Bayanihan: Cultural Diplomacy At Its Finest — Ambassador Cuisia

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – The timing of its encore leaves much room to be desired but for the Bayanihan Dance Company, the ambassador of cultural songs and dances of the Philippines, the show must go on.

When the dance troupe founded in 1957 by Sen. Helena Benitez and officially designated as the National Folk Dance Company of the Philippines only on 2000 by an act of Congress embarked on a two-city tour starting last Thursday (Nov. 1) in New York’s Broadway’s Jazz at Lincoln Center when its residents were still reeling from superstorm Sandy’s devastation, it should have been postponed for another day in deference to the suffering of the people as did President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney suspend their presidential campaigns.

But if the organizers of Bayanihan were more sensitive, they should have announced that a small part of its proceeds would go the American Red Cross to alleviate the sufferings of New Yorkers, some of them Filipinos, even if its box office receipts would impact on the shoe-string budget of the tour company.

The following day, Friday (Nov. 2nd), NBCUniversal in New York raised funds on a commercial-free one-hour telecast for the victims of Sandy that killed nearly 100 people with New Jersey natives Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi joining Sting, Christina Aguilera and other music stars.

Some observers felt performing in the middle of devastation conjures an image of   Nero playing a lyre while Rome was burning.

After its sold-out performance in New York, the Bayanihan proceeded to Washington, D.C. where they kicked off a series of performances with a special show for a group of American diplomats, servicemen and high school students on Friday (Nov. 2).


According to a press release of Consul Elmer G. Cato, press attaché of the Philippine Embassy, the Bayanihan rendered a special performance at the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast Washington, D.C. The event was co-presented by the Philippine Embassy and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

“The Filipino people want to give back to our friends in America, so in partnership with the D.C. Commission on Arts and Humanities, we are presenting this special performance by the Bayanihan,” said Mrs. Ma. Victoria J. Cuisia, wife of Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr., who initiated the project as part of the embassy’s cultural diplomacy thrusts.

Members of the Bayanihan rendered traditional Philippine songs and dance numbers to an appreciative audience that included Chairman, Judith Terra, and Executive Director, Lionell Thomas of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.  The performances brought smiles to those in the crowd and let them have a sneak peek into an aspect of Philippine culture.

“It was great. The singing and dancing were incredible. We really had a great time,” said Chris Esta, a career Foreign Service Officer with the US Department of State, who is being assigned to the US Embassy in Manila.

Jesse Gatchalian of the Migrant Heritage Commission also brought to the show a number of his friends who were not able to purchase tickets to the sold-out performances of the Bayanihan at the Kennedy Center on November 3 and 4.

“It was a really good show, a super performance.  The choreography was fantastic and the colorful costumes were a terrific sight,” Gatchalian remarked.


Always a crowd favorite, the Bayanihan closed with a demonstration of the Tinikling, with the children in the audience happily volunteering to give the national dance a try.

“It was amazing.  They were so multi-faceted, with the performers able to both sing and dance.  They really showed us a lot about the diversity of Filipino history and culture.  It was a great experience,” said Julius Ty, another Foreign Service Officer from the State Department, who is also scheduled to leave soon to assume his new post in the Philippines.

The New York and Washington, D.C. performances of the Bayanihan were made possible through the efforts of the Philippine Embassy and the newly-formed US-Philippines Society with the support of Philippine Airlines; Henry Howard of the US Education Finance Group; Loida Nicolas Lewis of Lewis College; Josie Natori of the Natori Company; Lin Ilusorio-Bildner of the Albert and Lin Bildner Foundation; Richard Lee of the Covenant Car Company; Henry Sy Jr. of SM Development Corporation; Vonage; ABS-CBN Global; Megaworld International; and Dr. Norman and Mrs. Lourdes San Agustin.

“For quite some time, the Philippines seemed to have been forgotten here in the United States and with its performances here, the Bayanihan was successful in making our American friends remember,” Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. said. “This is cultural diplomacy at its finest.”

The U.S.-Philippines Society was formally launched during the visit of President Aquino in Washington, D.C. last June.

“I would like to thank the Bayanihan for bringing back to us a recollection of and a heightened awareness of the tremendous cultural richness of the Philippines,” said Ambassador John Negroponte, a former US envoy to Manila, who co-chairs the society with businessman Manny Pangilinan.


Ambassador John Maisto, President of the US Philippines Society, said the dance troupe, led by its Executive Director Suzie Moya Benitez, made an impression during its performances in Washington and New York.

Anna Gawel, Managing Editor of the Washington Diplomat, described the performance as spectacular as it offered non-Filipinos like her exciting insights into Philippine culture and history. “The range of costumes was visually stunning and the choreography and emotions behind the dances were riveting,” she said.

“Seeing the Bayanihan makes me a proud Filipino-American,” said financial analyst Miguel Leonardo of Morgan and Stanley. “Bayanihan celebrates the richness of our culture and it showed through the fantastic costumes, exhilarating routines, and masterful sequences that show the rich tapestry of what being a Filipino means.”

Bing Branigin, Board Director of the Asia America Initiative who has been a Bayanihan fan for years, described the performance as totally awesome. “It was exciting to see a new repertoire. The costumes, music, choreography, and the performers were excellent.”

Bayanihan has been spreading cultural songs and dances of the Philippines around the world even before martial law. It is the first Filipino group to perform on Broadway; the first non-American dance company to take to the stage at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; and the first Philippine cultural group to perform in Russia, the People’s Republic of China, and throughout South America.  (

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