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Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night honors family, origins

Saturday’s culture show Filipino culture, incorporated Filipino dance and music from every region in the Philippines along with contemporary performances, including a routine by Samahang Modern. (Jose Ubeda/Daily Bruin staff)

By Katie Shepherd

May 27, 2014 6:24 a.m.

Growing up, Shawn Semana’s grandmother told him Filipino folk tales about a pineapple, a magical chicken and a terrible, vampire-like creature that eats children.

These three seemingly unrelated symbols came together Saturday night in a retelling of these old stories with a modern spin, penned by Semana, the script writer for this year’s Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night.

Nearly three decades after becoming the first culture night to be hosted in Royce Hall, Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night kicked off on the same stage this year.

The show highlighted the diversity of Filipino culture, incorporating Filipino dance and music from every region in the Philippines along with contemporary performances, including a routine by Samahang Modern.

Around 1,800 people filled the lower-level and balcony seats to watch the night’s performances, among them UCLA students, alumni, and friends and family of the cast.

The student-run show, titled “After Ours,” wove together the story of a family coping with a father’s recent death with traditional Filipino lore. The pineapple, chicken and vampire-like creature, known as an aswang, come to life and meet the Filipino-American family in a museum after-hours, giving the show its pun-intended name.

“What really makes it Filipino is the folk tales,” said Semana, a second-year marine biology student. “To me, folk tales are how we pass down values.”

Samahang Pilipino funded the $45,000 production through fundraising, sponsorships and other funding sources, including several Undergraduate Students Association Council funds for student programming. Nearly two-thirds of the money went to reserving space in Royce for the performance.

Finding sufficient funding for the show was more challenging this year than in the past, said Rachel Joy Alaysa, the co-financial coordinator for Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night and a second-year business economics student.

Samahang Pilipino’s funding applications returned about $4,000 less than expected and the difference had to be made up in fundraising, Alaysa added.

The students involved in the four-hour performance began their education in Filipino culture long before the curtains were drawn.

Despite Samahang Pilipino’s ability to produce the show in about a month, executive producer Kyle Abrantes said he thinks the annual culture night holds more meaning because the cast is engulfed in Filipino culture during a yearlong process.

“The overarching significance (of the culture night) is to have the cast be engulfed in Filipino culture and in themselves,” said Abrantes, who has been a part of Samahang Pilipino Cultural Night for four years.

He added participants learn the meaning behind the dances and songs they perform throughout the year.

Throughout the year, participants practice their respective roles in the show, from traditional dances to roles in the narrative that come together in a musical performance. Samahang Pilipino also offers cultural workshops that teach the meaning behind the show’s dances, songs and stories early on in the academic year and leading up to the show, said Abrantes, a fourth-year biology student.

The Department of Asian American Studies offered a class this quarter that taught the history and theory behind Filipino culture nights for students interested in learning about the culture in a classroom setting.

Seeing people learn about Filipino culture is the most rewarding part of producing the show, Abrantes said.

“I love the fact that when you see someone who doesn’t know what they’re getting into, you see a different person inside and out (after the show),” Abrantes said. “When you look at them, you know they’ve grown so much.”

During Saturday’s performance, a narrator bridged the gap between the audience and the cast, speaking directly to both from his place on the stage. After the youngest character in the show was saved from the aswang by her family, the narrator interrupted the story with a monologue.

“Out of hardship always rise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he said.

Royce Hall filled with gasps from the audience as the culminating plot twist was revealed: The narrator of the story was the father who had died, watching over his family.

After the performance, Abrantes thanked the cast and his family for their support and tearfully dedicated the show to his own father, who passed away last November.

Just before curtain fall, Samahang Pilipino alumni present gathered around the stage to sing the Samahang Pilipino theme song, which is an annual tradition that ends every culture night.

“The song is about doing things for family and those who came before us,” said Krizelle Cuevas, the show’s assistant coordinator for logistics and a third-year biochemistry student.

The show was meant to both honor the values and traditions of Filipino origins and convey a sense of continuation through new stories, Semana said.

“Stories don’t have a beginning and end,” Semana said. “They just have a beginning and never stop.”

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Katie Shepherd
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