14 May 2015

El Gamma Penumbra: the Power in Storytelling

Image captured from Asia's Got Talent video on YouTube.

El Gamma Penumbra, the group from Tanauan City here in Batangas that could not even win the Philippine edition of the Got Talent reality show, last night won the Asia-wide edition of the same show over Mongolia’s Khusugtun.

In so doing, the group finally gave much-needed flesh to the show’s title and concept. I understand from previous readings that even in other international editions of the show, the singers rather tended to dominate. This has certainly been the case in the Philippine edition.

Watching El Gamma Penumbra perform again last night the very same piece that I had already watched on YouTube, I still felt goose bumps all over my body. The transitions were, perhaps, not as seamless as I had seen from the group before; but the goose bumps were testimony to not just their skill but, more importantly, their power.

The power that the group wields is not just in the ability to captivate an audience while performing but, more importantly, in the ability to convey profound messages to that very same audience.

One insight that came to me while I watched was that I did not know how to describe them as visual arts performers. They are dancers, yes; but they deliver far more powerful imagery than the usual classical or modern dancers. In fact, now I think that they are more storytellers than simply being dancers.



That they won last night was, perhaps, even an indictment of the Filipino audience, which often cannot think of entertainment beyond western-style song and dance numbers. I thought El Gamma Penumbra was good enough to win Season 3 of Pilipinas Got Talent; but, in the end, the voting masses were too enamoured with the singers to fully appreciate the unique artistry of the group’s shadow play.

If anything, the reason the group was a hit from the off at the Asian edition was probably because the audiences and – more importantly – the judges, were not kept imprisoned by the usual fare of western oriented pop song and dance routines.

In fact, this was probably the reason why Khusugtun, the Mongolian band, and Gerphil Flores, a classical Filipina singer, got as far as the runners-up positions. Khusugtun, it cannot be denied, had the edge in being exotic. However, it is difficult to imagine that their music had real universal appeal.

In other words, Asia’s Got Talent’s vast audience, perhaps not as encumbered by western pop culture as we are here in the Philippines, was prepared to appreciate acts that were different.

Personally, though, I felt rather sorry for Junior New System, that Pinoy hip-hop group. That said, they were, perhaps, too western oriented to have progressed more than they did.

If we are all being honest, all four Filipino acts should have landed in the top four. That would not have been good for the continental ratings, though.

Image captured from Asia's Got Talent video on Youtube.

But back to El Gamma Penumbra, from the time that I first saw the group, the obvious question in my mind always was, “how the devil did they do that?” Fortunately, the other week TV Patrol Southern Tagalog did a piece on them rehearsing for the show in Tanauan City.

Of course, whenever we see the group perform, all we see are the contours. The news report, therefore, gave some valuable insight on the painstaking work that goes into choreography, not to mention the back breaking rehearsals.

Whoever thinks up the body contortions to create the images we see when the group performs is nothing short of genius. I, for one, will not be able to conjure images beyond the basic ones we all used to create when we were children using candlelight during power outages.

So Season I of Asia’s Got Talent is finally over; and who among us ever doubted that the eventual winner would be a Filipino act? There was talk of the vote being divided because there were four Filipino acts among the nine finalists.

That was always going to be no more than baloney; and, indeed, there were two Filipino acts in the Top 3. The frightening thing for the rest of Asia to ponder, of course, is that there are so many more where El Gamma Penumbra, Gerphil Flores and Junior New System came from.

For all our myriad shortcomings as a nation, entertainment and the performing arts is not one of these. Bring on Season 2!

Footnote: For those wondering about El Gamma Penumbra’s name, there are three distinct parts of a shadow: umbra, penumbra and the antumbra. Penumbra is the region of the shadow where “some or all the light source is obscured.” (Wikipedia) Just nod your head and pretend you understood. Smiley.




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