No tinikling, rondalla or cheesy folk songs. Instead, there were hip-hop, tribal drums and sopranos in Grecian gowns because, finally, the bureaucracy has realized the need to upgrade the entertainment offered to foreign guests.
Delegates at the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (Apec) finance deputies meeting could not help whipping up their smartphones and recording the scenes as a youthful cast of Pinoy artists wowed them at the welcome dinner and cultural presentation at Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City Thursday night.
Leading the pack was Aicelle Santos, lead star in the longest-running Filipino musical “Rak of Aegis,” whose powerful voice reminded the rest of Asia-Pacific why Filipinos rule as singers.
Pao Gumba played Broadway, the Bee Gees and OPM on a ukulele while Luna, an all-female vocal ensemble, serenaded the audience with songs ranging from classical arias to John Legend’s “All of Me.”
Nestor Jardin, former president and currently a member of the Cultural Center of the Philippines board of trustees, chuckled when told that guests were watching what seemed like “the
iPhone 6 of government-sponsored shows.”
Jardin is head of the creative team within the CCP tasked by a subcommittee on arts composed of the CCP, National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Tourism Promotions Board and the private sector, to oversee these cultural presentations.
He will handle 18 of the 35 other events that began last December with one for Apec senior officials in a five-star hotel in Makati City.
The last event will be on Nov. 18 with US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the guest list when Manila hosts the Apec Economic Leaders Meeting.
Jardin said top officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs were very clear when he was tasked to organize the shows for visiting dignitaries.
“The cultural presentations are an important facet of Apec. Several DFA officials told me they create a lasting impression of the host country and these (impressions) might redound to us in terms of tourism,” he said.
“The positive impression [delegates] get from these welcome dinners and cultural presentations could [bolster] the thinking and perception of the delegates who are very important people to us,” Jardin explained.
It is actually Jimenez’s tourism department that is in charge of the hospitality receptions. The sub-committee it formed includes Jardin and renowned composer Ryan Cayabyab.
Jardin said Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. specified one thing: The shows must “create a cumulative net impression that the Philippines is one of the most progressive, youngest and most inclusive societies in the 21st century,” and that these presentations must showcase “contemporary Filipino culture, reflect… soft power and our modern modes of thinking.”
On Thursday, members of the Centro Escolar University Folk Dance Troupe donned colorful native costumes and interpreted “Iisang Bangka” by The Dawn in choreography sprinkled with hip-hop and breakdance.
Ballet Philippines’ Cyril Fallar and Gillianne Therese Gequinto’s pas de deux utilized the massive stage with a backdrop of geometric-shaped houses and other architecture reminiscent of a Baldemor painting.
Ballet Manila’s half-naked male dancers braved the chilly winds while female performers incorporated cheer dancing in a number choreographed by Gerardo Francisco for “Anting-
The De La Salle University Dasmariñas Chorale and Imusicapella provided local musical flavor at dinner.
“Everything is fast-moving, never a dull moment,” one delegate raved. The whole show ran for about 30 minutes.
Earlier at the cocktail reception, Madeline Jane Banta played piano while Gaille Ramos played flute before guests at Taal Vista’s covered terrace, while the Citizen’s Brigade Band of Dasmariñas City played covers of American pop songs to liven things up.
Pride of place
Jardin said pride of place is one of the thematic pegs for the Apec presentations. When senior officials of the conference were feted at the CDC Parade Grounds in Clark, Pampanga, on Feb. 6, BMX bikers did their stunts among tables and ramps arranged at the back of the stage set up inside the former US military base.
Ballet Philippines danced a beat-box version of “Atin Cu Pung Singsing.”
“We featured the contemporary culture of Clark and Pampanga. The bikers are very strong there. Aside from Pampanga parol, there were also hot-air balloons and hip-hop groups [to indicate] the strong influence of American culture,” Jardin said.
A similar effort to allow foreign guests to experience the local lifestyle was supposed to take place in Albay province. Jardin said Albay Governor Joey Salceda stopped at nothing to spruce up their astrodome. Local bands practiced Bach and Vivaldi and more than 120 dancers from Manila were set to arrive.
Alas, a weather disturbance forced organizers to relocate the entire event to Fairmont Makati hotel. Jardin managed to pull in eight choirs from all over Metro Manila for the finale.
“We got a standing ovation,” he said.
Food and cuisine
Food is another important element. Via Mare was tapped for Pampanga cuisine served during the Clark presentation. Taal Vista pulled out former Malacañang executive chef Babes Austria, who has just retired.
Jardin is busy prepping for the dinners and cultural presentations for two ministerial meetings in Boracay that would be held three days apart in May.
No shirts and ties while on the island. Jardin said loot bags will contain flip-flops, insect repellent and a selfie stick. And instead of ushers in baro’t saya, there will be diwata, sirena and other mythical creatures from Pinoy folklore to entertain the guests.
“We have already showcased tinikling and singkil in the past. Gasgas na, and foreign visitors should now see a different facet of Philippine society,” Jardin stressed.
Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Philippines! If you still haven’t heard, we know how to party.