“Pagbabalik” (Return)
A Multidisciplinary Theatre Production
Written by Aimee Suzara • Directed by Alex Torres


Berkeley, CA. On June 14, two days after Philippine “Independence” Day, “Pagbabalik” (“Return” in Tagalog, a Filipino language) premieres at the historic La Pena Cultural Center, examining ideas of home, history and identity from a Filipino-American perspective. Written by poet Aimee Suzara, the multidisciplinary production seamlessly blends spoken-word theatre with choreography drawn from indigenous and modern dance, to the score of Filipino and contemporary music.

“Pagbabalik” follows central character Diwata (played by Suzara), a young Filipina-American exploring her origins in the Philippines. Aided by a simple tape recorder, Diwata journeys into a history charged with magic and painful memories of war and conquest.

Suzara draws from her own experience of returning to the Philippines. “In researching my own story as the daughter of Filipino immigrants to America, I found myself creating Diwata and the other characters in the play.” says Suzara. “Diwata” literally translates to “spirit.” Adds Suzara, “I think that anyone familiar with the immigrant experience can relate to Diwata – to her sense of displacement from physical and emotional origins and her hunger for belonging to a geography, to a culture, to an identity. We all strive to fit in to a place, to a people.”

“Pagbabalik” features the talents of key members of the Filipino-American and Bay Area arts community. The distinctive cast of choreographers, dancers, and actors includes Frances Sedayao of the Purple Moon Dance Project and Alvin Ailey Dance School; Lisa Juachon of the Alleluia Panis Dance Theatre; Jose “Flipchild” Saenz, of the film “Flipside;” and Aimee Espiritu, member of the collective Kreatibo. Alex Torres of Bindlestiff Studios directs and Ellen Sebastian Chang of Theatre Bay Area provides directorial support.

Movement and dialogue are punctuated by a lushly textured, live score of traditional Philippine kulintang (bossed gong ensemble) and innovative folk-rock. The music was developed by a trio of Bay Area talents: Ronald Quesada, ethnomusicologist and member of the Palabuniyang Kulintang Ensemble, on kulintang and guitar; musician Juan Calaf on drums and percussion, and Jennifer Soriano (formerly of Diskarte Namin), on vocals and bass.

Begun as a 1-woman-show in 2005 and then developed into a Work-in-Progress shown at La Peña Cultural Center in October 2006, “Pagbabalik” was an acclaimed presence at the 2006 CounterPULSE STREAM/fest: Emerging Performance Festival and Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture 2006. With fiscal sponsorship from La Peña Cultural Center, the production has received grants from the Zellerbach Family Foundation to support the Work-in-Progress.

The interwoven themes of homeland, genealogy, and migration speak with urgency to both younger and older generations. As one audience member expressed, “This show is what Fil-Ams need to begin to dialogue about our experiences as visitors in our homeland and the similarities other immigrants in the U.S. share.”

The production highlights Philippine Independence Day, on June 12. Although Spanish colonial rule is comparatively well-known, the complex relationship between the US and the Philippines is absent from most history textbooks. On June 12, 1898, Filipinos revolutionary forces declared sovereignty and independence from four centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Yet this declaration was unrecognized by the United States and by Spain, who ceded the Philippines under the Treaty of Paris. The years were followed by the bloody Philippine American war, in which over 500,000 Filipinos were killed. “Looking into the complex history of the US colonial presence in the Philippines can be a window into current issues on immigration,” says Suzara.

“In the context of what’s going on for us socially and politically right now in our communities, with the issues around the right to return, issues around immigration, and people finding home, this piece has vital importance,” says Alli Chagi-Starr, an arts activist who works with the Ella Baker Center. “I think it is critical that people learn about this history in the Philippines and hear this one woman’s story.”

States Jennifer Soriano: “There are artists who people remember as speaking to a generation. And I think that’s what Aimee’s becoming. She represents a generation of young people searching for their roots.”

Pagbabalik is made possible with support from the Zellerbach Family Foundation. Special thanks to sponsors Nursha Project and the Trinity Wolf Network and to Bindlestiff Studio, La Peña Cultural Center, and Epic Arts.

CONTACT: Bushmama at

Work-in-Progress with Post-Show Discussion:
May 24, 25 & 26, 8pm ($10-$15)
Bindlestiff Studio, 505 Natoma Street , San Francisco • (415) 255-0440

World Premiere of Full Production:
June 14, Preview Night, 7:30pm (pay what you can)
June 15 & 16, 8pm, $10 advance, $15 at the door
La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
Advance tickets available at and (510) 849-2568 x20

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