View from the Wing – ‘Sarong Banggi’ at CCP
A CHOREOGRAPHIC JOURNEY DOWN MEMORY LANE
by Pablo A. Tariman
Ballet Philippines’ “Sarong Banggi” offered a quiet and refreshing contrast to Metro Manila’s chaotic Friday traffic which fell on an opening night.
The road to CCP was clogged with concertgoers literally risking life and limb just to be around to cheer homegrown dancers.
And they were not disappointed.
Opening with a familiar folksong from the north (Atin Cu Pung Singsing) for the Philippine Philharmonic under Ryan Cayabyab who also arranged the selected folksongs, “Sarung Banggi” transported the dance enthusiast to that bygone era when love was pure (and not challenged by prenuptial agreement) and when bad traffic had yet to enter a commuter’s vocabulary.
But to clear the initial misconception, the presentation is not solely about Potenciano Gregorio’s well-loved Bicol piece “Sarong Banggi” but rather a composite tale of a typical Filipino family going through various stages of filial love, some stormy phases in between and later, reconciliation and hope for unity in the end using appropriate folk songs.
It must be cumbersome interpreting a unified libretto (by Dennis Marasigan) with several choreographers tasked with contributing choreographic tales to describe the evolution of a Filipino family.
Each choreographer only had the music and the libretto to guide them and of course they have to show something equal to the length of the music assigned to them.
As it turned out, everything jelled from choreography to costume design, the music and stage design with the dancers doing justice to a story simply told solely through the dance medium.
It opens with a young girl going center stage (after introducing the conductor) and with the curtains going up to reveal an idyllic time in the past.
Easily the stand out is the set design of Ohm David the centerpiece of which looked like a dance movement frozen in time.
“Atin Cu Pung Singsing” introduced the ensemble and the soloists with Rita Angela Winder as the family matriarch and Jean Marc Cordero as the adult Jose, the husband.
Monica Amanda Gana delineated the young Pilar with Earl John Arisola as the young Jose and Jemima Reyes as Rose, their daughter.
Carlo Pacis set the choreographic tone of the story with dances under a large, old tree and introducing the matriarch (Winder).
In Jose Santos’s “Dalagang Pilipina,” choreographer Ronelson Yadao carved witty and biting choreographic sketches of the Filipina as described in the song. Indeed, the qualities of the Filipina in the days of yore would look dated when viewed from the millennial’s looking glass.
Carissa Adea’s work in “Ti Ayat Ti Meysa Nga Ubing” is a quiet but well defined section that served as transition as Pilar is left alone to go back to her past.
From “Salidumay” (Ronelson Yadao) to Malinac Lay Labi (|Adea), you get a glimpse of the young carefree days of the young couple. Then a wedding ensues in “Ilocandia” (choreographed by Cyril Aran Fallar).
In “No Te Vayas,” the young husband hies off to Zamboanga to try his luck and towards the end of the first part, Gregorio’s “Sarong Banggi” (choreography by Paul Alexander Morales) unfolded with dream sequence of a family he left behind.
In this work set to Gregorio’s music, the solo parts of the young Jose was quite poetic and under his shoulder was the task of weaving something out of the composer’s music.
The last part is virtual journey through different regions in the island with well-chosen music dear to Filipinos.
To be sure, everything wasn’t strictly folk music as in the case of the popular “Si Filemon” choreographed by Nonoy Froilan to show the husband temped to stray from the path.
The pathos of betrayal was clearly etched in the Visayan favorite, “Ay Kalisud” and given a moving dance interpretation in the work of Froilan.
The poor wife gets used to living alone in “Usahay” (Morales) and expressed her sorrow in “Walay Angay” (Froilan).
“Sarong Banggi” winded up with party scenes in “Pepe and Pilar” (Pacis) and with the lively garden scene complete with kites flying in Gallardo’s “Saranggola ni Pepe.”
In the end, it was a triumph of the ensemble of Ballet Philippines with an ample glimpse of the good quality of its soloists in the person of soloists Winder, Cordero, Gana and Arisola, among others.
Cayabyab conducted the PPO with extra verve and he was reciprocated with cohesive and truly dynamic sound.
After close to two hours, you realize you have just seen a poignant story of the islands through its folk and popular music.
The main come-on of course was the nostalgia trip which –like it or not – made everyone (notably the senior citizens) pine for the good old days.
Co-presented by the Albay Provincial Government headed by Gov. Joey Salceda, the gala night (and the last Sunday performance as well) saw the presence of many Albayanos in the audience.
Among them was Sto. Domingo Mayor Herbie Aguas who was instrumental in bringing the remains of composer Gregorio from La Loma Cemetery to his Albay birthplace.
Gov. Salceda reiterated his commitments to the arts as a way of giving back to his constituents and as a tool to make them aware of their cultural heritage. “By highlighting the music of Gregorio in this presentation,” the governor noted, “the Albayanos prove their distinct cultural heritage in an evening that showed the best from other regions as well. Finally, we Albayanos will hear a live rendition of the Gregorio favorite through the national orchestra.”
In this sense, one agrees with artistic director Morales when he noted in his message thus: “Our songs — representing many of our diverse regions and cultures — speak volumes about what we value and treasure as a people. There is a romanticism of the spirit in our songs including fluent expressions of sorrow, fun, aspirations and love.”