Miss Sinulog Australia 2020
The cultural and religious festival ‘Sinulog’ is considered one of the grandest – if not, the grandest – celebration in the Philippines. It draws two million revellers, local and international, who would fill every nook and cranny of Cebu city on the third weekend of January each year.
The festival is well-known for its elaborate pilgrim and tribal costumes and dance performances that take months in the making. During the festival parade, prizes worth millions of pesos go to the best dressed and best choreography.
For many Cebuanos and Cebuanas, Sinulog is their pride and joy.
But for Australian migrants who moved from Cebu to Sydney, experiencing that euphoria unique to the festival is but a faint memory. Unless they can afford to travel back home for Sinulog, the closest they can get to reliving it is through small church gatherings organised by devotees or watching the event on video or Facebook.
A year ago, a group of dreamers – for you can really only call it a dream considering the scope and scale of Sinulog – decided to give it a shot and came up with the concept of the ‘Miss Sinulog Australia 2020’.
After a year of preparations, the day finally came and the first Sinulog festival with a beauty pageant was held at the Diamond Showroom, Blacktown Workers Club, a popular venue choice for community events in Blacktown, the heartland of Filipinos in Sydney.
A cultural show
The show got off to a rocky start. Doors were meant to open at 5.30pm but the early birds had to wait as the organising team rushed through last-minute preparations. When the show finally started at 8pm, the opening was spoilt by audio problems while the Australian national anthem was playing.
But those were the only glitches in an otherwise smooth production of the re-enactment of Philippine history. On stage the audience saw the re-enactment of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan and his crew, to the first Christian mass of the Philippines, the Battle of Mactan and finally, to the miraculous finding of a Sto Nino statue half a century later.
Performed by the newly-formed Sinulog Cultural Dance Troupe under the artistic director, Mars Cavestany (an accomplished director-actor-journalist, among his many artistic hats), the rest of the program continued without a hitch, giving guests a chance to re-acquaint themselves with 16th century Philippines.
Miss Sinulog Australia
After a short break, it was time for the much-awaited part of the evening, the Miss Sinulog Australia pageantry.
Skeptics of the event probably felt vindicated that the solid roster of candidates in the lead up to the event whittled to three. Technically, every one’s a winner – third, second and first place guaranteed.
As it turned out, it’s not the quantity but the quality of the first set of candidates for the new pageant. Kris Andrea Nepomuceno, 26; Angelica Bulaong, 18; and Isabel Daniella R. Gapas, 23, all did their family and friends proud on the night. All of them were statuesque, well-poised, oozing with confidence and – a requisite in any pageants – a beauty in their own right.
An early favourite was Bulaong, who charmed the crowd with her singing talent. She carried herself with poise far beyond her years and, as stated in the program, she received numerous accolades for academic excellence. It was no surprise that she eventually won the special prize of Miss Sinulog Australia – Education Outreach.
Contestant number one – registered nurse Nepomuceno bagged two prizes – Miss Sinulog Australia – Tourism and Best in Evening Gown.
But it was contestant number three, Gapas, who truly shone on the night with her showstopping Sinulog costume inspired by the Sto Nino’s classic red-and-gold garb. Gapas scored the highest marks from the five-judge panel becoming the inaugural Miss Sinulog Australia 2020 and winner of Best in Sinulog Costume (designed by James Maglasang).
Going home with a trifecta, Gapas showcased her more than 10 years of ballet and contemporary dance training with a performance to the tune of ‘Paru-parong bukid’, winning Best in Talent for her efforts.
Fe Limjap, creative consultant and creator of the project, thanked the audience and the group of volunteers, performers, emcees, sponsors and associations (the Visayan Association of Australia was a major supporter of the event) for their support. She particularly thanked the costume makers Carmenchu Montilla Gresham and Dana, as well as her family, including her mother, nanogenarian Violeta Logarta-Greig.
The night’s highlight was definitely the Best in Sinulog costume segment. All three candidates should be commended for bringing the spirit of Sinulog to Sydney. It was an electric sight and gave a glimpse of why Limjap created Miss Sinulog Australia, despite the challenges of mounting such an ambitious project.
There were some aspects of the production that could be better but credit goes to the event committee, all the volunteers and performers involved for bringing the concept to life.
Miss Sinulog Australia 2020 is a glimpse of the visual feast that we miss from 'back home'. It bears the promise of what could become a must-see cultural event in the community calendar in the years to come.
Photo credits: Bob Reyes
More photos on Facebook about the event here.