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BAYANIHAN: The Treasure Chest of Filipino Dances and Culture

by Señor Guillermo Gomez Rivera


When there was none and no one, there came Bayanihan, the Filipino Dance Troop. And this happened half a century ago. This is why Bayanihan today is the depository of almost all Filipino dances, dress and songs.

In the 1960s National Artist Lucrecia Úrtula went to Mindanao, to the Cordilleras and to almost every Island to look for katutubo ethnic Filipinos to dance for her their own ancestral ethnic or tribal dances. She noted them down and captured their movements and translated them into the stage for the Bayanihan dancers to revive, to interpret, and preserve up to the present time and for posterity.

Sad to say, but today, the descendants of those katutubo ethnic dancers of fifty years ago, have literally lost their indigenous roots along with their vernacular languages, dances and songs. Their assimilation into the "new Americanized culture" through education in compulsory English, or the pervasive media, has made them forgot their memory about themselves. Thus any Filipino dance troop that came, or comes, after Bayanihan was founded, will have to copy those dances compiled and translated to the stage by National Artist for Dance, Lucrecia Úrtula.

And Bayanihan, aside from its on-going shows and performances, has produced teaching videos and organized many Filipino dance seminars and workshops to share with all those interested what it has accumulated through the years.

Lucrecia Úrtula and Lucrecia Kasilag, another National Artist for music, also researched on Filipino lowland or Christian folk dances and songs to also preserve them for posterity.

These dances and songs are classified into three groups of levels: (1) the urban or creole (kriolyo), (2) the baile popular and (3) baile rural o provincial.

The kriolyo dances and songs are those brought to these Islands when Filipinas was still an oversea province of Spain. Thus the music is purely Spanish. But their Jota, Fandango and Sevillana steps when executed by Filipinos end up reflecting the native expression and temperament thereby becoming purely Filipino in soul.

The baile popular folk dances are still Hispanic in their steps and motif, but their music, even if still based on the Spanish seguidilla chord, were composed by Filipino musicians thus rooting them further into the Philippine soil.

The baile rural folk dances, as compiled by Francisca Reyes Aquino, are also Hispanic but they also betray a greater native expression and soul even if sang in Spanish or in a Tagalog or Visayan with words spelled and syllabicated with a thirty-two letter Balagtás Alphabet.

While the reservoir of the ethnic katutubo or tribal dances has almost dried up, the Hispanic or Christian Filipino native dances still remains to be fully rediscovered and retrieved. A source of these native dances and songs is the moro-moro. Another is the zarzuela and the revista (stage shows), now long forgotten, that popularized the pasadoble, the pasacalle, the habanera, the kundiman, the kuratsa, the pandanggo, the valse, the danza, the chótis, the kumintang, the marcha, the balitao, and the mazurka.

The thing to do now is to turn to historical events and places to bring back and string and coordinate all these rich zarzuela and revista material into purely Filipino choreography and dance suites. And it will be Bayanihan, who will do and achieve all these native cultural wealth with its prudent management and executive leadership under Ms. Suzie M. Benítez, its choreographer in Fernando José, its artistic direction under Tony Fabella, its costume design under Tita Bill (Alicia Guillermo) and its musicologist in Lito Vale Cruz along with its ever flowering and evolving body of young and formidable dancers and artists. Nauna talaga ang Bayanihan!




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