There was a time that Edmonton's summer extravaganza, K-Days (formerly billed as Klondike Days and at one point, Capital Ex) would feature a country for the Exposition. This July marks 20 years since the Philippines was the featured country, held July 18-27, 2002, showcasing Philippine performing arts, and a cross-section of Philippine businesses, including tourism, food and household products, arts and crafts.
We had just submitted our application for permanent residency for Canada when we received an invitation for our dance company, Chameleon Dance, to perform in Edmonton, for Northlands' Klondike Days, and other engagements organized by the Filipino community. It was an invitation to stay for a month, with a Gala performance at the Northern Jubilee Auditorium with the other visiting performing companies, the Banda Kawayan Pilipinas and the Philippine Madrigal Singers. It was about a 100-strong delegation of visiting performers, in addition to several vendors and trade exhibitors from different regions of the Philippines.
The performances were a huge success, both on the artistic and audience perspective. Our dance company alone had a repertoire of three full shows of modern ballet and folk dances, with a rondalla and two singers. Daily performances were full-packed, and not just by the Filipino community. The Philippine Trade section was lavishly decorated - with life size nipa huts, kalesas (carriages) and chandeliers, giant flowers and other ornaments made of kiping (leaf-shaped wafer made from glutinous rice), to look like the Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, Quezon. These were all brought in from the Philippines.
From the public's perspective, it was a major success, and some said had the biggest audience turnout then for Klondike Days. Internally, there were so many cracks in the planning of the event.
Within a few hours of landing in Edmonton, the tour that we were excited about, and prepared hard for, to represent our country well, began to crumble like a house of cards. There were no arrangements for our lodgings, transportation, per diems, no person of authority, no line of responsibility, and no accountability. We had a signed contract which no one seemed to be aware of, were washing their hands off, and/or were not willing to uphold. We were greatly conflicted about fulfilling our commitment as artists, at the same time demanding for what was obligated to us. We considered returning to the Philippines after a week of false hopes and promises, but learned that Northlands had already disbursed funds to the organizing committee. Presented with our predicament, Northlands released funds directly to us to cover per diem for the 10-day engagement for Klondike Days, which was slated a couple of weeks after our arrival.
It was a completely disheartening situation - laden with lies, and fraud. We suffered significant personal financial loss as we never recovered the funds that were promised us to cover expenses that we personally advanced. We sold our props and some costumes to local dance groups to have money to distribute to our performers. We were in disbelief that our own countrymen would do this to us. It was one of the most traumatic moments of my life. I wallowed in self-pity and depression upon our return to Manila.
To top it all, we were deceived by a couple of our dancers, with a warped sense of entitlement and lack of honour. This, after providing them free training and a means of livelihood, was a stab in the back we did not need in one of the most devastating times of our lives.
It became a scandal in Edmonton after the Klondike Days celebration. Even in Manila, we received emails from community members on its reporting in newspapers and tv news. Community members were protesting and demanding an accounting of the money raised for the country showcase. I realized that we were not the only victims.
Personally, I tried to make sense of everything that occurred, believing that 'things happen for a reason'. And so, no matter how difficult and painful it was, gradually and with conscious effort, I looked for the silver lining in that dark cloud. It provided us the opportunity to visit a city we had not heard of before, but had fully appreciated. I thought of the community members who readily opened up their homes to us at the last minute, so we would have a place to stay. They drove us to rehearsals and performances at odd hours for a month, with some giving up their vacation days from work. These are the unsung heroes who took upon themselves to honour commitments and provided the foundation for the success of that Klondike Days Philippine showcase. These big-hearted people outnumbered the misleading ones.
And so, when our papers for permanent residency were being processed, we changed our Canadian destination from Toronto to Edmonton. The people who took care of us in 2002, once again did the same in 2005. We would meet people who recognized us from the Klondike Days, and even asked for updates. We had conversations with some key players in the Klondike Days debacle, wanting to clear the air. We countered that we did not want to rehash events and no longer expected a resolution. Besides, we were no longer in Edmonton as a visiting artist, but intended to be a part of the community.
We were not the only ones to move to Edmonton after the Klondike Days engagement. Some members of the other performing groups are currently here, we regularly meet up with, and work collaboratively on community projects. And so I look back to the beginning of our story with Edmonton, on its 20th anniversary. A harrowing experience that one can recall now with gratitude. Despite a distressing initial experience, Edmonton has proven to be a fertile ground to grow, and a place of joy. Once a place of broken promises, now a place of fulfilled dreams. Grace from disgrace.
*This article was published in the July 2022 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.
Do you know of a Filipino, or of Filipino-descent, artist/creative or an art and culture event that should be featured? Send a message to PhilippineArtsCouncil@gmail.com.