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National Artist Awards Night: A celebration of culture and the arts

Headed by a triumphant processional by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Gabi ng Parangal Para sa mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining ng 2009 at 2014 kicked off a night full of celebration and festivities. Various theatre actors, musicians, artists, and other luminaries of Philippine culture gathered to honor nine National Artist awardees from six facets of the arts.

Felipe de Leon Jr. opened the program with a speech on the impact of Philippine arts and culture, and how the inspiration and passion of these artists help define a nation.

“The whole point of literature, drama, music, dance, and the other arts, is to spend time in the heads and hearts of other human beings other than ourselves, making it possible for us to think, feel, and experience life as others do,” the chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts remarked. “[These National Artists] have toiled hard and dedicated their lives to provide our people with wider possibilities of experience and meaning… At the same time, we encounter, through their works, intense visions of truth and beauty, transforming everyday life into the extraordinary,” said De Leon, capping his speech after congratulating the awardees.

 

The program proper

After the formal opening remarks, the program began, predominantly showing clips and interviews with friends and family of the National Artists. The tributes honoring the nine National Artists who have received the Grand Collar, among other awards, present a brief but comprehensive glimpse into their lives as artists and as Filipinos. The program, which was divided into three parts, was ushered by three actors from the theatre and entertainment wing.

Noel Comia Jr., a wunderkind who has appeared in productions of Repertory Philippines and PETA, introduced the first part, titled Ang Halaga Ng Muhon. Focused on the visual arts and poetry, the section showcased the works of painter and visual artist Federico Alcuaz, comic book illustrator and graphic novelist Francisco Coching, and writer and poet Cirilo Bautista. After the video clips were shown, theater actors Liesl Batucan and Remus Villanueva performed three selected poems from Cirilo Bautista’s catalog of works and closed out the section. Accompanied by lively renditions of musical compositions performed by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, Remus Villanueva performed Patalim, while Liesl Batucan took over for Concerning Poetry and Poem Addressed to Himself.

Garbed in a Genghis Khan outfit, JK Anicoche performed an inspired monologue about the magic of film, music, and literature, all of which preceded the section proper of Ang Salamanka Ng Pagpapanday. The second part of the program discussed the works of film director and actor Manuel Conde, of composer and conductor Francisco Feliciano, and of author and writer Lazaro Francisco. After the video clips, theater actors JV Ibesate, Lhorvie Nuevo, and Hannah Tolentino performed an excerpt from Lazaro Francisco’s novel, Maganda Pa Ang Daigdig, as adapted by Dennis Marasigan. The section was closed out by a performance of Pokpok Alimpako and Agnus Dei, two pieces composed by Francisco Feliciano, with the latter piece being adapted from the Missa Mysterium.

After a ten-minute break, the third and final part of the program, which is entitled Ipagdiwang Ang Sining Ng Bayan, was introduced by veteran theatre actress Isay Alvarez. Her monologue expressed admiration for the power culture has on its country, focusing on dance, music, and architecture. The final three awardees for the night were acclaimed dance maestro Alice Reyes, composer and musician Ramon Pagayon Santos, and architect Jose Maria Zaragoza.

After their respective video clips, Ballet Philippines and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra performed tributes of their works, particularly of awardees Alice Reyes and Ramon Santos. A rousing call for the National Artist awardees capped off the program, applauding the artists themselves and the family members of the honorees who have passed on.

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From the artists themselves

After the program, several of the National Artists present let their fans and enthusiasts of their work meet and take photos with them, happily accommodating those who attended the awards night. On receiving a Grand Collar, among other things, composer Ramon Santos said that this is another milestone for his career as an artist. “I intend to continue my work, what I have done, and that’s it,” he happily remarked. Despite the busy schedule, he admits to engaging with the industry by doing field works and organizing festivals to help spread the word on Filipino music. “There should be an effort to make it more Filipino. You know, we don’t need to imitate foreign models,” he commented. Santos encouraged Filipinos, especially the youth, to learn more and seek out music from around the world and in the Philippines.

2006 National Artist Award recipient Bienvenido Lumbera was also present in the event, and thought that the ceremony honored the current awardees well. As an artist whose work has spanned decades, fans of Filipino musicals will be happy to know that some of Lumbera’s favorite works are his librettos of Noli Me Tangere and Hibik at Himagsik nina Victoria Laktaw. His advice for those who are striving to reach their goals in the arts? “They should be enthusiastically pursuing their craft, never tiring of what they’re doing, because eventually they’re going to come up with what could be called a masterpiece in the future.”

Perhaps one of the most lauded artists during the awards night by her admirers, Alice Reyes gamely answered questions and posed for selfies. “Of course, I’ll do better with a glass of wine,” she joked. Regarding her National Artist title, Alice Reyes said that she is speechless and humbled. “[It’s] an incredible experience. Not too many of us will feel [this], and I’m glad to be one of the few,” she commented. As she helps train and mold the future generation of dancers in the Philippines, she quips that those who want to dance should “not be afraid and to go out there and try.” She then adds, “Find things that work for you. Some things won’t work, but go ahead and keep trying.”

The common consensus between the three artists, however, is that there needs to be a security in the forms of art people are pursuing and supporting. For Ramon Santos, musicians need to listen to the environment, citing sounds that are more natural and aim for diversity. Reyes, on the other hand, comments that though dancing is present everywhere, funding from the government for training, performances, and honing the skills of dancers is important. “There has to be more,” she concludes her stance on the support of Filipino culture, with a smile on her face. Perhaps her wise words can serve as a guide for young Filipino artists who are looking for their voice to properly represent their work while serving as an inspiration for their fellowmen.

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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