By Suzie Moya Benitez
This year 2017 marks Bayanihan ‘s 61st year. In 1956, Philippine Women’s University board chair Dean Conrado Benitez, an ardent nationalist, hosted an anniversary of the Manila Rotary Club. President Ramon Magsaysay, the guest speaker, called on fellow Filipinos to work together as one. The theme of the performance of the PWU P.E. group was “Magbayanihan tayo.” Indeed, Bayanihan means working together for the common good.
In the same year the PWU P.E. dancers performed at the World Confederation of Organizations for the Teaching Profession, the official program was “Bayanihan: A Philippine Music and Dance Festival.” Although the research for the Bayanihan folk dance repertoire started in 1953, it was not until 1956 that a group of researchers from PWU went full force on their studies of the cultural ethnicities. Simultaneously more research on music and dances was undertaken, thus enriching the Bayanihan repertoire and transforming them into a dance theater for which the brand Bayanihan has been known.
Summarizing the numerous programs that we have taken to sustain the company and the lessons learned from world festivals and competitions, it is with excitement that I now, as well, see dance as a powerful tool for change.
Last month I was juror for the Tinalak festival in South Cotabato. Then I went to Sofia, Bulgaria to judge the Vitosha dance competition, as well as the 18th Buyukcekmece world dance competition in Istanbul, Turkey. From across the continents, the same sentiment is shared again and again, and that is peace and unity through dance. “Love for each other, Peace for all” has been the slogan of one of the biggest festival in Turkey. This gathering of diverse cultures served its purpose of bringing together the best stories of their cultural lives through their dances and music.
This year, in marking its 61st anniversary, The Bayanihan community reaffirms its steadfast commitment to artistic excellence, touching lives, and sharing culture. It has been a long journey, 61 years of fulfilling the Filipino dream. Now we must have an added emphasis: that of recruiting and developing and involving the youth in the pursuit of that dream through new initiatives of change and growth.
Realizing that the greatest challenge new leaders face today is how to stay competitive and relevant in the face of the rapidly changing tastes of the new generation of audiences, we in the Bayanihan have opted to take a strategic move toward agility more than efficiency. The old ways that have worked in the past may not be sufficient to keep up with the rapid pace of change. The new thrust is to infuse and equip the organization with greater agility, speed, responsiveness, and creativity. The core performing artists continue to train, re-train, and imbibe a totally different corporate culture and practice with its focus toward bigger responsibilities not merely as performers on the global stage but more meaningfully as cultural diplomats and nation builders.
Dances in recent years have included social and cultural issues transposed into dance theater that have attracted a new wave of young audience. Although the thematic genres that thrilled the world in the previous century are still the thematic whole of the dance company, it continues to add new themes as well as develop new pieces through continuous research and development, incorporating and showcasing the continued evolution of Bayanihan’s folk-based dances.
“Let’s Dance in Cheonan” is the festival where I will spend one week starting today, sharing knowledge and experiences with directors of dance and folklore from all over the world. Soon, we will be spending endless discourses on how to keep our cultural heritage alive through dance. This week will be another resource for enriching my dance experience seen from totally different perspectives of cultural experts. Dance as performed and displayed by the Bayanihan has reflected the beauty of the Philippines and the captivating lives of Filipinos in the same way that dances from all over the world have depicted their own histories and traditions. This is my eighth year in Cheonan and I have seen how this industrial city has established its presence in the world through a unified vision of showcasing the Korean way of life, progressive, open to change, and welcoming to other cultures.
Dance goes beyond physical movement onstage or offstage. The power of dance is a potent tool for social transformation. In my own experience, I have seen political leaders, artists, writers, and composers conceive of possibilities and use their creative energies to aspire, express, and establish programs using dance as the vehicle. Bayanihan’s initiatives through dance would be a continuing effort to undertake for social transformation and positive change or, better still, a model for the betterment of lives, especially the most vulnerable among us, pursued by every Filipino who cares to love and live meaningfully. Dance is an effective way to instill values and love for country. Thus, Bayanihan continues to improve until every dream step or movement is realized. We will make sure that each step we make on and off the stage transforms and communicates the best of the Filipinos and the Philippines.
Bayanihan founder Helena Z. Benitez has this to say, “People and their culture evolve in tune and in time with generational succession. Those who remain frozen in time and cultural dimension are soon left behind. They become irrelevant, uninteresting, and uninspiring. They cannot excite and engage new audiences. Thankfully Bayanihan has avoided getting into this rut.” Dance is alive and, like all living things, it grows and develops. Dance itself must do this dance.
Suzie Moya Benitez is a trustee and the executive director of Bayanihan Folk Arts Foundation. She is also chairman for Asia of the Federation of International Dance Festivals.