Mount Mayon is not only an icon of tourism in the province of Albay, but of the whole Philippines. The splendor of the 8,077-foot active volcano, known for its almost perfect symmetry, inspires awe among visitors and is a constant companion of Albayanos living under its shadow, becoming an integral part of their culture.
There is a popular folklore about the origin of Mount Mayon that Albayanos often tell.
Once there was a princess named Magayon (literally meaning “beautiful”), daughter of Makusog, who was the most beautiful and the most modest in Kabikolan. Among her many suitors was the wealthy and wicked Pagtuga, but Magayon disliked him. When Magayon was about to take a bath at the river, she slipped and was carried away by the currents. A handsome stranger, Panganoron or Ulap (cloud), from Katagalogan saved Magayon’s life. They fell in love. Magayon told this to his father, who remained open-minded despite his disappointment. Pagtuga kidnapped Makusog and threathened to kill him unless Magayon agreed to marry him. To save her father’s life, Magayon consented. On the day of the wedding, Ulap arrived, having heard of the news, with his trusted guide Amihan and several men ready to rescue Magayon. Fighting ensued. Pagtuga was killed by Ulap. Magayon ran to her lover, but was hit by an arrow. As she died in his arms, Ulap was stabbed at the back. The lovers were laid to rest. Magayon was buried with Pagtuga’s gift of diamonds, pearls, gold and other precious stones. A mound appeared on Magayon’s grave the next day, and it grew bigger and bigger until it became a mountain. Occasionally, quakes were felt by the people coming from the mountain. Sometimes, thick clouds would form around the top. It is said that the spirit of Pagtuga, which the help of Linog (earthquake), tries to exhume Magayon’s grave to get the gifts he had given her. It is also said that the clouds forming around the mountain is Ulap, shielding Magayon from the sun, sending raindrops and kissing her.
Mount Mayon and its story have inspired many artists. The legend was retold in an epic in English and Filipino by Albayano writer Merlinda Bobis, Cantata of the Warrior Woman Daragang Magayon/Kantada ng Babaing Mandirigma Daragang Magayon, published in 1993. Bobis would do a dramatic reading of her epic.
An experimental theatrical piece was staged at the ramp of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) based on the epic. Noted musicologist and composer Dr. Ramon Santos, who was involved in the production, recalled that a young ballet dancer, choreographer and teacher, Gerald Mercado, liked it and wanted to revive it.
With the help of the provincial government of Albay, the multi-media dance production Daragang Magayon: An Istorya ni Mayon is to be staged by the 10-year-old group of young independent artists, E-Dance Theater Performing Lab, on Feb. 8, 2013, at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, along Roxas Boulevard in Pasay City (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.).
Mercado related: “Tinatrato kong anak ang Daragang Magayon. Para kong dinaanan ang panganganak at pagpapalaki ng anak mag-isa (I treated Daragang Magayon like my own child. It was like going through giving birth and raising a child by myself). Its inception — when I had to look at the story and read it again, and research deeper into Bicol folklore — took several years in the making. Pinaikot-ikot ko ang mundo ni Magayon ng paulit-ulit sa imahinasyon ko, hanggang sa finally nabuo rin ang puzzle, at ito ang kinalabasan (I made the world of Magayon revolve inside my imagination again and again until finally the puzzle was solved, and this is the outcome). The choreography, which up until now is still in the process, is for me a process of creating and recreating movement, inventing and reinventing myself.”
“The artistic team intended Daragang Magayon to be a breakthrough for the Philippine art scene — that is the first-ever Filipino multi-media production in quite literally epic proportions,” Mercado said. “And to do this meant bringing together the best that literature and music have.”
Several important artists were gathered for this endeavor. Most notable are Dr. Santos, who created new music for the production, and National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario, whose poetry is featured.
The dramaturgy is by Abdon Balde Jr., who was a civil engineer who turned to writing and literature upon retirement. The award-winning and prodigious Bikolano fictionist and poet was recently appointed as the first poet laureate of Albay by its provincial government. Film is incorporated into the work by filmmaker Chuck Escasa with script by Aimee Escasa and Boni Ilagan, cinematography by Henry Posadas and animation by Niko Salazar. The set design is created by Leo Abaya, while costume design is by Carlo Pagunaling and lights design by John Batalla. Mercado does the direction and choreography.
The cast of dancers, actors and singers include Ea Torrado as Magayon, Victor Maguad as Ulap, Francis Cascaño as Pagtuga, Pamela Josef as Usa, Marcus Tolentino as Makusog, Roduardo Ma and Earvin Guillermo as Linog, Ronnie Lazaro as Gugurang, Pontri Bernardo as Aswang, soprano Stephanie Quintin, tenor Jay-El Viteño, bass Jonak del Fierro, the University of the Philippines Rondalla and the Novo Concertante.
“This rendition of the legend of Mount Mayon is unique in two ways — the incorporation of Bicolano deities in the myth and the particular emphasis of Magayon as a warrior princess,” wrote Mercado. “I decided to merge the different facets of Bicolano folklore into one cohesive story. The gods Gugurang and Aswang, and the goddess Calayo are usually credited for the creation of the world and the fire that made it possible for humankind to survive. The love story of Ulap and Magayon tells the tale of the Mount Mayon. For me, these two stories are in essence, mirror images of each other. It is the same story of the war of two powers, of fire and the triumph of love.”
