Last Saturday, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Kapatirang Pilipino club hosted its 26th annual Pilipino Culture Night, entitled “Liminal Beings,” to a packed Campbell Hall. It was a fun, exciting show, and, although it had its flaws, it still managed to be a wonderful celebration of Filipino culture and diversity.
Pilipino Culture Nights have become an important cultural tradition for Filipino college students, especially at UCSB. According to their website, the first PCN was in 1992 and involved a series of short skits and cultural dances. PCNs now combine cultural dance performances with a stage play, but the story and production change every year.
Prior to the show, a series of short films were shown, one of them being a parody of the television series “My Strange Addiction.” In this parody, the characters were “addicted” to Tinikling, one of the popular Filipino dances involving giant bamboo sticks. These short films, however, only gave a slight taste of what was to come.
The show “Liminal Beings” is about three characters — Rubi (Tyler Dean), Ligtas (TJ Jose), and Ning-Ning (AJ San Diego) — who get stuck in a new world called Kahilera, where everything is in black and white with the exception of the main characters. These characters get caught in a conflict between the tyrannical ruler, who wants to keep everything black and white, and his subjects, who want to return to embracing color and diversity. Throughout the show were performances of classic Filipino dances, which were arguably the best part of the show.
The plot of this show was not its highlight. The scenes were poorly paced, the dance numbers were awkwardly placed, and the mythology of the plot was glossed over. The show also had many important messages, but perhaps too many. These messages ranged from identity, memory, diversity, hope, fear, and love, to where they became kind of muddled and preachy. However there was one line that stood out: America “celebrates freedom” but “rejects diversity.” This line is indicative to the message this show was trying to convey and significant since it speaks to all people, regardless of their culture or ethnicity.
Another important part of this show is its inclusion of Ligtas, the first LGBT+ character in UCSB’s PCN. As explained by PCN coordinator Patrick Facelo in a previous interview with The Bottom Line, he included this character in the story because “[he] wanted to take PCN to new levels and heights that [PCN] as an organization have never addressed before. Traditionally, PCN has been about self-discovering oneself and the exploration of one’s identity.” As mentioned before, identity is one of the many important messages of this show, and identity in relation to sexuality was properly and respectfully addressed.
I can’t talk about the characters and the story of the show without mentioning the audience, which was a character of its own. The audience was loud and rowdy and often interrupted scenes and drowned out dialogue to call out their friends. However, in many cases, the audience made the experience much more immersive and fun. When Ligtas had a cute romantic moment with another character, the crowd burst into uproarious applause. During the more exciting dance performances, the audience would clap along with the beat. The audience brought an entirely new life into the show.
As for the cultural dance performances, there were a lot of impressive arrangements with great choreography. All of these performances incorporated some modern dances moves, but they still captured the essence of what makes Filipino culture so distinct and memorable. Some of the more impressive performances included Sarimanok and, of course, Tinikling.
The Sarimanok performance involved performing stunts and synchronized movements with fans and bamboo sticks. The dancers with fans moved in a beautifully smooth and wave-like fashion. The other dancers balanced precariously on bamboo sticks and did other fun stunts.
Then the show ended with the classic Filipino dance: Tinikling. As I’ve always said when I watch Filipino dance performances, once the bamboo sticks come out, you know it’s about to get real. The performance was fun, intense, and energetic, as all Tinikling dances are. Even if you’ve seen this performance many times before, you still find yourself amazed at how talented the dancers are. It was a great way to end the show and definitely was the highlight.
“Liminal Beings” celebrated Filipino culture and diversity through beautiful dance performances and an interesting storyline. Its message of embracing diversity and multiculturalism was a little on the nose, but it was still executed well enough to leave a significant impact on the audience. It certainly left a significant impact on me, as I can’t wait to see what next year’s PCN will bring.