Sailing Across the Flow

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

5th Philippine Flow fest

There he was – clutching his hoop as he spun and spun and spun. Lights dimmed and Hallelujah poured over the ears of those who were watching him. The night crooned, “Your faith was strong but you needed proof.” But there was no need for proof – I was unable to look away. His performance made me believe.

His name was Daniel Darwin and he was one of the many flow artists who performed during that cool, crisp evening in early April. On a makeshift stage, the sandy floor as the seats, they brought the “flow” to life. They were one with fire, or with whatever object they’d chosen to wield. They were transported to some plane where the artist and the implement were one and the same. A beautiful thing to witness. 

This beauty was the main theme of the gala show – one of the highlights of the Philippine Flow Fest (PFF).

On a weekend in April, individuals who take interest in what was called the flow arts gathered in Kapitan's Liwa Surf Resort in Zambales for a 3-day affair. On its 5th run, PFF continued to celebrate movement-based disciplines that included dance, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation. But it was more a camp than a festival. 

During the day, there were workshops. Established flow artists from all over the globe shared their craft through intimate skill-sharing sessions. These workshops were done under a talisay canopy or amid a grove of agoho trees, and were neither mandatory nor formal. They were eclectic too. Along with the flow arts disciplines were sessions on yoga, beatboxing, and shibori – a Japanese tie-dye technique. Attendees were also free to just grab one of the many props lying around and practice on their own. You couldn’t go far without bumping into an aspiring juggler or an emerging hooper. Some could watch visual artists Dee Jae Paeste, and Piaget Martelino creating masterpieces on the spot. And all throughout, the pervasive beating of dabakan drums was heard.

5th philippine flow fest
Shibori workshop
philippine flow fest
Hooper Gail O' Brien from UK sharing her skills

cigar box manipulation
Singapore's Edwin Ong demonstrating "cigar box" manipulation

buugeng manipulation
Jay Firecat of Canada giving a primer on buugeng manipulation

philippine flow fest
Sessions on yoga were also conducted
5th philippine flow fest
Live art onsite

Come dusk, the sunset jams. Attendees flocked to the beach, forming a circle and taking turns showing off what they learned that day. Over the sound of dabakan drums and thunderous waves, props were twirled and fire was “spun”. It was only a matter of moments before the breeze smelled of both kerosene and salt; the warm golden sunlight replaced by blazing trails of orange.
philippine flow fest
The Adinkra Lumads Djembe Community performing with dabakan drums, special participation by some PFF attendees

philippine flow fest
Buugeng manipulator Hanz Pastor trying his hands on fire-spinning

5th philippine flow fest
Beach-goers mingle with PFF attendees to participate in the sunset jam
Then at night came the performances. A crowd assembled around a makeshift stage with just the sandy floor as the seats. On the first night of PFF, it was an “open stage”. The gala show was on the second and final night – a delightful and arresting spectacle brought by both local and international artists including Singapore’s Edwin Ong, UK’s Gail O’ Brien, Canada’s Jay Firecat, Thailand’s Ruby Phonngo, Japan’s Yuta, and the Philippines’ own: Daniel Darwin, EBC Academy, Ehrlich Ocampo, Hanz Pastor, Legato Performing Arts, and Sweet Caneos. 
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The crowd gathered for the gala show
5th philippine flow fest
During the "open stage" night

5th philippine flow fest
Dancing to dabakan
It didn’t end with the evening shows, though. After the performances, a bonfire was lit and the after-party began. The crowd danced to the spells cast by music artists Adinkra Lumads Djembe Community, DJ Abdel Aziz, DJ Cao Ocampo, DJ Mush Project, DJ DBT, DJ Samantha Nicole, and DJ Sapience. Over the same music, flow artists and enthusiasts continued to perform around the bonfire – the Fire Circle.

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I came to PFF, truth be told, having relegated fire-spinning and juggling as lowly forms of entertainment. I blame the gamut of gaudy variety TV shows in the country. In the Philippines, these performances are often treated as cheap attractions. No thought beyond laughter or awed gasps is given to the immense focus and discipline required for the acts. But over the course of the three days, it became clear to me why those who practice the flow arts liken it to therapy. Indeed, it required an elevated form of thinking, great control of limbs and impulses. Like yoga. The benefits are certainly comparable; both body and mind are improved.

The community resulting from the practice of flow arts could be the best proof of its benefits. Being “in tune” is the main goal, it appeared, not just with one’s self but with others. Over the course of the PFF, a bond that extends beyond mere familiarity was palpable. There was a feeling of being among friends and family. It was a culture anchored on trust, so strong that a misplaced iPhone gets returned to its owner in a matter of seconds. The great outdoors was treated with great reverence to boot. It was their stage after all.

The three days I spent in PFF were like a boat ride across the ocean of the flow arts. One in which I’d chosen to be a passenger, an onlooker. But there were moments I let my fingers dip into its hypnotizing currents. That final evening of PFF, the breeze came and went with a whiff of brine and smoke. Just a few strides was the ocean, and above were agoho trees. Among kindred spirits, I sat on the sandy floor, and watched artists create. I danced to dabakan drums, lay under the stars, and saw the lingering trails of flames even after blinking.

I could close my eyes right now and still clearly picture Daniel Darwin revolving, endlessly it seemed, with the haunting cries of hallelujah.


For more photos, check out this Facebook album.

The 5th Philippine Flow Fest was made possible by Planet Zips, The Circle Hostel, Zippo, Tripologie, and B-side Productions, together with Andy Cola, Red Bull, Z Hostel Philippines, Yellow Tail Wines, Yoga +, EBC Capoeira Academy, Flowtoys and Boreas PH. To know more about the PFF, check it out on Facebook

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