Monday, June 26, 2017

Maleta by Steph Cabral



Alice in Wonderland Photo By:

Twelve years ago, I received a call from our dear friend, Maritoni  Tordesillas. Repertory Philippines was in need of a dance couple to perform the Nutcracker Grand Pas de Deux as part of their Cinderella production. I had just quit Philippine Ballet Theatre and at that time was still healing from the heartbreak of leaving a place I called home. Ate Maritoni  reviewed the sequences with us to make sure we had something to show. After which she brought us to Repertory's old office in Pasong Tamo. We were presented to the artistic team.  It was my first time to meet  Ms.  Joy Virata who was ever so energetically mounting Cinderella's transformation.  Her energy was infectious making everyone giddy. Midway, Ms. Baby Barredo came in and almost everyone stood up straighter and taller. Actors spoke louder and moved bigger. That was when I was hit with absolute terror. Here is a duo who's passion is unquestionable. Five minutes in and I knew they would never tolerate mediocrity. The waiting game was horrible. My legs were getting cold, palms sweaty. Finally it was our turn to dance. Right before the auditions Tita Baby said "Maniya Barredo is my cousin. I know ballet" (or something to that effect). I swear the butterflies in my stomach multiplied tenfold.  The couples performed turn by turn. I remember giving the biggest smile and the biggest port de bras (movement of the arms) I could produce. I was too afraid to fail because in my mind, if I didn't get it it was a sign that ballet was no longer on the table. Also I was afraid of being eaten alive. After the performance which was of course far from perfect, Tita Baby goes, "That was lovely!" It was a moment. "The" Baby Baredo said I was lovely (ok fine "WE, my husband and I " were lovely). I had to keep myself from jumping up in glee. That was my first day in Repertory soil. It was for me very memorable beginning. 

It didn't take long for friendships to blossom. After a gazillion shows, everyone suddenly felt like family to me. That production was followed by several other productions. Before I knew it,  I was the resident ballerina.  Each production affected me in so many ways. In celebration of Rep Phil's fiftieth anniversary Id like to share some of the lessons they have taught me. There are lessons that you hear about and then there are lessons that you gain from experience. Here is what experience has taught me. 

Sleeping Beauty 

1.  The show must go on. 

This is a common phrase in theater. You must perform despite personal struggles,illness etc. This is a rule I have learned to accept even as a child training to become a ballerina. But there is a difference between surviving a show, winging it, nailing it and killing it  During my years with Repertory I witnessed some of the best examples of sacrifice and professionalism.  I will never forget seeing both Bito Aguilos and Oliver Usison shivering backstage during our Alice in Wonderland production. It was flu season and almost everyone had caught the bug.  They were both very very sick for a long time but no one could cover them at that time. I could see them containing their energy. Vocal rest strictly implemented. Cold sweats visible in their forehead, muffled coughing within hearing range. When their scene came, they transformed  into perfect beasts.  Our  queen of hearts   belted "Off with your head!!" with so much energy and commitment that it seemed like she brought fireworks with her. Our King of Hearts  performed with his usual impeccable physical comedy to the delight of the audience.  While I have performed sick many times and seen others perform sick many times, it is not simply the will  of these brilliant people that I see as exemplary. It is the   the bravery to push  for more than 100% when they could easily take it a notch down without anyone knowing. It is after all a theatre  that is often times  filled with  pre-school children.  No child would have criticized a lower octave or a missed joke. But you see respect for the craft and the audience  is far more important to these people. In fact some of their best shows were performed during that bleak flu week. Lesson learned, the show must go on and everyone must deliver at par with Jojo,.... I mean everyone's expectations. No missed lines. Energy through the roof. No complaints. Deliver because every audience member out there deserves the Rep experience. 
Awful photo by yours truly
Awful photo by yours truly 

2. Art is a sanctuary 

I have found that art heals on stage and off stage.   I have shared  dressing rooms with veterans, newbies, kids and I cherish the beautiful memories  that have served as happy pills. What I love  most about my family is that people  take the time to be kind even if each performance is a blur. A couple of years ago, I had returned on stage coming from the hospital because my child was confined. I had just been given awful news. My head was spinning from   worry and so I chose to be silent and focus on each task I needed to do to survive the 3-show day. There is after all no space for personal issues on stage. I forgot how the others found out but one by one, my dressing room friends took the time to just hug me. Reducing me to mush, I remained silent putting on my make up. Then one of them said out of the blue "Iiyak mo na yan. It's ok to cry but know that It's gonna be ok. It will always be a happy ending because mothers will always be strong for their children no matter what". And so i cried and laughed as they shared  some of their good and bad motherhood experiences while piling on make up. I had tears that day but it was accompanied by healing laughter. I survived that show day because kindness made me stronger. I did not ask for comfort that day. I did not expect it. But this family was there for me embracing me with love.  This experience has always reminded me that it takes so little to help other people perform  better. While art itself is a sanctuary, you can also be a source of sanctuary off stage. Kindness goes a long way. 


3. Learn from the best

Repertory Philippines has  a lot of big stars. Seeing how the big stars work has always provided me with so much inspiration. In ballet (at least in the Philippines), you perform one big show at a time. Some of our actors perform different  productions  at the same time.  I was always constantly impressed with how most of them found it so easy to do. What is even more impressive is how they give importance to each show that they do. I was lucky enough to have performed on multiple occasions with theater veteran Ms. Pinky Marquez. At one point she was doing three big shows and as much as two different shows in a day (at least one of them in an accent and the other in Tagalog). Tita Pinky  as we fondly call her would show up way  early, put on make up very quickly and do a whole run of the show before the show. While this is not something unusual, it was the extra things that she would do while doing her pre-show runs.  While she remained fully commitment to  how the scenes were rehearsed she constantly innovated and improved her show bit by bit. She would test her improvements during her pre-show runs and would ask, "Was that funny?" More importantly she respected the show so much that even after having performed at least fifty shows, she would approach our stage manager and consult her  about her scenes. She valued corrections and feedback.  I mean this is a star who constantly wows the audience with whatever role is given to her (even her adlibs are greatly appreciated)  yet she has the humility to constantly work and work herself to the bone just to create magical moments on stage.  This reminds me that there is always space for improvement. The greats are great because they work on being great. 


4. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect is demanded by all companies. In the case of Repertory Philippines, it is not simply demanded on set. They have developed a culture that makes sure everyone understands why respect is essential. This goes beyond the usual strict implementation of rules. Every production eventually leads to an explanation of how valuable each member of the team is. Instinctively or intentionally one of the artistic team members always explains how  each role is essential. Onstage or offstage, each member should be loved and respected. People actually get reprimanded when there are instances of disrespect. Rep is a place where backstage staff are empowered and respected.  Jojo Amboy our stage manager for children's theater  is always referred to as our Boss and ate Tess  Andalazza, the ultimate costume encyclopedia.  Tita Ely  is masterfully in charge of the  magical transformations. I call them the constant of the theater equation. Of course actors are not always angels on set. But at the very least there is an effort demand respect in the workplace.  It is not difficult to see that  productions have unsung heroes too. This reminds me to work always with gratitude and respect for people who support us in our goals. 


5. Laziness is indifference 

Repertory Philippines has been regarded as a triumph in the industry. It is where it is now because it valued  art over everything else. They courageously staged their first ever production in 1967 with only seven people in the audience. These seven people were the reason they continued to persevere despite losses incurred and dwindling ticket sales. They were headstrong  determined in making theater a viable option for audiences. Here we are celebrating Repertory's history. They did not get here  without making sure that their vision of theater is clear to all who join the family. I have only been with Rep for a little over a decade. But in this time I saw how our directors were adamant in making it clear that laziness is not part of theater life. I remember vividly how Tita Baby would tell actors how lazy they were.But she would not stop there. She would take the time and talk about the craft. Laziness is indifference because it  means you do not care about the material or the audience.  She would tell them not to be satisfied with interpreting material on the first read. "Read it, reflect on it, make every emphasis on a word, every pause, every movement  purposeful. Don't just deliver a line that sounds good" Tita Joy would also say, "This is Children's theater, we do not find magic for the show, we create it. Use your imagination" The founders created Rep because they wanted to make theater great. To this day, they maintain the same resolve, they would never tolerate good enough efforts. Each show has to be a product of great efforts. Art should be a product of great effort. The audience deserves it. 

These are just five among many lessons I've learned. While I cannot say I have practiced all these lessons 100% of the  time, they have stayed with me and guided me through the years. They have given me something to share with others.  As the popular song goes "Because I knew you, I have been changed for good." I am truly grateful. Thank you Repertory Philippines for not only gifting audiences with experiences but gifting artists life long lessons to keep. You will forever be one of the greatest gems of the industry and of the Philippines. 

Snow White 

Photo by Bito Aguilos

Thursday, June 8, 2017



Passages is defined as  the act or process of moving through, under, over or past something on the way from one place to another. Sounds like a simple concept of gravitating towards something. The truth of the matter is the word is as complex as it gets.   When someone moves forward they allow themselves to feel, accept and respond to whatever emotions, opportunities and or obstacles come their way.  Bringing with them what they want to bring from the past, they eventually take the step forward. This Sunday June 11, 2017, BGC Arts Festival will present a  show that intends to share  the art of people who are in passage.  Five dancer-choreographers will present  pieces that represent their artistic journey. (Elena Laniog-Alvarez, Al Bernard Garcia, Erl Sorilla, PJ Rebullida, Dingdong Selga)

Having seen parts of the show, I find that it is one that gives a lot of hope for artists. It is an affirmation that your feet will lead you exactly where you are meant to be. Watch the show and you just might find the inspiration to move forward. 

Have a visual taste. 
All accompanying text are just a play of words and do not necessarily represent the choreographers' point of view. #hugot

Out of the Shadows (Self Titled)
Choreographed by Al Bernard Garcia 
Performed by JM Cabling, Al Bernard Garcia and Rita Winder 

Stepping out of the shadows 
Mind tells you you're alone but the heart knows better.
You move forward but you feel the wind blowing you backwards.
Your body weakens, your heart momentarily stops.
Something, someone steadies your feet
Suddenly you feel the warmth of the light. 
 You're in the light. 
Are you happy now?

 A Cup of Me 
Choreographed by Elena Laniog Alvarez
Performed by Rita Winder and JM Cordero 

Waking up to a new day with an unfamiliar breeze 
Speaking with an unfamiliar tongue
Moving forward unto the maze with unfamiliar uncertainty

Waking up familiar with the once unfamiliar breeze
Speaking comfortably with a familiar tongue
Moving forward passionately to uncertainty

Things change.

Choreographed by Erl Sorilla 
Performed by Victor Maguad 

I am me
strong yet soft,
masculine yet feminine,
simple but colorful.
Do you love me?
Can you love me?

Choreographed by Erl Sorilla 
Performed by Gia Gequinto

Another day. Passing through another day. 

Beautiful Embrace (Self titled)
Choreographed by Erl Sorilla 
Performed by JM Cordero and Erl Sorilla

Sometimes you look at nothing but you see something. 
Sometimes you see something but pretend you see nothing. 

Butter Pls
Choreographed by PJ Rebullida
Performed by Karmela Cortez Jabla, Bianca Perez, Christine Crame  

Is there anything I haven't given you?