Monday, August 23, 2010

Great Cultural Show at the Manila Hotel

Last night, I was at -- of all places -- the Manila Hotel to watch the inaugural performance of the Romansa! Show that will be ongoing at the hotel's historic Maynila Ballroom until September 4. I say "of all places" because of the most unfortunate hostage drama that took place within the same vicinity also last night.

However, the Romansa! Show that I went to see was far from that. Frankly, I had not very big expectations of a Philippine cultural show -- primarily because I've seen so few I truly appreciated. But this particular show last night was very enjoyable. If you have ever wanted to see some wonderful Philippine dances, particularly from the Mindanao region, you should definitely watch this. And if you happen to have foreign friends in town over the next 10 days or so, you should definitely take them to see this show.

Getting to Roxas Boulevard from Makati was unusually easy, and of course later I realized why. When I reached the hotel, I could see a swarm of patrol cars and media vans at the very end, towards Ocean Park. The hostage crisis concerning the Hong Kong tourists was ongoing just a few dozen meters from where I stood. I arrived at around 7 pm so there wasn't much violent commotion in the area and everything was more of a wait-and-see attitude. This gave me a sense of complacency and made me think that negotiations would eventually succeed and everything would somehow be all right. How wrong I was!

Business as usual

There was a hostage crisis just outside, but nevertheless, inside the hotel, everything was professional and business as usual. The only allusion to the crisis came at the end of the show, when after a series of loud bangs outside dulled by the music of the show inside, the Manila Hotel general manager Leon Keekstra came up to my party with a grim face and said, "They've stormed the bus and some of the hostages are dead." We were all in shock at this awful news.

What a terrible day for the families of the Hong Kong tourists, for all Filipinos, for all tourists, and for business connected with the local tourist industry -- especially with such a senseless act involving people completely unrelated to the problem of the hostage taker.

Ironically, the show we watched that evening was geared towards foreigners visiting the Philippines who may wish to see some authentic Philippine culture. And what a wonderful show it was! The Manila Hotel has put on a truly worthwhile show -- about 45 minutes to one hour long -- of songs and dances from different parts of the Philippines, but all geared towards romance. The costumes were intricately and gracefully done and very colorful, and many were the types of Filipiniana dress I had never seen before.

Beautiful singing by a couple in love

Romansa! was basically conceptualized as a nightly stage musical that conveys the heartwarming love story of two star-crossed lovers: a city boy and a country girl—who crossed paths and fell deeply in love. 19-year old soprano Fame Flores, who was trained by New York Metropolitan Opera singer Evelyn Mandac, sings the lead while the part of the boy in love is played by R & B Master Brenan Espartinez.

Fame's and Brenan's powerful voices, singing OPM, bring to life a tapestry of cotemporary favorites combined with cultural dances like the Pandanggo sa Ilaw, the Pamaypay ng Maynila, the Enganyosa, the Panderetas de Amor and the Karasuguyon.

Dances from every region of the Philippines

Pandanggo Sa Ilaw
A popular native dance using candle lights.

Pamaypay Ng Maynila (Fan of Manila)
A song and dance depicting the many messages a girl may impart to her suitor through the use of her fan.

Enganyosa (Dance of Beguiling)
A dance of the Philippine/Spanish aristocracy in which the ladies in their ballroom attire take center stage.

This T’boli tribal dance from Lake Sebu in South Cotabato province shows a single warrior selecting his bride from a family of sisters.

Panderetas de Amor (Tambourines of Love)
A dance from the Visayas that makes use of tambourines.

Pangalay Sa Agong (Movements of the Gongs)
A traditional dance from the Tausog Tribe of Mindanao where two warriors vie for the affection of a single maiden.

A six-part mini-musical

The musical is divided into six major parts that depict the progression of love in real life: meeting, courtship, coming to an understanding, getting into a misunderstanding, reconciling, and making the promise of forever -- complete with love songs composed by Gary Valenciano. It's a very visual and romantic show that portrays the eclectic and colorful romance between the East and the West, the countryside and the city, the traditional and the trendy. It ends with the majestic Singkil Dance, the Muslim wedding dance of Mindanao, which is performed by the Sindaw Philippines Performing Arts Guild accompanied by live percussionists and gong players. Musical Direction is by ABS-CBN’s Pinoy Dream Academy Musical Director Monet Silvestre.

The team marveled at this musical and dance display. We tried to think among ourselves if we had ever seen such a show available to the public on a regular basis -- we couldn't think of one in the past and there was certainly no such show ongoing right now, save for this one at the Manila Hotel. Later on, I told Leon: "This is a great cultural show that anyone would be delighted to see. I hope you find a way to bring ambassadors and other diplomats over so that they can see for themselves the rich culture of the Philippines."

Down memory lane at Strumm's

The evening didn't quite end there either. After the Romansa! show at the Manila Hotel, it was on to Strumm's in Makati to join some friends who were celebrating the 8th year anniversary of 8 Track, a very good band that plays 80s music every Monday, bringing a whole lot of people back to their good old college days. Again, what a night it was. The place was full with an SRO crowd and the band was in great form. Cita Revilla, Louie Ocampo and Bayani Fernando even went onstage to jam with the group.

I got home at 1 AM, frankly exhausted. Most everyone else, I learned, were still up and dancing way past 2 AM. But, for me, halfway through the last set, I just felt I had enjoyed just enough traditional and 80s music for the night.

* * *

The cultural shows are priced at P1,650 for the lunch show and P1,950 for the dinner show per person. For more information please call the Manila Hotel at 5270011 local 7.


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