Thursday, March 23, 2017

Once in this Island, Love Wins

Naths Everette as Mama , Cara Barredo as Ti Moune  and Eduard Briones as Toto 

Ephesus Teatron Group staged "Once in this Island" in a series of pop up performances at the Emilio Aguinaldo Theatre. A product of the nineties, this one act musical created by Lynn Ahrens embodies generation Y's vibrance and humor. It is  filled with melodious catchy music giving the actors several opportunities to break out in lighthearted dances. Its' swaying charm allows the audience to sit back and watch the story unravel like a child would.

The story began with lightning and thunderstorms scaring a little child. The people then decided to comfort and distract the child with a love story. A young woman gambles on love and death. It ends on a sad note with her heart broken and her spirit dimmed. Death claims her life but her life and legacy of giving takes on another form as she transforms into a tree destined to stay in the island forever. The people of the island then emphasize to the child that it was the woman's tragedy that brought people together. It was her overwhelming urge to love and live a life of purpose that brought so much joy to everyone in the end. It opened a child's eyes to hope.  Much like Filipino folklores, the story was meant to be a reminder of how life is volatile but ultimately fruitful.
Life is why we tell the story

Pain is why we tell the story
Love is why we tell the story
Grief is why we tell the story
Hope is why we tell the story
Faith is why we tell the story
You are why we tell the story

It was a pity that I didn't see a fully packed theater that day because this production is definitely worth watching. I do know that pocket performances tend to go that way, but it seemed to me that the thunderous applause of a handful was not enough to repay the energy that the multi-tasking cast brought forth. Typical of shows directed by Ms. Baby Barredo, none of the actors left space for complacency. Empty chairs are always a bit disheartening but this cast literally had explosive energy that filled up the theater with positivity. Giving justice to the conversational choreography of Mr. James Laforteza, the ensemble articulated the steps con gusto. Admittedly not everyone looked like a trained dancer but, it did not stop them from elongating their arms and fingers as far as it would go. In no way did that stop any of them for leaping so dangerously into the air and out of their comfort zones.

The cast was led by Cara Barredo as Ti Moune. She displayed a good balance of earthy gracefulness and passionate singing. With ease she was able to deliver youthfulness and purity of heart. Ultimately her role is responsible for allowing the audience to navigate from scene to scene. She conquered numerous emotional moments and charmed here way into my heart. Daniel (Ti Moune's love interest) was played by Edrei Tan. His attack to acting was quite subtle but nonetheless enjoyable to say the least. His physical features matched the machismo expected of the coveted man. Moments of the romance elicited kilig moments that were lovely to capture.
Cara Bareddo as Ti Moune
Edrei Tan as Daniel


The cast was filled with veterans who all provided rich performances. Arion Sanchez who played one of the Gods was able to hold his own with the seasoned performers. I was amused that he showed good physicality. He reintroduced himself to me in this performance.

Arion Sanchez as Papa Ge

A feel good story, an exhuberant and an inspired cast. A satisfying triad that goes well with my minimalist live, love and laugh regimen. I do hope that it gets a few more chances to reach bigger audiences. There is joy in this production and it needs to be shared with others.


Abi Sulit as Asaka

Sweet Samaniego Buchanan as Erzulie

Only Torres as Agwe 

 Brilliant comedy from Steven Hotchkiss as Armand  

Feb 28, 2017 
Emilio Aguinaldo Theatre 

Daniel - Edrei Tan Ti Moune - Cara Barredo Mama - Naths Everett Tonton - Eduardo Briones Asaka - Abi Sulit Agwe - Onyl Torres Erzulie - Sweet Samaniego Buchanan Papa Ge - Arion Sanchez Armand - Steven Hotchkiss Andrea - Rissey Reyes

Friday, March 17, 2017

Warped Humanity; UPDC's "Ang Unang Aswang"

Seated in a place surrounded by overwhelming nature and curious audience energy, one would think that I would be frazzled. It was after all a dark gloomy place that provided no comfort whatsoever. No cushioned seats, no refinements, nothing but an earthy stage waiting for its occupants. I waited with bated breath for UP Dance Company's adaptation of Rody De Vera's "Ang Unang Aswang" in UP Arki Ampitheater. I took in the rawness of the environment and was ironically calmed by the casualness in the air. Perhaps it was also my appetite for a new intrinsically Filipino work that left me in a good disposition. I sat there happy and hopeful.

