“Bari-bari, magmagnakami apo.”
A phrase I would usually utter while walking along a dimly-lit road with thick foliage. An Ilocano expression I learned and grew up with, it is roughly translated as “Tabi tabi po. Makikiraan lang (Excuse me. We will just pass through).”
I would often hear bari-bari whenever someone spits on the ground, walks near the punso (dirt mound), passes under an old tree (especially balete tree), crosses a river, or just enters a place where spirits and otherworldly entities are thought to be possibly living in.
Most cultures have their own version of this oral tradition. Cebuanos say “paagi a’ mi” while Bicolanos would simply utter “tabi apo.” In Leyte, they would speak “buyag tawn.” In Negros, it would be “tabi tabi malabay.”
However, every culture says this expression. It all centers on being respectful to other elemental beings, and by extension, to nature.
For La Union-based artists Ea Torrado and Chino Neri, saying bari-bari represents the Philippines’ pre-colonial attitude of respect for nature. The two artists collaborated to produce a dance series – aptly titled “Bari-bari (We Mean No Harm)” – on rethinking plastics and advocating for environmental sustainability and regeneration.
Ea, who is also the artistic director of Daloy Dance Company, believes that nature worship and eco-conscious reverence to nature, as well as environmental awareness, are deeply part of the Filipino cultural heritage.
The artist explored this concept through a collection of seven short dance films. Merging different art forms such as film, visual arts, and dance, the series combined the interviews and the contemporary dance interpretations of folk and ethnic dances in Ilocos Region.
“Bari-Bari” featured Filipino dancer-choreographers Eisa Jocson, Mia Cabalfin and Abee Manotoc who immersed themselves with the land and waters of La Union and Ilocos Sur. The featured artists found their own spot in La Union and conveyed their thoughts on environmental stewardship through performance.
CCP Thirteen Artists awardee Leeroy New designed the wearable arts pieces worn by the dancers. The costumes were made from recycled plastics, which were collected by the Dalumpinas Oeste Eco Rangers (DOERS) during their daily coastal cleanups in La Union.
Collaborating with the local arts community, three of the featured dancers are from Sanduli Dance Troupe, the dance ensemble of LORMA Colleges in San Juan, La Union.
Ea explained that this is their way to “help collaboratively channel or steer the attempts of local communities at environmental stewardship towards awareness, and through creative production.”
“Bari-Bari” premiered in December 2021 as the Philippine representative at the Environmental Dances platform, a global project by Germany-based choreographer Christoph Winkler that seeks to explore how dance culture could contribute to achieving a less destructive way of dealing with nature and the ecosystem.
Tapping various artists around the world, the dance platform features dance pieces from Europe, Japan, Indonesia, Colombia, USA, Uganda, Burkina Faso, among others. Check them out at https://www.environmental-dance.com.
With the support of Goethe Institut-Manila, the Filipino dance series also participated in 2021’s Fifth Wall Fest, the Philippines’ first international platform for dance on camera (fifthwallfest.com), The Green UnConference 2021: Transition Journeys, and Art in Nature: Nature in Art Festival in LORMA Colleges, La Union.
Ea plans to participate in various film festivals in 2022. I do hope their film series would have a Philippine premiere. Their message on respecting and protecting nature is quite timely, especially with the climate changes happening around us.