By Emme Rose R. Santiagudo, Correspondent

ILOILO CITY — The street dance competition, a staple in Philippine festivals, was elevated in this year’s Dinagyang Festival with the introduction of performances intended for a 360-degree audience.

The eight participating “tribes” in the first Dinagyang 360 tilt showcased choreography designed for an arena-type space, with judges seated in different parts of the venue.

“One of the reasons why we are doing it is to democratize the space, which really means open the space to more people,” Eric Divinagracia of the University of San Agustin, who headed the Iloilo Festival Foundations Inc.’s (IFFI) artistic committee and tribes committee, said in an interview.

“It’s part of really opening the festival to the people,” he added.

Tribu Paghidaet of La Paz National High School brought home the champion’s trophy, apart from bagging six special awards, including Best in Discipline and the People’s Choice.

Their performance featured the healing rituals and practices of the Ati indigenous people, and how folk medicine and pagan faith have been assimilated into the Catholic faith.

This embodies the evolution of the Dinagyang Festival, which is rooted in honoring the Sto. Niño (child Jesus) as Iloilo City’s patron saint and celebrating local culture and history.

“We are allowing Dinagyang to recreate itself and give new meaning to the festival. We received positive comments from the guests and ambassadors who attended the event and as Ilonggos we should be really proud of it,” Mayor Jerry P. Treñas said in an interview.

Aside from the Dinagyang 360, other new events introduced in the festival this year include the Dagyang sa Calle Real, a “merrymaking” street dance led by groups from nine barangays with tourists freely joining in.

The “Ilomination” had the heritage buildings of Calle Real lit up in the evenings

Mr. Treñas said the annual festival, held every fourth Sunday of January, has also become a celebration of the city’s economic growth.

“From a simple and plainly religious event, Dinagyang Festival has evolved into a flamboyant, colorful and jovial religious and cultural celebration in honor of our patron saint, Señor Sto. Niño… they (guests) have seen how our economy works and together with IFFI, we will continue to level up our festivals and introduce new activities,” he said.

Outside the festival, the mayor has also been instrumental in promoting the local art scene.

He said it is “a personal dream” to make Iloilo City the Art Capital of the Philippines through the installation and promotion of public art.

“A few weeks after I assumed office, I met almost all of our Ilonggo artists and asked for help on how to make my dream possible. That is why we have a number of public art murals all over the city,” he said.

The first project was inaugurated in October last year at the district of Jaro — a mural featuring local icons including the Dinagyang Festival.

The initiative has since attracted not just artists from the city, but also within Panay provinces and the capital, while the private sector has pledged support.

The second mural project, located at the river wharf popularly known as Muelle Loney, is a tribute to Rosita Silva Caballero, a “kept maiden” or binukot of the Panay-Bukidnon tribe from the town of Calinog.

The mural was jointly created by several groups of artists from Manila, Capiz, and Iloilo City.

Other parts of the city that have now become public art spaces include the walls in front of the Iloilo City Community College in San Pedro Street, bridges crossing the Iloilo River, and even private buildings.

The paintings depict a wide range of subjects, including the old Panay Railway, the local Chinese community, and Ilonggo heroes.

Artist Marrz G. Capanang, a member of the Artivism Iloilo group, said they are proud and happy to be part of a program that uses art as a tool for education.

“It is a huge opportunity for us to express our advocacy in art by educating the people through the murals,” he said.

City Tourism and Development Office head Junel Ann P. Divinagracia said the murals and other public artworks add to Iloilo’s attractions.

“It is very ‘Instagrammable’ and is really a huge promotion of our city, and we are very fortunate that our mayor pushes for public art,” Ms. Divinagracia said.

The city government, in partnership with local artists, will hold the first Iloilo Summer Arts Festival in April.