American dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille (1905-1993) once said, “The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music. Bodies never lie.” What she said can never be more right when it comes to identifying a people’s culture.
For us Filipinos, sometimes our culture can be plainly identified to just adobo and tinikling—which is not bad, entirely—when we can be so much more. In the documentary Sayaw, director Cecilio Asuncion shows the audience how Filipino dance and dancers are weaved together to celebrate the art.
Sayaw, the Filipino term for “dance,” features interviews with master of Philippine dance choreographer Jay Loyola and dancers from his renowned Jay Loyola Dance Company in San Francisco. It delves deeper into personal adventure of Loyola—from moving to the United States equipped only with his passion for dance, to the dream of elevating the Philippine dance to a higher level.
The film also shows the journey of Loyola and the dancers’ journey from audition to their intense preparation for the annual San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival.
The featured dancers also in the film include Jonathan Mendoza (Principal Dancer, Shaman) Loren Gonzales (Principal Dancer, God of Light), Jadyn Rozzano-Keefe (Young Goddess of Light), Mahalaya Tintiangco-Cubales (Punay), Shinobi Jaxx (Goddess of Water), and Reina Victoria (Goddess of Light).
Sayaw is not Asuncion’s first film. An out gay Fil-Am filmmaker, he is the recipient of the 2012 Outstanding Fil-Am award for LGBT advocacy for his film, What’s the T? Currently available on Hulu and Netflix, with a DVD release date this year, the What’s the T? has been shown in festivals all across the US and Europe, and has won the audience choice award at the Palm Springs Cinema Diverse LGBT Film Festival.
In an interview with Asian Journal, Asuncion explains why he decided to do Sayaw.
“I wanted to do a film that was more focused on my Filipino identity, coming from a film that was more LGBT focused. These are two things that define my identity and I think documentary filmmakers work on projects that are close to their hearts to impart something to audiences.
Sayaw is primarily a dreamer’s documentary. Dance just happens to be the medium I had chosen to exhibit my message—which is to dream and to dream big!”
Born in Manila, Asuncion is from Quezon City and studied at Ateneo de Manila until high school. He migrated to the US in 1999, specifically in New York, and then moved to San Francisco in 2006. A self-taught filmmaker, he actually studied Hospitality Management in NY at Gibbs College. When he moved to the Bay Area, he joined the local film coop.
Before doing Sayaw, Asuncion met Loyola and learned so much about his work and dedication. A creative person himself, Asuncion had danced ballet in his younger years and has always dreamed of doing a film about dance. Also, he saw it as a way of of promoting the Filipino culture in the art form that he loves and giving back to the community by sharing his talent in filmmaking.
“I want Filipino-Americans and people in general to dream and dream big and be proud of who they are. We have a very rich cultural background that many people have cultivated and fought for,” he said and added, “Get to know yourself and share that knowledge with others. We are more than just lumpia and adobo!”
Sayaw is also made possible by Thigh High Productions, co-produced by Brian Anderson, Joshua Jones and Larry Roan, with the support of the Philippine Department of Tourism and SwirlTV. They will have a premiere on Saturday, October 24, at the New People Cinema in historic Chinatown, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco.
A Question & Answer forum will follow after the film with Asuncion and film’s cast, hosted by Michelle Meow. Provided are complimentary cocktails from Infanta Coconut Vodka and hors d’oeuvres from Vanessa Rochelle and My Favorite Bite.
Doors open at 7pm with Red Carpet Reception.
Tickets may be purchased at http://sayawfilm.brownpapertickets.com/.
A portion of ticket proceeds and donations are graciously accepted on behalf of Artists in Motion Bay Area.
*Special thanks to Director Cecilio Asuncion and Power ng Pinoy TV’s Dulce Dizon.
**Photos by Ana Grillo and Vladimir Gitlevich.
(SF October 3, 2014 SF Magazine pg.2)