ILOILO -- January marks the time of year when shouts of “Hala Bira!”, “Pit Señor!” and “Viva Santo Niño!” echo throughout the Visayas. Festivals dedicated to the devotion of the Sto. Nino are held around the islands – Sinulog in Cebu, Ati-atihan in Aklan, and Dinagyang in Iloilo.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Dinagyang. This Iloilo festival commemorates the arrival of the holy statue of the Sto. Nino on Panay shores from Cebu. Throughout the week leading to the Dinagyang festival weekend, the city of Iloilo comes alive with fireworks, food festivals and other events to generate excitement.
In a trip organized by AirAsia Philippines, ABS-CBN News and select media and bloggers got to experience the Dinagyang, which kicked off last January 27 with the Kasadyahan Festival in the morning and the first-ever Parade of Lights in the evening.
The Kasadyahan Festival is a dance competition with contestants from all over the Panay region using the using the entire Iloilo City business district as their stage. Whole companies of competing teams walk around five judging stations set up on street corners and dance their hearts out to different panels of judges and different audiences on makeshift grandstands. The props, the sets, and the cast take up three to four city blocks each as they move towards the next stage.
The dance numbers rival major theater productions complete with a cast of hundreds, dazzling choreography, colorful costumes, and scene changes. The theater saying “It takes a village to stage a play” is very applicable here as the groups bring their own sets, technical staff and equipment, logistical support, and sponsors.
Watching the Kasadyahan routines can be an overwhelming experience to a first timer. The performances are a feast for the eyes and ears. A multitude of colors sway to a cacophony of drum, bass, and woodwinds that just seem to increase in intensity as the acts progress telling their own regional story and end with the audience clamoring for more.
The Kasadyahan competing teams are usually made of high school students performing high-energy routines. Photo by author
Not only do the Kasadyahan kids have to dance five times, they also have to walk to each judging station. Photo by author
Large wheeled props such as these two cockfighting roosters show the creativity and hard work behind these routines. Photo by author
Mobile panels and risers that move along with each performance are a must-have for Kasadyahan competing tribes. When the music reaches a crescendo, it usually means that the panels are about to part and reveal a new set of performers. Photo by author
When the panels open, prepare for a spectacular display of dance and storytelling.
Unique elements of a tribe’s province make it to the presentation. Here, Tribu Banigan from Antique ended their performance with fashion show of dresses made of banig. Photo by author
Guban Haw-as from Dumangon, Panay’s seafood capital, finds a way to make fish eggs dance. The way the dancers blocked the new wave of dancers and, eventually, revealed them can give higher-budget theater companies a run for their money.
Some of the Ati-Atihan headdresses made their way into the Kasadyahan routines. Photo by author
Women headdresses reflect elements from their home regions. These mango-accessorized ones are from 2018 champions Hubon Binagtong sa Manggahan of Guimaras. Photo by author
Later that evening, the first-ever Dinagyang “Parade Of Lights” was held on the streets of Iloilo City. This saw Iloilo’s main highway alive with lights as companies who came out to play with their own unique floats.
From cars and SUVs decorated with streamers and lights and massive trucks with a jungle on them, to a plane and a Game of Thrones-esque castle complete with dragon, spectators who lined the 4-kilometer route from the back of the University of the Philippines' Iloilo campus to the new judging area in front of Casa de Emperador in the heart of the new Megaworld IT Park.
Jollibee brought spectators back to their childhood with this whimsical float that blew bubbles.
Welcome to Omega Painkiller’s Jungle float with cute stuffed animals and Chinese lanterns.
AirAsia had crew and guests on a chibi airplane throwing out AirAsia fans to the crowds on the street.
MLhuillier Financial Services had a breathtaking Game of Throne-esque castle complete with a dragon.
Awards for both competitions were given during the concluding ceremonies of the Dinagayang Festival on Sunday evening. M. Lhuillier Financial services won a trophy and P250,000 as grand winner of the Parade of Lights.
Minor awards for Best Musical Director, Best Headdress, Best Street Dancing, and Best Choreographer were given out for the Kasadyahan competitions. The 2017 Kasadyahan champion Hubon Binagtong sa Manggahan of Guimaras took the grand prize again this 2018 along with a trophy and P250,000.