The beat of the drum started as the whistle blew, the cue for the contingent to start. Elaborate headresses done in mostly chicken feathers, colorful costumes and skimpy thongs, it was a riot of dances, chants, shouts and heavily marked with stunning props as tribes romped off and competed in the different stages around Downtown Iloilo City for the Dinagyang 2014.
It was fast. Movements became a blur, colors flashed as lady dancers sashayed, while boys were in fighting postures. They kicked up a cloud of dust, eventually, but the audience were held captive, not minding the heat of the sun to those not under the shelter.
One contingent enters, performs, bon bons shook and exposed. Dark curly wigs seems to be the norm as well as painted dark skin, painted faces and the ever present smile.
After ten performances, you will know who stood out and who won despite the seeming same storyline: conversion of the ati, indegenous group of Negritoes who inhabited Panay island and were said to be the first settler of the Philippines, by the colonizing Spaniards to Christianity with the veneration of the Sto. Nino and its icon prominently displayed and thrust into the limelight after each routine.
And as I watched, I can’t help cringe at some of the dances where Christianity, with its great light and power subjugated the infidels and heathens. But only one group made it more meaningful with a presentation based from the indigenous Hinilawod of Tribu Panayan-on who performed with an elder who chanted parts of the oral epic.
But then, there were lots of bats or dancers dressed as bats, monsters and huge props evoking these creatures that some are relying on them for color and story. And with elaborate headresses on supposed atis, I am left to ask, what will a true ati say of depictions of them?
Those questions aside, I did enjoy the pomp and pageantry, the festive colors and movements of the dancers and wasn’t disappointed that, for quite a number of years, I finally witnessed and photographed the Dinagyang Festival.
More images at the Langyaw Media FB page.
My great thanks to a friend, Vincent, who provided me a photographer’s ID that allowed me to gain entry at the best stage in the entire route, the Provincial Capitol stage as well as save me P500 for the fee. Thank you pre!
Tips: The Dinagyang proper has several stages around Downtown Iloilo. It is different to the Kasadyahan Fiesta which happens the day before but, if you shoot that too, it can be a preparation for this particular event. The best performance area for a photographer is the one at the Provincial Capitol. The dancers face east and the light is good. There are less and less blatant commercial posters to distract the background.
Dancers can be fast and routines can get to be a blur. Make sure you have sufficient shutter speed to freeze the movements. While I worked on Aperture Priority most of the time, I made sure my ISO can result to a higher shutter speed.