Cal Poly student J.D. Torres remembers what initially drew him to the Pilipino Cultural Exchange.
“They were the loudest group,” recalled the San Jose native, who became a member after spotting the group as a freshman at the Cal Poly Club Showcase. “The energy and the enthusiasm that everybody had for the club was what really kept me there.”
That same enthusiasm will be on display during the group’s 25th annual Pilipino Cultural Night, Friday and Saturday at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Arroyo Grande. The showcase, which features 44 cast and crew members, celebrates the culture, music, dance and folklore of the Philippines.
“Really, it has its roots in expressing what the Filipino-American identity is,” said Torres, who co-wrote and directed the show with fellow Pilipino Cultural Exchange member Paul Mallari. “You’re American, you’re born in America but you still have those Filipino roots. So how do you reach back and get in touch with them?”
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Founded in 1973 by four students from San Francisco and Delano and chartered by Associated Students Inc. of Cal Poly a year later, the Pilipino Cultural Exchange today features a core group of about 100 active members studying a variety of majors who meet once a week. It’s Cal Poly’s largest cultural student group, Torres said.
The Pilipino Cultural Exchange’s goals, according to its website, include sharing Filipino cultural values and traditions, fostering friendship and unity, and promoting academic achievement through mentoring and tutoring programs.
“Our motto is ‘Your home away from home,’ and that really hits hard with a lot of people,” Torres, a marketing major, said. “It’s really about building community with us.”
Although the club participates in schoolwide events such as Cal Poly’s Poly Cultural Weekend, the centerpiece of its calendar is the annual Pilipino Cultural Night.
Each year’s show revolves around a different theme, Torres explained. For instance, the 2012 Pilipino Cultural Night, which centered on connectedness, took place in an airport where three recent high school graduates meet while traveling to and from the Philippines.
This year’s show, “Bayani,” takes its title and its theme from the Tagalog word for “hero.”
At the heart of the show are two parallel stories — one set in the present day, the other in the past.
Joe “Earthquake” Rizal (Kelby Hertanu), a cocky, overconfident boxer, begins dreaming about Bernardo Carpio (Brandon Dimaya), a popular figure from Filipino folklore.
According to legend, Carpio — considered the Filipino Hercules — used his superhuman strength to save his village from being crushed by mountains that had been enchanted by an evil wizard.
Carpio’s legendary struggle contrasts with that of Rizal, a modern-day strongman whose fame is also growing.
“What you see is that he really doesn’t know how to handle that sometimes,” Torres said of the boxer.
According to Torres, Rizal — who is named after Filipino national hero José Rizal — must learn what it really means to be a role model.
“The central theme … is ‘What do you fight for?’… Do you fight for your family? Do you fight for your village? Do you fight for your culture?” Torres explained. “In every action you do (and) everything you say, you’re essentially fighting for someone or something. Is it going to be selfish or selfless?”
Torres said the central storyline will be interspersed with performances by three PCE groups: the Ating Himig choir, the Kasayahan cultural dance group and the Modern dance group, which specializes in hip-hop and street styles.
The choir, whose name means “our melody” in Tagalog, sings a mix of traditional Filipino songs as well as Broadway show tunes, Disney songs and contemporary pop ditties. And Kasayahan, whose name is Tagalog for “celebration,” performs the same traditional Filipino dances that have been passed down for generations.
“Each dance tells its own story,” ranging from historical events to animal movements, explained Dimaya, a second-year computer science major who serves as Kasayahan coordinator. (Hertanu, his co-star, is the Modern dance coordinator.)
For instance, the Tinikling dance depicts birds that are trying to avoid getting their feet stuck in a trap, Dimaya explained.
The Singkil dance, in contrast, portrays a princess who wanders through a forest during an earthquake. As trees start to collapse around her, Dimaya said, a prince attempts to usher her to safety.
Dimaya, who grew up in Simi Valley, said learning traditional Filipino dances has helped him connect with his grandparents, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in the 1970s.
“(Pilipino Cultural Night) is the best way to give an insight to our members and our families about what Filipino culture really entails,” he said.
IF YOU GO
Pilipino Cultural Night
6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, doors open at 5:30 p.m.
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave., Arroyo Grande
489-9444 or www.clarkcenter.org
For more information about the Pilipino Cultural Exchange, visit pce.calpoly.edu
Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.