On June 9th, twenty-two members of the Leyte Dance Theater (LDT) arrived in Tampa, Florida coming from Tallahassee per the invitation of the Philippine Cultural Foundation, Inc. (PCFI) as part of their 2023 cultural programs. The group arrived in the United States on May 20th on their third US tour coming directly from the island of Leyte, Philippines.

Leyte Dance Theatre

On their way to America, Lowe Taña, the President LDT chaperoning the group, called me from their stopover in Japan and informed me that Japan Airline refused to load their eight bamboos for some ridiculous reasons. They had no choice but to leave the bamboo. Lowe told me that without the bamboo, it would be impossible to do the show as they was the vital props of their repertoire in this tour. And their first performance was to be in two days in Connecticut after their arrival.

Leyte Dance Theatre

Though I am not a member of the group, nor did I know them that well, in 2018, the first time the they performed in Tampa, I fell it love with the group and even followed them to California before flying back to the Philippines. In 2018, the group suffered two major events. Their founder and choreographer Jesus “Jess” de Paz whom I met during their tour in 2018, passed away a few weeks after the group returned from their tour. Then a few months later, their whole studio burned down due to electrical wiring and the group lost all their costumes and props. When I heard about this, I immediately asked the generous Filipinos in Tampa for donations and was able to raise enough money to send back to group, so they can start making their new costumes for their future tour of the US.

So now, I was thinking how in the world will this group perform without bamboo.

After hanging up the phone from Lowe, I immediately thought who I could call to help rescue the group from this disastrous situation? I started thinking of all my retired Bayanihan dance company alumni whom I knew had their own dance groups in America. First call was Marijo Castro-Fadrigalan. After explaining to Marijo, the situation of the group, without hesitation, Marijo called the staff and parents of her dance group.

Leyte Dance Theatre

By afternoon, even before the group landed in New York, the bamboo problem was solved. I also called Nerissa Montecillo-Abadilla from New York who also coordinated the bamboo. Marijo and her group even lent the bamboo for the group’s performance in New Jersey.

I also tried coordinating the other cities to help facilitate finding bamboo for the group to use. From New Jersey, the group performed in Virginia, North Carolina, then Tallahassee, Florida. The Philippine Performing Arts Company (PPAC) our local Philippine dance group lent their bamboo for Tallahassee which were brought back by the group when they arrive Tampa.

Leyte Dance Theatre

The group consists of high school and college students as well as professionals who have joined the group before. The whole group was hosted during their entire stay in Tampa, by the very generous Roque and Emma Barrido at their palatial house in Palm Harbor. Knowing how the Filipinos in Tampa help each other, different Filipino caterers started donating food for the group delivering them at the Barrido residence. Even members of PPAC, offered their service to drive the members around our Florida beaches and malls to help entertain the group in their five days in Tampa. The Barrido’s and myself also took turns driving the group while they were in Tampa. I as well as May Golez, Marissa Opperman, and Joean Draker gave gifts for the entire group. From make up to jogging pants and pajamas, and costume jewelry.

Finally, on Sunday, June 11th, in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the signing of the Philippine Independence, PCFI presented the LDT show entitled “PADAYAW,” at the Bayanihan Arts and Events Center.  I could not help myself and had tears in my eyes when I saw the group finally perform. Despite all the problems we had. And what a show they did. People who came could not stop applauding in appreciation dance after dance, appreciating these young people who were so excited and in sharing their talents in stylist Philippine folk with a twists of ballet.

The show opened with PCFI Chairman Arnell Biglete and Cultural Affairs Director Nhick Ramiro-Pacis welcomed the audience. Then the dancers wove in and out of the stage as they opened the show with dances from the Cordillera mountains they called “Dawn of the Highland.” This was followed with dances during the Spanish era in the Philippines entitled, “Mardi Gras de Principalia.” In between the suits, soprano singer Melanie Goingo, who was a former of the group and now lives in Lakeland Florida, sang beautiful Filipino classical songs including, “Mutya ng Pasig,” and one of my favorites, “Ang Maya.”

The next suite was a spectacular one, as the group presented the “Unchartered Sarimanok Trail.” Then there was a fifteen minutes break, the Ang Bisaya of Florida provided delicious Philippine snacks like Siopao and more.

As the program resumed, the next suite were dances from the rural areas of the Philippines entitled “Life of the Rurals.” And finally, as their grand finale suite, they  showed a dramatization of the suppressed Filipinos during the Spanish occupation, the killing of the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, and finally the liberation of the Philippines, with the dancers themselves transforming into a gigantic Philippine flag the end of the dance and asked everyone to rise and join in the singing of the Philippine National Anthem. I have never seen the finale of a dance performance with people in tears, so touched, at the same time proud of being Filipino-Americans, with the way the group presented the Philippine flag. A never ending standing ovation and screaming if “Bravo!” never stopped until all the tears were wiped from the people’s faces. And I thought to myself, CONGRATULATIONS Leyte Dance Theater for a job well done.

Photo credit by: Nhick Ramiro-Pacis