Despite Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, the shows went on.
The Bayanihan, the national dance company of the Philippines, performed before sold-out audiences in New York and Washington, DC on the same week that Sandy ravaged most of the eastern seaboard. The dance group succeeded in putting the country back on the American stage as it sang and danced its way into the hearts of its audience during its sold-out performances last month.
In a statement, the Philippine Embassy described the performances of the 25-member Filipino dance troupe in Washington D.C, as well as in New York as a tremendous success, saying the Bayanihan was able to help raise more awareness about the Philippines in the United States.
“For quite some time, the Philippines seemed to have been forgotten here in the United States and with its performances here, the Bayanihan was successful in making our American friends remember,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said. “This is cultural diplomacy at its finest.”
Just hours after going on stage in New York on November 1, the group made its way to Washington D.C. where it kicked off a series of performances with a special show for a group of American diplomats, servicemen and high school students.
The Philippine Embassy said the Bayanihan rendered the special performance at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast Washington, D.C. The event was co-presented by the Philippine Embassy and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
“The Filipino people want to give back to our friends in America, so in partnership with the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, we are presenting this special performance by the Bayanihan,” said Mrs. Ma. Victoria J. Cuisia, wife of Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., who initiated the project as part of the embassy’s cultural diplomacy thrusts.
The performances of the Bayanihan at the Jazz at the Lincoln Center in New York and at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. were upon the initiative of the Philippine Embassy and the recently formed US-Philippines Society, an organization made up of prominent Filipinos and Americans whose objective is to raise the profile of the Philippines in the United States.
The performance of the Bayanihan was the first cultural undertaking of both the Embassy and the US-Philippines Society, which was formally launched during the visit of President Aquino to Washington in June.
“I would like to thank the Bayanihan for bringing back to us a recollection of and a heightened awareness of the tremendous cultural richness of the Philippines,” said Ambassador John Negroponte, a former US envoy to Manila, who co-chairs the society with businessman Manny Pangilinan.
“I think this is especially important now that the Asia Pacific region is again becoming a demographic and economic center of gravity in the world and I think it makes enormous sense to devote more attention to the US relationship with the Philippines,” said Negroponte, former Chair of the National Intelligence Agency.
“Obviously in addition to the political, the strategic and the economic, a key element is cultural,” he added.
Ambassador John Maisto, President of the US Philippines Society, said the dance troupe, led by its Executive Director Suzie Moya Benitez, made an impression during its performances in Washington and New York.
“Our job is simply to elevate the profile of the Philippines in the United States across the board so that Americans can appreciate and understand and remember what the Philippines and Filipinos represent to the United States” said Ambassador Maisto, who also served at the US Embassy in Manila.
Members of the Bayanihan rendered traditional Philippine songs and dance numbers to an appreciative audience that included Chairman, Judith Terra, and Executive Director, Lionell Thomas of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The performances brought smiles to those in the crowd and let them have a sneak peek into an aspect of Philippine culture.
“It was great. The singing and dancing were incredible. We really had a great time,” said Chris Esta, a career Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State, who is being assigned to the US Embassy in Manila.
Jesse Gatchalian of the Migrant Heritage Commission also brought to the show a number of his friends who were not able to purchase tickets to the sold-out performances of the Bayanihan at the Kennedy Center.
“It was a really good show, a super performance. The choreography was fantastic and the colorful costumes were a terrific sight,” Gatchalian remarked.
Always a crowd favorite, the Bayanihan closed with a demonstration of the Tinikling, with the children in the audience happily volunteering to give the national dance a try.
“It was amazing. They were so multi-faceted, with the performers able to both sing and dance. They really showed us a lot about the diversity of Filipino history and culture. It was a great experience,” said Julius Ty, another Foreign Service Officer from the State Department, who is also scheduled to leave soon to assume his new post in the Philippines.
The Bayanihan’s performances in two prestigious locations took place as the East Coast began the process of recovery following the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy last week. The performances at the Allen Room at the Jazz at the Lincoln Center and at the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center were the company’s last US appearance until 2015.
The Bayanihan performed six dance suites in New York and in the gala and matinee performances in Washington D.C. that drew raves from the sold-out crowd of Filipinos and Americans alike.
Anna Gawel, Managing Editor of the Washington Diplomat, described the performance as spectacular as it offered non-Filipinos like her exciting insights into Philippine culture and history. “The range of costumes was visually stunning and the choreography and emotions behind the dances were riveting,” she said.
“Seeing the Bayanihan makes me a proud Filipino-American,” said financial analyst Miguel Leonardo of Morgan and Stanley. “Bayanihan celebrates the richness of our culture and it showed through the fantastic costumes, exhilarating routines, and masterful sequences that show the rich tapestry of what being a Filipino means.”
Leonardo’s American wife, Lindsay, said: “I love how gracefully the dances and music fused the so-many varied cultural influences together; it really showcased what a unique and vibrant culture the Philippines has. It was a spectacular show.”
Bing Branigin, Board Director of the Asia America Initiative who has been a Bayanihan fan for years, described the performance as totally awesome. “It was exciting to see a new repertoire. The costumes, music, choreography, and the performers were excellent,” said Branigin, who thanked Ambassador Cuisia and his wife, Ma. Victoria, for helping make the project possible.
“The Bayanihan never failed to enthrall anyone even with their more theatrical fiesta extravaganza in the finale, a graceful attempt to encapsulate all our vibrant and colorful fiestas in one production number,” said Grace Valera of the Migrant Heritage Commission.
Founded in 1957 by Dr. Helena Benitez, the troupe was officially designated the National Folk Dance Company of the Philippines by an act of Congress in 2000. Since its founding, the Bayanihan has mounted 15 large-scale international tours and over a hundred brief tours to international events and festivals, covering 55 countries on five continents.
The Bayanihan has the distinction of being the first Filipino group to perform on Broadway; the first non-American dance company to take to the stage at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; and the first Philippine cultural group to perform in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and throughout South America.
The New York and Washington, D.C. performances of the Bayanihan were made possible through the efforts of the Philippine Embassy and the newly-formed US-Philippines Society with the support of Philippine Airlines; Henry Howard of the US Education Finance Group; Loida Nicolas Lewis of Lewis College; Josie Natori of the Natori Company; Lin Ilusorio-Bildner of the Albert and Lin Bildner Foundation; Richard Lee of the Covenant Car Company; Henry Sy Jr. of SM Development Corporation; Vonage; ABS-CBN Global; Megaworld International; and Dr. Norman and Mrs. Lourdes San Agustin.
(NYNJ Mag November 23, 2012 pg.2)
Despite Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, the shows went on.