Unique Filipino diversity the focal point at KCC

PUHI — Ramon Obusan was a troupe member when he last came to Kaua‘i. That was sometime in the 1960s.

This weekend, and Monday, Obusan, now leader of the respected troupe, returned with about three dozen dancers and musicians with the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group (ROFG) that is celebrating 34 years of preservation and perpetuation of Philippine traditions with special emphasis on music and dance.

“He’s committed to showing the diversity of Philippine dance and music,” Jose Bulatao Jr. of Kekaha said as Bulatao watched the dynamic warm-ups of the group members, who silently and quickly went through their paces on the stage of the Kaua‘i Community College Performing Arts Center.

“They’re so dedicated. Committed,” Bulatao said in admiration. Bulatao explained that the ROFG group includes a wide range of dancers ranging in age from 14 to over 40.

“Some of them have been dancing for Obusan for over 25 years,” Bulatao said. “They’re well-disciplined,” said Bulatao, who himself has choirs and dance groups on the Westside.

Bulatao also said that the visiting dancers and singers demonstrate the wide range of commitment and diversity they bring to the ROFG.

ROFG offered two public performances at the KCC Performing Arts Center Sunday and Monday.

Oscar Portugal, one of the leaders for the Kauai Filipino Centennial Committee, explained that, although the group members arrived Saturday, the facility was not available to them until later Sunday.

“They’ve been hard at work,” Bulatao said. “Since they got here, they’ve been working on their sets, costumes, and other things.”

Colorful costumes utilized in the production were sprawled throughout the backstage area of the KCC Performing Arts Center and, throughout rehearsal, the thump-thump of bare feet on wooden floors saw the dancers deftly go through costume changes.

“We can probably get some ideas from them,” joked Alan Villaflor, a local Filipino dance and music choreographer, as he looked at a Styrofoam ball from which radiated colorful stakes wrapped in colored paper.

Founded in 1972, the ROFG started as a fledgling dance company composed of about 30 performers, said a press release from the group.

Leaning on the vast amount of data and artifacts that he has accumulated while doing research, Obusan thought of starting a dance company that would mirror the traditional culture of the Filipino people through dance and music.

For more than 30 years, the ROFG has created a niche in the world of dance as a forerunner of Philippine folk dance performed closest to the original.

In their history, the ROFG boasts over a thousand performances in the Philippines and abroad.

Under the leadership of Obusan, ROFG has gone on three extensive European tours in 13 countries including Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, France, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Austria.

During the 8th Hong Kong Festival of Asian Arts in 1983, critics praised the ROFG members, noting it as “the stuff an arts festival should be made of.”

Bulatao explained that ROFG will be doing a statewide tour with a program created for the ongoing Filipino centennial celebration.

“Kaua‘i is its first stop,” Bulatao said. “From here, they travel to Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, Maui, the Big Island, and finish on O‘ahu.”

The group’s appearance on Kaua‘i was made possible in part through funding from leaders of the Annie Sinclair Knudsen Memorial Fund, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation, the East-West Center, Hawaii Pacific Rim Foundation, the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, and the Filipino Centennial Celebration Commission in partnership with First Hawaiian Bank.

Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

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