New York-based Kinding Sindaw, whose name means "Dance of Light," elegantly demonstrated the spirituality and folk wisdom of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines during a visit to the recently. Kinding Sindaw expresses traditional myths, legends and fables though dancing, chanting and martial arts.
Their routines can be traced back to the royal court dances of the Maranao Sultanate: A repertory of the sacred, classic and secular that combines subtlety and agility. Dancers in this tradition sway gracefully, waving colorful fans and scarves, evocative of the effortless actions of birds, fish, butterflies, rivers, streams and boats. The rhythmic accompaniment includes a variety of percussion instruments such as a bronze kettle drum set, hanging gongs, cylindrical drums and more.
All were welcome to leave their passport at home for the majesty of this free holiday sojourn to the Philippines — and journey back in time.
In the audience was Nelia Ferrette, who emigrated to Holbrook from the Philippines 20 years ago. She was thrilled to be able to revisit the culture of her homeland right here in her hometown.
"This is a great library," she said. "I'm surprised; I have not seen them for a long time. This organization has been in existence for a long, long time. There are a lot of Filipinos in the Sachem District."
Potri Ranka Manis, the founder and producing artistic director of Kinding Sindaw served as the narrator of this dynamic performance. She comes from the Maranao tribe, and is one of the five percent of people from the Philippines who are Muslim and not Catholic. "Dance of Light" has been touring since 1992. This year they won the prestigious Banaag Presidential Award in the Philippines.
Manis, 50, is also a registered nurse in Queens, where she is known as May. These parables were passed down to her by the Maranao tribe itself.
"I grew up with no TV, no radio, I grew up with storytellers," said Manis. It is her hope that this relaxing and regal custom can be sustained.
Dancer Amira Aziza brought these timeless allegories to life with precision and passion that captivated the audience; while percussionist, Asnodin Dianalan entranced with drumming that sounded like the very beating of the hearts of their ancestors crying out to be heard.
Manis explained that a lot of the stories told come from the Sanskrit heritage of the Philippines. In fact, there is still a lot of Sanskrit in the Filipino language, which many Filipinos aren't even aware of.
"This afternoon we're going to travel far, far away. Are you ready?" Manis inquired of the audience enticingly.
Suddenly, the sound of the rooster emanated, which is what wakes people up in the Philippines. Manis explained that while it is 2 p.m. here, it is 2 a.m. there.
Kinding Sindaw took the audience back to the 10th Century, when the Philippines was part of the Indian Empire, which is from where the Sanskrit originates.
"These stories are not printed in books," said Manis. They are traditionally transmitted only person to person.
The performance began with a rice chant about the sacred ritual of rice blending, followed by a song of the hunting season. These routines were representative of the intrinsic dependence on the land, and respect for nature, inherent in the indigenous people. Manis said, "We can bring these stories home, and carry them with us to continue with the greening of our environment."
Aziza also performed a selection where she wore long fingernails made out of brass. Manis explained the significance of this peculiar prop: The only way modest maidens were able to find a man to marry at this time was to dance at functions such as weddings, shyly with their eyes cast down. Women were not permitted to overtly communicate their interest.
"They say legends are seen in the stars," said Manis, as she proceeded to reveal the story of the sun and the moon.
Holbrook resident, Adrienne Gallo was awed by her introduction to this ancient art.
"I'm not familiar with the culture," she said. "I'm a Brooklyn girl. Where do you meet people like this to converse? The library is a very good source of learning: I saw costumes, learned stories, dances, foods. Aren't we all basically the same?"
Kinding Sindaw is the result of Manis' resolve to not be assimilated by America, but to let America assimilate her as part of its immigrant culture.
"We've started to let the world know about such a beautiful culture and civilization not known, and that will add to the beauty of America," she said.