JUST arrived at 1:00 a.m. from Isabela, where the 2013 Magical Bambanti Festival officially drew to a close last night (January 30, 2013) with a grand concert featuring Sarah Geronimo, Bamboo, Christian Bautista and Jon Santos at the Isabela Sports Complex.
Also known as the Scarecrow Festival, the Bambanti Festival of the Province of Isabela began last Sunday (January 27, 2013) with the opening of the outdoor Agri-Eco Tourism and Trade Exhibit at the Provincial Capitol Grounds in Ilagan City. It is an annual tourism, cultural, business, trade, investment and heritage event aimed at promoting Isabela as the country’s No. 1 corn producer and an eco-tourism destination. The event started last year, under the leadership of Isabela Governor Faustino ‘Bojie’ Dy III, who thought the scarecrow (whose image protects the vast fields from pests and and bad fortune) was a positive symbol to rally after and therefore led to the birth of the Bambanti Festival (bambanti means scarecrow). The grand celebration turned out to be so successful that it was inevitable to stage it again this year, with the intention of making it an annual affair from this year on.
Highlight of the Bambanti Festival this year took place on Monday (January 28, 2013) with the Street Dance Parade from the Isabela Provincial Capitol Grounds to the Isabela Sports Complex, and led to the Grand Bambanti Festival Dance Showdown, Search for the Festival King and Queen, and Giant Mask Competition.
The rains fell late Monday afternoon, just as the formal opening ceremonies and Grand Street Parade were about to start at the Isabela Sports Complex, but the downpour failed to dampen the spirits of the 20 contingents representing the different cities and municipalities of Isabela who have trained hard and worked hard for months to perfect their dance routine and so looked forward to this culminating event.
Despite the rains, spirits were incredibly high, as the contingents took their places – in all their colorful splendor – and performed to their highest performance level. Everyone’s message: Nobody’s gonna rain on my parade. So, contingents upon contingents took their bow and joined the Grand Street Parade as they were called – doing their rehearsed routines like true professionals come rain, come shine – and you really have to give it to these young performers, mostly students, who responded to the call of duty without hesitation. Seated snugly on the covered bleachers with a full view of the parade in front of me, I could imagine how cold they were feeling in their beautiful but wet costumes, especially as the festivities stretched on for hours on end. Dusk had slowly given way to darkness and the full moon had appeared in the dark, black sky, but the show went on as though the weather cooperated.
In their short speeches, Isabela Governor Bojie Dy and Bambanti Festival 2013 executive committee chairman Tonypet Albano profusely thanked the participating contingents for their unwavering support.
Perhaps the highest energy emanated from the camp of the City of Cauayan. In the Grand Street Dance Parade alone, the team was already a standout. The dancing was precise, there were men on stilts, and added entertainment came in the form of poi dancing. The team ignored the rains completely. And when its turn came for the team to perform in the Grand Dance Showdown later that night – and the audience’s attention was waning – Cauayan’s high spirits caught on and got everyone’s full attention. Applause upon applause came or the team after every wow factor that the team successfully pulled off. In their floral costume and with their full-scale props and regalia, the group did lifts on bamboo poles and simulated the waves of the sea by vigorous shaking of a blue cloth with up and down motion. The shaking of the cloth alone already showed just how high spirits were in this camp. This was followed by a giant red “bird” appearing out of nowhere, from among the crowd of dancers, a giant bamboo opened to reveal Man and Woman, Man was lifted and flipped onto the ground while Woman walked divinely on a sea of heads and shoulders. The entire routine was a spectable like no other, and the applause that came at the end of the performance was thunderous. If it were portent of things to come, it would mean victory for the team.
The other contingents that participated in the Grand Street Dance Parade and the Grand Dance Showdown of the Bambanti Festival 2013 were the cities and municipalities of Cabagan, Delfin Albano, Ilagan City, San Pablo, Santa Maria, Aurora, Mallig, Naguillan, Quezon, Quirino, Roxas, San Manuel, San Mariano, Anglabangon Angandanan, Cabatuan, San Mateo, Echague, Jones and Ramon.
All teams automatically also vied for the Giant Mask Competition as well as the Festival King and Festival Queen Competitions.
Making up the Board of Judges tasked to assess the performances of the teams and select the grand winners were filmmaker Brillante Mendoza, noted dance choreographer Douglas Nierras, former ballet danseur Nonoy Froilan and Gantimpala Foundation founding member Joey Nombres.
The judges had a difficult time, since all contingents put up a good fight, and each had its own unique character, but the Cauayan team was in a totally different zone so that, at the end of the program, when the highly anticipated announcement of the winners took place, it came as no surprise that Cauayan City was pronounced a the Grand Winner. It was, in fact, the Grand Slam champion, as it took home five titles: Giant Mask Competition Champion, Festival King, Festival Queen, Street Dance Competition Winner and Grand Dance Showdown Winner.
Taking second place in the Giant Mask Competition was Ramon, home of the famous Magat Dam, and San Manuel took third place.
For both the Festival King and Festival Queen choices, Ilagan emerged in second place and San Mateo in third place.
Putting up a good fight in the Street Dance Competition during the Grand Opening Parade was Ramon, which took second place, followed by Jones in third place.
For the Dance Showdown, Ilagan took second place and San Mateo emerged in third place.
A quick survey of the stadium that was brimming with people gave me goosebumps as I realized how big the 2013 Magical Bambanti Festival was for the people of Isabela – and that was just for the opening salvo.
(To be continued)