Just before the world came to a halt due to the pandemic, Shirley Halili-Cruz gathered 10,000 dancers to perform âUnity Danceâ as part of the Guinness World Record’s Largest Dance Contingent category.
The choreography reflected her vision as chairperson of the National Culture Commission and the National Dance Arts Committee (NCCA-NCD) to embrace and promote dance groups from various regions and their diverse styles.
Participants studied a video of his choreography, on the pop song âSayaw (Dance)â performed by DavaoeÃ±a Maan Chua.
âUnity Danceâ was due to be performed in front of Guinness World Records officials in April last year at an open field in Pototan, Iloilo, but the global lockdown has upset the judges’ travel plans.
Not wanting to waste all the effort invested in the project so far, the NCCA-NCD produced a video version of the performance, with a legion of dancers – hundreds at a time – swinging their arms, clapping their hands, swiveling and crawling in the halls of the school and in front of the campuses. While these schoolyard shots and Cruz’s cameos in different areas were made before the pandemic, the completed ‘Unity Dance’ video is interspersed with post-quarantine footage of small groups of students authorized by their local government units. to participate. Physical distancing and other health protocols were followed.
She hasn’t given up on the prospect of Filipino dancers landing at Guinness World Records, Cruz says. “But officials must be physically present to count the contingent, so we’ll wait until the situation improves and the restrictions relax.”
In truth, not even a pandemic can take this dance promoter away from his large-scale projects. The largest NCCA-NCD undertaking to date during the quarantine is âDance Xchange on Air,â a virtual concert series featuring bands from across the country.
From the comfort of their own homes, via the Dance Xchange Facebook page or its YouTube channel, viewers can be transported to any number of places: a Pampanga forest to see the boys of Mabalacat National High School revel in the thrill. of an Aeta hunting dance; a riverside in Negros where members of the Busilak Dance Theater Company perform while carrying bunches of bananas in âHandurawâ, a festival favorite; a gravel-laden garden with couples from the Binhilan Performing Arts Guild wearing barong and traje de mestiza performing Leyte’s majestic âAlcamforâ; the beaches of Laiya, Batangas, with girls in blue dresses from the Halili-Cruz ballet school spinning on the quay; or a transport terminal with hip-hop groove South Avenue dancers.
For the first season of âDance Xchange on Airâ (October 24, 2020 to February 1), the NCCA-NCD produced 27 shows, plus an international edition that reached 32 countries. It involved 262 groups and schools, and has been viewed by over 1.72 million at the time of writing.
âWe’re proud that many of our videos are making waves on social media,â says Cruz. One such video is from Pangasinan’s Ligliwa Dance Group, whose members, dressed in simple T-shirts and loose shorts, perform an intense contemporary piece on an open basketball court. The video recorded half a million views.
Much earlier, in 2009, Cruz launched the Philippine International Dance Xchange Festival, which consisted of special events attended by enthusiasts from here and elsewhere.
The first festival was held in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, and has since been hosted by different provinces in order to make the event accessible to a wider audience. On average, 30 groups joined, half of them from Europe, Africa and elsewhere in Asia. Workshops were also organized for its generated audience of 25,000 people.
The festival lasted for a decade, until pandemic restrictions prompted the festival to migrate online as âDance Xchange on Airâ. The concept was still to present Filipino ethnic and folk dances as well as Western, contemporary, lyrical and hip-hop ballets – performed in open spaces.
âIt’s our contribution to the dynamism of the dance community and our way of supporting creativity,â says Cruz. âThe atmosphere has generally become more collaborative and dance creations have become more meaningful and adapted to current realities. The dance industry has been hectic, like all other arts, and eager to move forward.
To register, each group submitted a four-minute, high-definition broadcast quality video. Since the concerts were to be streamed through Facebook and YouTube, the dance music had to be free of copyright and copyright.
The post-production process was tedious to say the least. Cruz previewed all the videos and sent comments to the groups. âI really wanted to include everyone, regardless of levels of expertise, experience and artistic standards,â she says. âI believe in giving opportunities to as many people as possible. So a huge challenge was how to help groups whose dance videos did not meet our standards. Some had to do 10 revisions. In that sense, it has also become a mentoring session. We asked the choreographers to fix parts of the dances, or we asked the groups to improve the quality of the video. Everyone was very cooperative.
Each episode is over an hour long and features 13 to 15 groups with Issa Litton, dressed in Filipino tops from Twinkle Ferraren, as the host. The series has been posted on other Facebook pages for wider reach.
Arts month and beyond
Commemorating February Arts Month, âDance Xchange on Airâ presented âTheâ International Conference / Dance Research Webinar â, hosted by the Dance Division of the NCCA from February 16-19. It included 20 research studies on global issues and best practices and postpandemic progress.
The division held “A Virtual Dance Costume Exhibition”, with historical and cultural annotations on February 25th.
“Sayaw Pinoy Goes Virtual” will air every Saturday at 6 p.m. until March 27, says Cruz, “Sayaw Pinoy Goes Virtual” features all genres, from ethnic to ballet to hip-hop, in important places for Filipino culture – sights such as Cathedral Falls in Kapatangan, Lanao del Norte, Negros Occidental’s Tangel cave burial site, Camugao Bridge, Hacienda San Lucas and an ancient sugar cane center.
âBuyogan Festival Dance Tribute to the Frontlinersâ takes place on the Buyogan stage, facing the Gulf of Leyte. She quotes the story of Spaniards disembarking at Leyte and asking the natives what this place was called. Thinking that the strangers were asking about a swarm of bees, the locals replied, âAh, buyog.
Considering this prodigious production, Cruz does not brag when she says that the dance sector has been the most dynamic and the most productive of the artistic community in these unusual times. She adds: “These programs also serve as a breeding ground for future groups, especially those from other regions.”
The production of the virtual series is not without its challenges. She notes fluctuating internet connections, short audience attention spans, online coordination and logistics. On a personal level, she says, her drastically reduced mobility following a massive stroke in 2014 after an active life as a dancer and teacher was quite a test, but she actually triumphed.
In his own words, âI cannot walk without help. I cannot write with my right hand, but I have learned to work with my left. And precisely because I am in a wheelchair, I have to be more imaginative and more innovative.