In Focus: Singkil

I recently attended the first of two openings of Singkil at Factory Theatre. The show, which originally had its workshop production two years ago, was forced to add a second opening night due to the sell out anticipation for its most recent incarnation. It did not disappoint. For many in the Filipino community the story is based on a familiar legend, for others a dazzling introduction to it. Though what endures is the story that unfolded which kept the show entertaining and profoundly rich.

The play surrounds Mimi, a young Filipino woman who is searching for her identity and is forced into an immediate confrontation with it after the recent death of her mother. As the story progresses we see that Mimi resents her mother, a woman she knew little about during her life; whose human flaws became evident to her daughter far too early in life. The great irony here is that in attempting so arduously to defy her mother's memory, Mimi slowly and against her will begins to become just like her.

This is where the story is at its most interesting. When at the very moment we believe Mimi is falling down the same dark path her mother has, we realize, like Mimi, there were beautiful things about her mother that Mimi also has inherited.

"I had a story in mind and I had to share it," says Catherine Hernandez who wrote the play. "I found a photo of my mother dancing the Singkil several years ago, and the date on the back indicated she was two months pregnant with me. It was a profound moment for me, knowing I had danced this dance my entire life and I wanted to create story about a girl that must learn the rhythms of her own mother by forgiving her."

At this point in the play we are introduced to the Singkil and its mysticism. Mimi's mother was a famous dancer of this indigenous dance and as Mimi begins to learn its history, as well as her mother's, she finds out not only what her mother was but also the core of who she is. Along the way we are treated to the characters in her life, including the enduring image of her mother, her aunt, her boyfriend and her father (someone I want to see a whole play about!)

The set design, bamboo shoots streaming half way into the audience, the music by the ingenious Romeo Candido, and the visual imagery, along with the script is what sets the piece apart from many others that are simply identity pieces. We are treated to both a story of culture but, more importantly, one of truth.

"Singkil is based on an ancient Filipino legend of a Muslim princess who gets caught in an earthquake but is able to walk through the disaster's debris with grace. It's transformed into a modern tale whereby a hateful woman has to forgive her mother after she has passed away in order to put her mother's soul at rest. My love of theatre came from my mother, Cecille Hernandez, who is a pioneer of Filipino folk dance education in Canada. She taught our folk traditions to Filipinos in Canada, both old and young, in order to instill a sense of pride for our culture.

In the development of this play I realized that something as simple as forgiving someone can be the most insurmountable thing one can do - to the point where it can seem divine. I am learning to forgive everyday and perhaps the play can be an audience member's jumping point to start forgiving themselves."

Singkil by Catherine Hernandez. Directed By Nina Lee Aquino. Produced by fu-GENAsian Canadian Theatre Company in association with Factory Theatre. Featuring actors Nadine Villasin, Karen Ancheta, Leon Aureus, Rose Cortez and David Yee. Runs until Jan. 28 2007.

Photo by Mark Mcneilly

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