Rody De Vera's intense play was reworked as a brilliant portrait of warped humanity. The story revolves around a child who was born in the forest. The animals in the forest embrace her as their own and she grows up loving what she was accustomed with. After all she had a family. She was content. She was completely at peace with her life until someone disrupted her untainted solitary life. A man with no moral compass found her in the forest and took interest in her. He lured her into his arms. Soon, he had more than her hand, she had her heart. He humanized her, introduced her to the tradition of the flesh. Inevitably, he planted the seed of life in her. With a more compelling reason, she sought him out to tell him about her pregnancy. Instead of happiness, the man slapped her with rejection. It turned out he didn't need her in his life because he already had a family of his own. Stung by betrayal she fought the best way she knew how. The man transformed her into a woman but she herself transformed herself into an aswang.

Director and choreographer JM Cabling, had the daunting task of translating this story into movement. He chose to start the show with Al Bernard Garcia echoing sweet sounding Filipino lines that were beyond my comprehension. Within minutes, I was greatly intimidated. Thankfully, I respond to movement and emotion. As soon as the movements came to life,  I knew this performance was not only going to echo the words of Rody De Vera. It was going to echo the poetry inside Cabling's heart. For a story about a Filipino myth, it felt like a retelling of a familiar story. It was as real as it could get.

Cabling introduced the life in the forest by of course giving them appropriate animalistic nuances. His play of movements for the animal characters was very grounded providing a good contrast to the humans in the production. He did away with corny kindergarten crawling. Instead he used powerful lifts, lunges and quite a few number of fling and catch combinations. His animals were portrayed not as monsters but as protective guardians. They would shift from loving to ferocious but always in the context of love and community. He successfully established that animals were not to be depicted as unfeeling creatures. In the same manner the movements given to Elena Laniog Alvarez who plays the young girl were also raw and real. The mimicry was outstanding. The display of athleticism made the idea of a different world other than our human world exist plausible.


Cabling then transitioned to introducing Garcia as the man who would sweep Alvarez off her feet. He created a pas de deux for them to depict their blossoming romance. In this pas de deux, he remained consistent to his characterization often adding significant reminders. Alvarez clings to Garcia in a supported lift and is found nibling on his ear similar to how a puppy plays with his master. Garcia playing a man who was out to play objectified her by outlining her body. The connection on stage was not portrayed as merely a fling. It seemed like a blossoming romance that could change both of them for good. She offered him her prized necklace and he gave her his tie. For a while there it seemed they were good for each other. It made it possible for the unknowing audience to  think  that maybe, just maybe #MAYFOREVER.


But as we know the story is about the man's betrayal. The betrayal was mounted very carefully. As the man rejected the woman, she stayed still. Frozen with fear, numbed by pain Alvarez just stood there. Garcia then did the worst thing he could to the heroine, he raised his arms and threatened her with a knife. It was the manner he did it that made it significant. It was staged in such a way that it seemed he was reducing her to an animal. He was not a person to him after all, just a pet that was suddenly threatening him by her mere presence. All of a sudden, she was back to being an animal and he was the self righteous human. The rejection was so real, that it broke me and silent tears came rushing.

As the story goes, the woman got her revenge by taking away everything that was important to the man by killing them. Leaving the man alive to feel what he had lost. She left him with nothing. Renegade and retribution was cemented. However the show did not end with the woman waving her arms in the air inhaling the power that revenge provides. The woman-turned-aswang  was in the seat of power with her eyes glazed and her movements strong. But her face never showed any joy nor did it give her back the contentment she previously enjoyed. There was no solo celebrating her new found strength. There was no victory celebrated. She became an aswang because she thought she needed to be one to protect her child and herself from further pain. The truth was nothing could protect people from feeling pain. As she was being prosecuted by the humans led by Garcia, she never really ran away. She never really broke down. After all, no pain could be worse than what had already consumed her. There was nothing to protect anymore because she was completely broken inside. The show ended with the final pursuit of the aswang.



