I never knew Dr. Shirley Agrupis had an inclination towards arts and culture. To begin with, she is a hard-nosed science professor educated abroad. Also, the lady is constantly busy either in conducting research on biofuels or in collaborating with foreign experts visiting our university. But she called me the other day asking about a festival that has need neither for microscopes nor test tubes.
“I am intrigued about that Tan-ok. I want to go,” she told me.
The other day, I spoke at a journalism workshop at Pasaleng National High School in Pagudpud. It is the farthest barangay in the northernmost town in this province at the tip of mainland Luzon. It takes a two-hour ride from Laoag City to get to that place which is a few ‘tumblings’ away from Cagayan province.
You would think they are secluded in their little paradise, but all the kids and teens there know about Tan-ok (which literally means greatness), and want to go watch if only they could.
Crystal Felipe is a medical technology freshman at the University of Sto. Tomas. Beauty and wit personified, she is focused on her studies. She does not let anything distract her from getting good grades and excelling in school.
But part of her mind will wander at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City tonight, Nov. 17. This time, Crystal will only be in spirit at the event that gave her goose bumps, in most pleasant ways, last year.
Stories like these, dear karikna, make me realize that the Tan-ok ni Ilokano Festival of Festivals, a brainchild of Manang Imee Marcos, has arrived as the biggest show in the universe I live in. Everyone is abuzz about this year’s edition believed to be even grander than its debut last year.
Twenty-one municipalities and two cities bat it out for the championship bragging rights currently held by Batac City’s Empanada Festival, the 2011 grand winner. Practices started months ago with the dancers and crew, mostly students, enduring daily rehearsals orchestrated by highly paid and well-driven choreographers, so well-driven that conflicts have reportedly sparked between certain choreographers handling various towns.
All contingents are expected to give their best shot, supported by overeager mayors who know so well that bringing home the bacon can surely help them bag the bigger bacon they salivate for in May next year. I just hope that, unlike last year, no politician will join the dance presentations and snatch the glory from the real dancers. Come on, mayors, we already listen to you and bear with your faces whole year round. Give your artists this chance to shine. This is not Tan-ok ni Politiko.
And on the problem of identity and originality, areas where much is to be desired, Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer Ianree Raquel says, “Some groups certainly have done their best to achieve what we have always wanted to achieve from the very start; that it should be as original, as Ilokano, and entertainingly Ilokano as we can, ” Given a plethora of fiestas in the country, Raquel acknowledges the great challenge of establishing a festival’s real and unique identity, but also expresses confidence that the province is making strides towards this direction.
Laoag City, which had a dismal finish last year that saw the mayor’s wife Chevylle Fariñas apologizing to the Sangguniang Panlunsod for the shame and confusion the lackluster performance brought, has found its groove, insiders says. Last year’s joke is now a serious contender. And it is not because they have hired a star choreographer in Christian Espiritu of Showtime fame but because they have worked on a theme Laoageños cannot disown. They did a “blacksmith” act last year that got the people upset (and your karikna writing the article ‘Why Laoag is biggest loser’) because the trade has never been associated with the city.
They invited me to see the dress rehearsals, and I should have gone there because it is a rare privilege, but why should I deprive myself of the pleasant surprises, goose bumps, and tears of joy I expect to experience tomorrow night when the biggest show in my universe unfolds.
(Note: See you there. Show starts at 7 p.m.; gate opens at 3 p.m. Space for walk-in audience, i.e. those who do not belong to official delegations from LGUs, so better come early.)