Danny Kalanduyan and the Palabuniyan Kulintang Ensemble)
Juan and the Crocodile (a collaboration with playwright Ed Ramolete)
Malakas and Maganda (original choreography by Ramon Obusan)
The Legend of the Mayon Volcano
Song for Tatay (Father)
Ma'i Lost (a multi-media dance drama based on Antiquenian folklore on the legendary life of Kapinangan, the Philippine counterpart of the Arthurian Guinevere. The work is informed by field work on the Ati tribes of Panay Islands, Philippines.)
Mother Night (a multi-media dance drama based on the theme of death and dying)
Performance venues include the Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre Center, Keck Theatre, LACE, California Plaza and the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. Film images by Adrian Ravarou, Kate Johnson and EZTV Media, Marcus Flye and Monica Carillo.
Performance: Silayan Dance Company, Dulce Capadocia, Artistic Director
For more information, please refer to http://www.dulcecapadocia.com
Photos: Courtesy of Los Angeles Times' Mike Lucas, Vanessa German, Roger Fojas and Elko Weaver.