I honestly thought this was a brilliant work of art by Cabling who showed a genuine effort to create movement from the characters' voices rather than merely basing it on what the dancers can actually execute. The story telling was touching, relatable and relevant. It was his nuances that made everything come to life. For an hour or so I allowed myself to stay still (barely clicking my camera) and I let the production sway me until it finally broke me. That says a lot because audiences like me go home taking a piece of the show with them. That is what dance can do when done well, it moves people. Very much like fluid poetry his creation spoke volumes  of emotions.

It helped a lot that his cast was very blessed both in technique and artistry. Elena Laniog Alvarez' maturity was undeniable as she transitioned from an innocent youth to a ravaged vengeful woman. She was able to tell the story not just by her excellent grasp of contemporary dance but by shedding layers of the character patiently. Her pain was internal but powerful enough to be felt. I feel privileged to have seen her do this role.


Al Bernard Garcia was an honest performer. He was a dependable partner who seemed to really understand the material. His soloists and ensemble were also well versed with the technique which greatly contributed to the success of the show.

The  set, as simple as it was, was the perfect stage for something like this. It complemented the ruggedness of the movements. The lighting was often awesome but I did find it too erratic at times. While it probably acheived its artistic goal, it was sometimes blinding and hurtful to the naked eye. What I would say was a weak point was the costumes. It was not so much as the costumes were not nicely made. What I thought was unsettling was how the humans were made to wear something very contemporary zen (a leotard and a skirt that could easily have been used in any play for the women and matching red polo with matching pants for the men) while the animals were clothed and made up very artistically. There were several scenes that both the animals and humans performed in the ensemble to add texture to the scenes. But in the pivotal scenes the humans were made to wear a tie. It then created questions about, whether or not they were human in some scenes or  just a depiction of  coexistence.  Perhaps these comments are dismissible because the show made me feel. Connecting with the audience is the ultimate challenge done through a collaborative effort.  When the interaction is deep and meaningful, the audience can choose to love you. And so I choose to love this show. I send my congratulations to everyone who is part of it and encourage them to make more meaningful consummable art. Art after all soothes, heals, loves.

Rody Vera's Ang Unang Aswang
Direction and Choreography by JM Cabling
Ma. Elena Laniog-Alvarez
Al Bernard Garcia
Aisha Josephine Polestico
Gebbvelle Ray Selga
and the UP Dance Company
Sound and Music Design by Toni Munoz
Set Design by Ohm David
Lights Design by Pamela Phy
Costume Design by Bonsai Ceilo
Poster Design by Tristan Ramirez

March 5, 2017
UP Arki Amphitheater, UP Diliman

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

International Guest Stars Candice Adea and Joseph Phillips

Ballet Philippines' "Swan Lake" was highly  anticipated because of the guest performances of two international stars. Pinoy pride Candice Adea (formerly artist of Ballet Philippines, Ballet Met and Hongkong Ballet) and golden boy of ballet Joseph Phillips took on the challenge of the classic "Swan Lake". I was fortunate enough to be able to catch them during their last technical dress rehearsal. Their partnership was a good display of good clean technique. Both very meticulous about their movement there was a maturity that I appreciated. Here are snapshots of their grace and power. 


 In Flight. Victor Maguad brought so much joy to the stage as Benno 

Triad of joyfulness, Monica Gana , Victor Maguad and Katrene San Miguel in Pas De Trois

Candice Adea as Odette and Joseph Phillips as Prince Sigfried

A moment of silence for  a beautifully sustained balance.
Candice Adea as Odette and Joseph Philipps as Prince Sigfried 


Ballet Philippines 
Swan Lake TDR February 23, 2017