Traditional artists Mellie Lopez, Danongan Kalanduyan, Cota Deles Yabut, and Melinda Lopez collaborated to create a folk musical theatre piece based on a Maguindanao folktale, Sultana and the Pearl King. This story of the tragic love between a mortal woman (the Sultana of Cotabato) and an undersea ruler of the Sulu Sea (The Pearl King) was intended to unravel the mystique of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines through vivid description of the play’s setting, the traditional costumes worn by the characters, and the people’s customs and traditions depicted in the storyline. The nature-worship practiced by the Pearl King reflects the religion and beliefs of early Filipinos.
Lead artist, Philippine-born playwright Mellie Lopez, was a student of the Philippine’s foremost dramatist, Wilfredo Ma. She is the first Asian trained in the Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in Folklore in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Kulintang master musician and National Heritage Fellow Danongan Kalanduyan is president of Mindanao Lilang-Lilang. Melinda Lopez is a third generation Filipino American artist. Like Kalanduyan, Cota Deles Yabut, who was in charge of costumes and stage settings, is from Cotabato, Mindanao.
The collaborating organization, Mindanao Lilang-Lilang, specializes in the teaching and presentation of the music and dances of Mindanao, focusing on the Maguindanao, Maranao, and Tausug peoples of Mindanao Island in Southern Philippines. Executive Director Danongan Kalanduyan is a master musician, ethnomusicologist, and cultural consultant on Muslim-Filipino culture; he is the only master artist of Maguindanao Kulintang music in the United States.