MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is home to countless aspiring singers and dance groups. All of them proclaim that what they do comes from the heart. Passion isn’t a hard thing to give if you grew up in what was dubbed the world’s most emotional country. It is our status quo. Thus, performance-wise, it’s become desensitizing and easy to yawn at, at least in our part of the world.
El Gamma Penumbra makes the same claims of delivering with love at the core. But when they take the stage, hairs involuntarily stand on end from the first few seconds of their act. As an audience member, it’s hard to yawn when you have goosebumps and a welling heart. And last week, May 15, their passion translated and overflowed from across the screen, taking the Asia’s Got Talent grand prize along on its waves.
These simple boys from Tanauan, Batangas deliberately tried to set themselves apart. They knew that hip-hop dance groups, which they originally were, are a dime a dozen. So taking inspiration from a YouTube video, they decided to get into shadow dancing, without any knowledge of what it took to pull off the craft. They started out with a sheet of cloth and a halogen light. It was the production team of Pilipinas Got Talent, where they competed about four years ago, who later upgraded them to the use of projectors.
El Gamma Penumbra is a testament to how cluelessly getting into an entirely different pursuit — and succeeding at it — is possible, as long as you’re willing to surrender your body and mind to the toil that it takes. And surrender they did. From the spunk and machismo of hip-hop dancing, the boys trained in ballet and jazz to give their movements a softness and refine the lines that they produce with their bodies — crucial to drawing a plethora of breathtaking pictures onscreen. For a single piece, they usually rehearse for seven days, 12 hours into the night.
BEHIND THE SCENES
“What you see onscreen is really different from what’s behind,” manager Dong Pilotos says. With palpable warmth, he tells us how his relationship with the boys is more like that of a mother and children, rather than a manager and his talents. As a team, they function as a whole body, just as they are portrayed by their shadows. The creative head is the brain, the choreographer the heart who pumps blood into the dancers, while Dong on the sidelines considers himself the off-stage shadow. “That’s how we become successful,” he says.
When they travel and go on tour, it’s more like a family vacation. Dong recalls the first time they ever set foot on Germany. Due to their excitement about riding a bullet train, they boys made a lot of noise. “Gusto ko silang suwayin, pero hinayaan ko na lang,” he tells us, quietly acknowledging the part they played in having him see the world as well.
“I love my kids very much. All of them,” he says. He follows up with fears of the day when each of them will get married, and he is left with only the gay members of the group. “Magtatayo na lang kami ng El Gamma Penumbra Beauty Salon,” he jokes.
PERFORM WITH MEANING
Every performance that they compete with comes with a social message. It’s a factor that they will always embrace. In this, Dong is thankful that the boys are simple people who are used to everyday life on the streets. They don’t need to be instructed when it comes to being keenly aware of the issues our society faces. They always draw from real life, keeping their eyes and ears open, even to what’s on TV and in the papers. Come the creative meetings, they have themes to pitch at the ready. And as cheesy as it may sound, they always bother to inspect their intentions. Are they really trying to send a message or merely trying to win? “Manalo, matalo, basta makapukaw ng damdamin sa buong mundo,” Dong recalls his boys telling him, causing him to swell with pride at the hearts of his children.
In every performance, they aim to leave a mark on their audience. They wish to leave their viewers happy and inspired, even several months down the road when they remember what they saw onstage.
Currently, the group is gearing up for a world tour, in which they look forward to exploring their talent further while representing the Philippines and making its people proud.
“Love your craft,” Dong says to those who are aspiring to break into the business of the performing arts. “At kailangan mapangahas ka mag-develop ng talent.” As someone who works in show business, he knows well that careers die out when people fail to level up, and this is what he always pushes his boys to do. So what’s the next level?