September is when the Christmas mood first sets in for every true Pinoy. But it’s not until today, Nov. 16, that the most wonderful time of the year goes full swing in one popular mall chain.
If you find yourself passing through the Greenbelt 3 tunnel today (Friday), note that the photographic murals are all new. And this afternoon, at Glorietta Activity Center, Piolo Pascual and Zia Quizon will get shoppers in a loving holiday mood as they stage a mini concert: These signal the beginning of Christmas activities at Ayala Malls.
Steps Dance Project will debut “Pepe’s Secret Christmas,” an all-original Filipino ballet, at the Glorietta Activity Center on Nov. 17.
If there’s one holiday the Ayala Group seems to take quite seriously, Christmas is it.
“We wanted to create a very brief statement of what Ayala Land does,” explained Jaime Zobel de Ayala of his Greenbelt Tunnel larger-than-life photographs at the launch of the mall chain’s holiday activities at Hotel Inter-Continental on Tuesday. “And we came up with three words. We ‘Relate’ to people, we ‘Create’ for people, and we ‘Serve’ people.’”
It has been an annual tradition for Zobel, chair emeritus of Ayala Corp. and an accomplished photographer, to create the holiday artwork in the tunnel, and he admitted that it’s becoming a challenge to come up with a new idea each year.
This time, Zobel’s work depicts nothing overtly Christmas-y, but daily events at Ayala Malls. And as usual, he noted fondly, his subject and models were mostly from the Ayala family, singling out in jest Maricris Bernardino, Ayala Land’s Commercial Business Group division manager, whom he said “kept insisting” to be in the photo.
Zobel’s daughter, Sofia Elizalde, managing director of Steps Dance Project, has collaborated with a talented team to create “Pepe’s Secret Christmas,” a Filipino ballet for the whole family.
“As a child, I always enjoyed the illustrations of Beatrix Potter,” Elizalde said. “We thought, how wonderful would it be to do something like this about animals but in a Filipino setting, to create our own. We also wanted it to have a Christmas theme for the whole family to enjoy for free.”
About a year ago, Elizalde and Steps director James Laforteza approached Floy Quintos to write the story; it would be about a little boy and animals with an environmental message for children. Gino Gonzales came in for production and costume design.
“If we’re gonna do a Beatrix Potter, we might as well do it in the right period,” noted Quintos. “Gino and I have always worked together. What we both enjoy is the period of the Philippine Commonwealth, the 1920s-1940s, or what we call peace time, the time of our lolos… What a beautiful age to bring back in terms of design, and Gino really referenced that period.”
“Pepe” is the story of a boy who discovers a “secret Christmas” in which the animals are taken for granted.
“On the last night of the misa de gallo,” said Quintos, “Pepe is falling asleep. He follows the animals, and finds out that they have a way of saluting the Niño. It’s not just the animals of the farm; in the second act of the ballet are the animals of the forest. There’s a beautiful goat and a pig with a love affair that cannot be; there are two monkeys, the dahong-palay or snake, alitaptap, migratory birds. The climax is the arrival of the tikling or the heron from Japan and Siberia.”
Music is a mix of contemporary, tribal-inspired, kundiman and folk songs, usahay, and one original song written by Quintos. Laforteza, with Jeffrey Espejo and Jun Saagundo, did the choreography, showcasing the strengths of Steps: classical, modern and jazz dances.
There’s also a passing nod to pop culture: Laforteza included a five-second reference to “Gangnam Style” in the dance; blink and you’ll miss it. “It’s just for the kids,” he said, grinning.
Mountain Rock Productions created the realistic masks from Gonzales’ designs. Haven’t seen a pig en pointe? This time you will. Media guests at the launch watched a rooster and a hen dance en pointe with “real” claws in an excerpt from the ballet. (Kids will get an opportunity to meet-and-greet the cast after each show.)
“This show can make everyone, from a lolo to a grandchild, happy,” said Elizalde. And if Quintos had his way, “I want it to become an Ayala Christmas tradition. It’s the kind of thing you’d love to see year after year after year.”
Pascual and Quizon, meanwhile, are the curtain-raisers of Ayala Malls’ Christmas concerts (with a repeat at Alabang Town Center on Nov. 25), to be followed by performances by Lea Salonga, Sarah Geronimo, Nikki Gil, the British group Blake, and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Gerard Salonga, throughout the holidays.
“The theme is ‘Wrapped in Love,’ so we’re singing all love songs,” says Pascual, a friend and regular featured guest entertainer of the Ayalas. (The show-biz heartthrob said he will spend Christmas in the US to be with his son, who’s now 15 and a high-school freshman.)
As its tradition, Ayala also has fundraisers for its partner charities: Children’s Hour, Hero Foundation Inc., WWF-Philippines and Ayala Foundation. The latter was founded by the Zobel matriarch, Bea, and supports the Iraya-Mangyan ethnic group of Mindoro by exploring projects to provide them with sustainable livelihood.