A non-Filipino's guide to the 2019 SEA Games opening ceremonies
MANILA, Philippines – The 2019 Southeast Asian Games opening ceremonies is set to take place on Saturday, November 30, and aside from formally opening the games, the event is also meant to showcase the best of Filipino culture to our Southeast Asian neighbors.
From start to finish, the hour-and-a-half long show is steeped in all things Pinoy – from the textile-inspired backdrops, to the intricate costumes, to the Filipino folk dances, and even the choice of song. (READ: What to expect from the SEA Games 2019 opening ceremonies)
While the show is poised to be well-staged – it is after all helmed by a veteran playwright and a National Artist for Music – many of the elements may be unfamiliar to non-Filipino viewers.
To help you out, here are some of the Whos and Whats you can expect to see on stage - and their significance to Filipino culture:
- Santacruzan - The athlete's parade will be done in the style of Santacruzan, a religious pageant held on the last day of the Flores de Mayo, a month-long festival held in May to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Santacruzan, girls are chosen to play various reynas (queens) representing historical figures or communities. They then parade around town under handcarried bamboo arches covered in flowers. In the case of the opening ceremonies, the beauty queens who were chosen as muses for each competing country represent the Santacruzan reynas, and each country carries its own handcarried arch.
- Sarimanok - One of the dances opens with a perfomer dressed in a colorful ensemble, representing the Sarimanok. The Sarimanok is a legendary bird from the Maranao people of Mindanao in Southern Philippines. It is usually depicted as a bird with brightly colored feathers, and is meant to symbolize good fortune.
- Bahay Kubo - At some point in the show, you may see a hut being carried onto the stage. In the Philippines, the hut is called a bahay kubo, and the act of carrying it is a symbol of bayanihan, which is the Filipino value of coming together and helping each other to achieve one goal. Bayanihan originated from the tradition of communities carrying houses together when families need to relocate.
- Traditional Filipino dances - The earlier part of the show will showcase folk dances from various regions in the Philippines – from ritual dances from tribes in the North, to a story-telling dance called the Singkil from the Maranao people of the South.
- Kundiman - This is a traditional Filipino song sometimes performed as a duet that you'll hear at some point in the show. Kundimans typically have a slow, swaying melody, and lyrics that are open and unabashed declarations of love.
- Francis Magalona - The late rapper was a pioneer of Filipino hiphop – and his music takes center stage when the show highlights contemporary Filipino culture. Francis M rose to fame in '90s for music that celebrated Filipino culture and identity, and he was known to inspire many future generations of Pinoy rappers and hiphop artists. This year in March marked the 10th year of his death, but the King of Rap's legacy is celebrated in the show – with his son Elmo among the performers.
Speaking of performers, here's a little bit of background on the people you'll be watching on stage:
- Ramon Obusan Folkloric Dance Group - A resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, this group has focused on preserving and promoting Philippine folk dance. It was named after the late National Artist for Dance Ramon Obusan.
- Lani Misalucha – One of the country's most iconic female singers is set to lead Filipinos in singing the Philippine National Anthem. Known as "Asia's Nightingale," Lani has performed all over the world. Lani is so well-loved particularly in the United States, that two cities there have declared their own "Lani Misalucha Days" in honor of her.
- Robert Seña - Robert is a pillar of musical theater in the Philippines. He was part of the original 1989 London West End production of Miss Saigon, playing the character of Thuy. He has also played Judas in the West End revival of Jesus Christ Superstar, and appeared in countless plays in the local theater scene, including one of the most enduring Filipino musicals, PETA's Rak of Aegis.
- Aicelle Santos - Aicelle initially rose to fame on the talent competition Pinoy Pop Superstar, but has since made a name for herself as a musical theater star. She played the role of Aileen in Rak of Aegis, and recently stunned audiences as Elsa in Himala: Isang Musikal. She also played Gigi Van Tranh in the Miss Saigon International Tour.
- Christian Bautista - A beloved balladeer, Christian became famous for being a finalist on the singing competition Star in a Million, after which he released his multi-platinum debut album. He has also dabbled in acting and musical theater, appearing in plays such as West Side Story and Rama Hari.
- Jed Madela – Another champion on the SEA Games stage, Jed has represented the Philippines – and won – in various singing competitions all over the world. One of his most significant achievements is becoming the first Filipino to win the "Grand Champion Performer of the World" title at the World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA) in 2005. The same competition inducted him into its hall of fame in 2013.
- Iñigo Pascual - Singer, songwriter, and actor Iñigo is the son of beloved actor Piolo Pascual, but he has made a name for himself with his hit debut single "Dahil Sa 'yo," which became Billboard Philippines' first chart topper. He has also been tapped by Disney to do the official Philippine versions of theme songs from movies such as Coco, and the live-action remake of Lion King.
- Elmo Magalona - As mentioned earlier, Elmo is the son of legendary rapper FrancisM, inheriting his dad's hiphop legacy. He started performing at a young age, becoming a fixture in now-defunct variety show Party Pilipinas and going on to appear in various TV series and movies.
- KZ Tandingan - Singer and rapper KZ is the first ever winner of The X Factor Philippines, but since then, she's been winning fans over for her one-of-a-kind voice that lets her take on power ballads. She also competed in the Chinese singing competition Singer 2018, on which she debuted with a bang with her viral version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." She's performed with several international artists, including Jessie J, who was also a challenger on the show, and Apl.de.ap, who she collaborated on a song with in 2018.
- The TNT Boys - This trio of singers caught everyone's attention when they joined the TV singing competition Tawag ng Tanghalan Kids in 2017. If they look familiar, it's probably because you've seen them floor judges on the talent show Little Big Shots in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. They also appeared on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where they were surprised by one of their idols, Ariana Grande.
- Anna Fegi - This Cebuana singer has become known for her powerhouse vocals, incredible range, and her stage presence. In the '90s, she joined Smokey Mountain, an award-winning singing group formed by Maestro Ryan Cayabyab, National Artist for Music, and also composer of the official SEA Games song, "We Win As One."
- Apl.de.ap - The Filipino-American rapper is known to be a member of the Grammy Award-winning group The Black Eyed Peas. Born in Angeles City, Pampanga (not far from one of the SEA Games venues), Apl moved to the United States when he was 14, and befriended Will.I.Am, with whom he would later form their now-famous group. Apl and the Black Eyed Peas (minus Fergie) will also be performing at the closing ceremonies with Jessica Reynoso and Journey's Arnel Pineda.
There's a lot more to expect from the show – but hopefully this guide will give visitors a bit of context and help them enjoy the show. The 2019 SEA Games opening ceremonies will be held at The Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan on November 30. The show starts at 7 pm, but audiences watching live are encouraged to arrive by 5 pm. – Rappler.com