Imagine 15 folk songs, coming from various regions of the Philippines, from the north to the south. Those 15 songs are written in different dialects, and do have different meanings. How do you weave those 15 songs into a cohesive track of music that tells a story of love that is tested through time and several trials?
Ballet Philippines’ Sarong Banggi makes it possible, through the efforts of Dennis Marasigan and Maestro Ryan Cayabyab. Though the title of the play by itself is taken from the well-known Bicolano folk song originally composed by Potenciano Gregorio Sr., Sarong Banggi unifies 14 more folk songs into a musical piece. Marasigan and Cayabyab’s efforts in weaving these 15 folk songs definitely paid off, as the whole performance would make you forget that the music used was based on the music of different regions all around the Philippines.
In addition to the unique approach in interpreting these classic folk songs some of us may be still familiar with, the ballet performance by itself added another layer to the wonderful arrangement of folk songs through presenting to the audience a story that every Filipino can relate to: A story that involves family and efforts in making it strong in spite of struggles and temptations.
The play’s costume designs, which was designed by Rajo Laurel, and props perfectly showcase Filipino culture and traditions, from Laurel’s minimalist and functional costumes for the cast down to the festivities and family-centeredness of the whole performance.
The cast of "Sarong Banggi", donning costumes designed by Rajo Laurel.
The whole story of Sarong Banggi is very Filipino-centric, starting off with the festivities for the birthday of the house matriarch Pilar, where a joyous atmosphere is immediately felt by the audience with the energetic ballet steps. After the festive atmosphere, the scene becomes playful, showcasing a flashback back at the time when the young Pilar got to know the young Jose, who was attracted at first sight with Pilar.
The play presented all the aspects of young love, from awkward moments to the young Jose wooing Pilar, all until the time that they got married, and bore two children later on. The family starts to face struggles as Jose had to leave behind his wife and two children for better opportunities, a story line that a lot of Filipinos, especially OFWs, can relate to. Sarong Banggi was spot on in presenting to the audience at how Jose misses his family as he is far away from them, which led him to temptations that include drinking and adultery.
Elements of loneliness is strong in the character of Pilar, as her children would grow up and live their own lives with their spouses. This prompted him to follow Jose, of which left her disappointed and hurt after catching her husband red-handed committing adultery with another woman. Pilar’s loneliness became dominant in the latter part of the play, as her daughter, daughter-in-law, and several friends try to comfort her with her situation. Pilar being comforted is another Filipino value well presented in the play, as we Filipinos would make an effort to comfort others, especially those who are very close to us, in difficult situations like what Pilar was experiencing.
The best part of Sarong Banggi has to be the fact that in spite of struggle and pain within the family, all is not lost in the name of love. Towards the end of the play, Pilar and Jose, now in the present, decided to forgive one another and become united together with their children and their children’s spouses, prompting for a celebration at their home with their close friends. The final sequence perfectly sums up what love is: there are happy times and sad times, and it is through these experiences that makes the family stronger and more united.
The cast of "Sarong Banggi", with Ryan Cayabyab and Rajo Laurel on stage during the curtain call. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (in foreground) performed live during the Gala Night on October 16.
Even if we do live in modern times, there’s a good reason why old school values and folk songs would still exist even up to this age. Love and family are two things that will remain ageless and will stand through any challenges.