Santos, who was selected as National Artist for music in 2009 but was dropped by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in favor of her choices, said he created innovations for this production. Notable is his creation of a score for rondalla, the plucked string music.
“Maraming magagaling na rondalista sa Bikol (There are many good rondalla players in Bicol),” Santos said.
Rondalla music has always been used as intermissions in programs, as welcome to visitors during important occasions and as accompaniment to celebrations but according to Santos, “rondalla has never been used in a ‘serious’ production.” His composition “proved to be challenging even for the players,” but is haunting and unique.
The local government of the province of Albay is supporting the production as part of its revitalized tourism program.
“Ang pagtatampok ng Daragang Magayon: An Istorya ni Mayon sa Cultural Center of the Philippines…ay ang pagdadala ng liwanag sa mga taong nasa karimlan ng kawalang-alam sa mga tradisyong Albayano (The staging of Daragang Magayon: An Istorya ni Mayon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines…is [like] bringing light to those who are in the dark about Albay tradition),” said the governor of Albay Joey Sarte Salceda. “Mahalaga ito sa amin na maibahagi ang kagandahan ng aming kultura sa mga taga-ibang rehiyon ng ating bansa. Napapanahon nang makita nila ang kagandahan ng aming probinsiya, ang kariktan ng aming mga dilag, at ang yaman ng aming kultura. Sa ganitong paraan, hangad namin na katulad ni ulap, maakit kayo na dalawin ang Albay, umibig sa Albayana at makibahagi sa aming pagdiriwang.” (It is important for us to share the beauty of our culture to other regions of our country. It is already time for them to see the beauty of our province, the loveliness of our maidens and the richness of our culture. This way, we wish that like ulap you will be enticed to visit albay, to fall in love with albay women and to take part in our celebration.)
Salceda is said to be supportive of arts and culture, and his projects included regular exhibits at the provincial capitol building, the commissioning of local sculptors to create statues of historical figures of Albay, the staging of the opera in Bikol Dance of the Three Mountains by Balde during the 2012 Magayon Festival, and the creation of the Office of the Poet Laureate. This latest endeavor is a way to showcase Bicolano culture for the whole country to see, and the legend of Daragang Magayon is an apt avenue.
Salceda said: “Ang alamat ni Daragang Magayon ay paulit-ulit na ipinagdiriwang n gaming probinsiya sa mga dula, sayaw, awit at tugtog dahil ito ay naglalarawan ng aming pinagmulan. Ito ay naglalarawan ng pinakamaganda sa amin sa ugali, anyo, pag-ibig, pakikipagkapwa-tao at ang aking kaligiran. Pinayayaman nito an gaming buhay. Pinahahalagahan nito ang aming mga kaugalian.” (The legend of Daragang Magayon is frequently celebrated in our province in plays, dance, songs and music because it showcases our roots. It displays the best in us—in conduct, form, love, camaraderie and surroundings. It enriches our lives. It honors our traditions.)
“Ang alamat ni Daragang Magayon na sa kamatayan ay naging isang napakagandang bulkan ay naglalarawan ng anyo at kaluluwa ng aming probinsiya, ng mga Albayano. Sumasalamin ito sa aming kultura (The legend of Daragang Magayon, who in death becomes a very beautiful volcano, represents the image and soul of our province, of the Albayanos. It is a glimpse into our culture),” he explained. “Una sa lahat, ang paggalang sa Diyos — na katulad ni Gugurang — at ang pag-alay ng atang kung may biyayang dumating sa aming buhay (First of all, the respect for God — like Gugurang’s — and the thanksgiving if there are blessings in our life).”
“Ang paggalang sa magulang, lalo sa ama ng tahanan. Handa si Magayon na isakripisyo ang sariling kaligayan para lamang sa kaligtasan ng kanyang ama (The respect for parents, especially for the father of the house. Magayon is ready to sacrifice her own happiness for the safety of her father),” he added. “Ang likas na ganda ng paligid na tampok ang Bulkang Mayon ay ipinagdiriwang at pinahahalagahan namin bilang biyaya ng Diyos at ng kalikasan. (The innate beauty of the environment featuring Mayon Volcano is being celebrated and valued as a blessing from God and from nature) ”
“At bakit naming ilalarawan ang aming kultura sa pamamagitan ng isang makabagong ballet sa Cultural Center? Sapagkat hangad namin na madali ninyo kaming maunawaan sa pamamagitan ng sining. Magiging madali para sa atin ang magkaunawaan. Madali ang pag-ambag ng kaalaman. Nagiging isang komunidad tayo sa magkahawig na kultura. At higit sa lahat, ito ay masayang pagtitipon. (And why are we showcasing our culture through a modern ballet at the Cultural Center? Because it is our wish that you would easily understand us through art. It would easier to understand one another. It is easy for the transfer of knowledge. We become one community with the with the similarities in our cultures. And best of all, it is a fun gathering.)” he concluded.
Daragang Magayon: An Istorya ni Mayon will be shown on Feb. 8, at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. For more information, call 425-0509, 0920-9266387 and 832-1125 local 1116. For ticket inquiries, call 829-3591, 0906-2735400, 0922-8477639 and 0933-4372744. Call Ticketworld at 891-9999.