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Dazzling Bayanihan dancers offer storm-ravaged NYC a ray of hope, inspiration

The world-renowned Philippine dance troupe Bayanihan offered New York City a bright ray of hope with its vibrant and ethereal presentation last Nov. 1 before a large audience still reeling from the massive devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy earlier that week.

The much celebrated national folk dance company of the Philippines pushed through with its scheduled performance called Philippinescape at The Allen Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall in Manhattan as a number of cultural and social events in the city were either cancelled or postponed, including the New York City Marathon called off at the last minute, in the aftermath of Sandy.

Among those who gave Bayanihan a thunderous standing ovation was Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr., with his wife Vicky.

“The envoy bade Sandy ‘goodbye’ and officially welcomed the dancers to the Big Apple,” said Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre who filed this exclusive report.

“What makes this performance particularly memorable is that it took place while Filipinos in various parts of the East Coast were performing their own acts of bayanihan to help each other rise on their feet,” Cuisia noted.

Loida Lewis (left) and Babes de Gulas-Harington — Photo by Troi San

According to Edmund, also cheering in the audience were Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. and wife Eleanor; Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations Amb. Eduardo Jose de Vega and wife Deputy Consul General Tess Dizon-De Vega; Amb. John Maisto, president of U.S.-Philippines Society; NYC Deputy Police Commissioner David Cohen; Fil-Am political and business leader Loida Nicolas Lewis; business icon and philanthropist Washington Sycip; entrepreneur and philanthropist Lin Ilusorio-Bildner of the Albert and Lin Bildner Foundation; and a host of respected figures in the Fil-Am community.

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The two-hour repertoire was divided into six major suites of dances that reflect the rich and diverse cultural tapestry of the Philippine islands: I) People Under the Sun highlights the friendly, sunny nature of the Filipinos captured in Pandanggo Oasiwas, Maglalatik, Sa Kabukiran, Subli, Bahay Kubo, Bangko and Tinikling; II) Mindanao Mosaic features Filipinos who embraced Islam as early as the 14th century with their dances and costumes depicted in Kappagonor, Linggisan, Ceremonial Prenuptial, Paunjalay, Kazilimut-Malong, Kuntao and Vinta Singkil; III) Intramuros of Memory echoes four centuries of Spanish influence augmented by Filipino style and grace typified in Cancion, En la Luneta, Bravo Caviteno, Habanera de Dilao and El Cani; IV) Traditions Renewed presents dances that reinvigorate feelings into ancient rituals and traditions in Mindanao through Tanggongo, Tiruray, Tahau and Bagobo Tiboli; V) Amorsolo is a tribute to the first national artist of the Philippines as it reflects scenes of Fernando Amorsolo’s paintings with Dalagang Bukid, Home from the Market, Ang Tindera ng Mangga, Woman With A Water Jug, and Portrait of a Woman With Flowers; and VI) Fiesta Extravaganza (the finale) showcases the Filipinos’ love for thanksgiving fiestas and celebrations for  bountiful harvest.

“Bayanihan exceeded all my expectations,” gushed Dr. Angie Cruz, a community and spiritual leader, was quoted as saying. “Bayanihan has always been very good but I didn’t know they could still add something new to their repertoire and present it as something fresh.”

Consul Zaldy Patron (who was with wife Sheila) said, “It was a unique, excellent show that is totally different from what Americans regularly see. It was a welcome and beautiful presentation especially in light of the recent superstorm. The production was revealing that it gave the audience a wonderful glimpse of the Philippine culture and history.”

“Bayanihan’s artistic excellence is known all over the world,” added Consul General De Leon Jr. “The dance company has always been a model for Philippine cultural presentations rooted in scholarly research and authenticity that continue to enchant, excite and engage audiences worldwide.”

The Bayanihan performers were led by movie and TV actress Irina “Ina” Feleo, whose striking Filipino-Spanish beauty and disarming moves and stage presence added sparkle to the night. 

Bayanihan dancers with Filipino dignitaries led by Amb. Jose Cuisia Jr. and Consul General Mario de Leon Jr. — Photo by Troi San

Feleo, daughter of the late Johnny Delgado and Laurice Guillen, was clearly a crowd favorite.

“The girl simply stands out without trying hard,” remarked Babes De Gulas-Harington, a Pinay-French, who is a frequent New York visitor. “Sa ngiti pa lang niya makakalimutan mo na ang iniwang destruction ni Sandy. She moves and dances so gracefully as if she really came from the Philippine-Spanish era.”

Founded by the great educator Dr. Helena Z. Benitez, the 55-year-old Bayanihan was only two years old when it made its Broadway debut on Oct. 13, 1959 at the Winter Garden Theater (where the hit musical Mamma Mia! is currently staged) and received the unanimous acclaim of New York critics. Since then, it kept coming back to the US shores to dazzle audiences as a Filipino national treasure and receives generous support from influential art patrons like Amb. Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman of Bayanihan.

This latest presentation was made possible by the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C., the US Philippines Society and the Philippine Consulate General in New York.

After the Big Apple, Bayanihan also mounted two more shows (Nov. 3 and 4) at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“It was likewise received enthusiastically by both crowds and critics,” added Edmund.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com.)

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