At 61, Bayanihan keeps on dancing
For more than six decades, Bayanihan has been synonymous with Philippine culture and heritage, never ceasing to showcase our traditional dances and songs.
Founded by the dynamic Helena Benitez of the Philippine Women’s University, the group’s international debut at the 1958 Brussels World Fair was upon the request of President Ramon Magsaysay. Conceived by Luis Araneta and Nang Obieta Sevilla, the Bayanihan presented Philippine dance and fashion with beautiful socialite models.
It was aristocratic impresario Sol Hurok who realized that folk dancing was a hit and offered to bring the group to the US where they appeared on Ed Sullivan’s TV show and a three-week Broadway stint that always brought the house down.
As a young high school boarding student in Barcelona in 1968, we were fortunate to be invited by my mother’s classmate and dear friend, Lucrecia “King” Kasilag, who was Bayanihan’s music director (she would later be named National Artist for Music). To say we were awed and honored to be Filipinas after watching the show was an understatement because of the pride we felt when the Spanish audience rose for repeated standing ovations and requests for additional encores from the dance troupe. It was hard to believe that the performers were amateurs — many were young college students who had taken a school break for the show’s European tour for months at a time.
Dances were conceptualized and choreographed by Lucrecia Urtula (who would be named National Artist for Dance). She would visit tribes and ethnic groups to ensure the steps adhered to the original form, yet would stage them as spellbinding numbers that included the now world-famous Maranao Singkil and Pagdiwata, a harvest dance with breathtaking steps. Costume designer Isabel Santos would rely on her Mindanao background to create colorful and dramatic clothing that enhanced the choreography.
For its recent 61st celebration at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the national folk dance company of the Philippines restaged its favorite dance numbers, as well as new works that displayed the dexterity and skill of its dancers, paying homage to treasured rituals and recreating the beauty of Philippine festivals.
Under the leadership of former member Suzie Moya Benitez, who is currently the executive director and trustee, the Bayanihan is a 12-time world dance top prize winner since it started to compete in world festivals in 2002.
For folk dancing aficionados, the 11th Fiesta Folkloriada will be held on Dec. 17 where award-winning dance companies from Serbia, Russia, Slovakia, New Zealand and Guam will perform back-to-back with Bayanihan at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
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