In a fraternity of nations where the Philippines isn’t exactly among the most well-off, what do we do to give our foreign guests a most memorable, fun time, one that would perhaps top the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) events of previous years—yes, even that of China last year?
Give our heart and soul, full blast. That—and the Filipino creativity that the world has been taking notice of.
That’s the collective mission of the government and creative teams behind the ongoing year-long series of events for the Apec delegations. The series was to be capped on Saturday night by a welcome reception dinner and culture presentation on the beachfront of Shangri-La Boracay for the Apec senior officials.
“Already, they (the officials) are noting how we give it our heart and soul. We may not have the big logistics but they feel the warmth and that heart,” said business leader Doris Magsaysay Ho, who heads the Apec business advisory council.
Last night, the Banyugan beachfront of the luxury resort Shangri-La Boracay was turned into a party place for the hundreds of Apec delegates, but it was a hip, modern party that was replete with the Filipino contemporary culture and vibe.
Carrying the ’80s theme, “FuntaSea,” as the show was called, showcased the foremost Filipino talents, from young celebrated sculptor Leeroy New, who designed the stage installation, to world-acclaimed singer Bituin Escalante and the Ati-Atihan dancers of Kalibo, Aklan province.
It was a marvel how the creative team of Apec Philippines headed by former Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president Nestor Jardin wove in the rich and unique Philippine culture with the disco hits of the ’80s like ABBA, Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer.
The guests streamed onto the soft Boracay sand to high-energy reggae/ethnic beat of the music ensemble of Diwa de Leon, a young music artist who is increasingly getting known. (He is the grandson of National Artist for Music Felipe de Leon Sr., and the son of National Commission for Culture and the Arts chair Felipe de Leon Jr. and music advocate Anna Sarabia.) The group’s indigenous instruments included the electric “hegelong,” a three-stringed instrument from the southern Manobo tribe.
Unique Asian experience
One knew right away it would be an Asian experience like no other—certainly different from the usually staid and laid-back “officialese” events of Apec past.
The stage was an installation of New, inspired by the Philippine coral reef. It was a tangle of shapes and colors, a stark marvel of light standing against the dark Boracay sky. Beyond it on the crystalline water sailed Boracay’s visual icon—the paraws, their lit outlines like a scene from a watercolor.
“The one directive from [Tourism] Secretary Ramon Jimenez is to show how the Philippines is a forward-looking, young, progressive country, one that is inclusive, meaning we cut across classes, cultures, religions, race, genders,” explained Jardin.
Indeed the show directed by CCP artistic director Chris Millado bore the upbeat productive energy of the Philippines today, touted as Asia’s emerging economy.
Jardin’s team zeroed in on the ’80s music for the party to suit the age demographic of the delegates and guests who grew up in the ’80s. The era was their beloved comfort zone. Such was how the Apec Philippines aimed to connect. The emotion. The heart.
After the welcome remarks by Trade Secretary Gregory Domingo, and dinner of Philippine island cuisine, the heat was on—with the disco sounds of “The Heat is On” and “I Love the Night Life,” among other disco hits.
“We’ve accomplished a lot (in the meetings) but also let’s have fun. It’s more fun in the Philippines,” Domingo said.
Escalante and the Coral Queenies (the backup group of Delphine Buencamino, Gold Villar, Jacy Sim) performed the Gloria Gaynor/Donna Summers hits of the ’80s. This was followed by the Manila Sound, “Magsayawan” and other OPM hits.
Leading theater artist Myke Salomon of “Rak of Aegis” fame was the music director.
Hip and cool
The hip and cool element came from the electronic music of the Those Damn Nerds, a group of DJs. There were also Boracay’s famous fire dancers doing the blazing light show.
Dances were performed by Ballet Philippines and the Daloy Dance Company, again a mix of the modern and the traditional.
Since December, as the 2015 Apec host, the Philippines has been hosting events for the delegates in various parts of the country, from Makati to Tagaytay.
Jardin explained, “We aimed to highlight the strengths of the contemporary culture of each town, city or community where the event is held. We seek out the popular cultural manifestations of each venue, like in Boracay—it’s the party scene, the local fire dancers, even the local mermaid academy and the DJs. Not many know that Bora has some of the best DJs in the country.”
‘Blissed out’ in Tagaytay
In Tagaytay, for instance, the theme was “Blissed Out”—chill, get away. The show even had a ukulele artist.
The Boracay show’s choreographer was Denisa Reyes, its light designer Katsch Catoy, costume and venue styling by Digo Ricio.
The Philippines continues to take a bow before the world that is more and more believing in the Filipino.