Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Finding a Miracle in Himala

All eyes on Elsa (played by Aicelle Santos)

Himala the musical will be returning to the stage thirty years after its conception. The musical is an adaptation of the Ishmael Bernal film that tells the story of Elsa who is said to be blessed with divinity and ability to heal. The movie revolves around the  effect of her miracles to Cupang, her poor unfortunate town. I attended their press conference and it was fascinating to witness how much interest still thrives after all these years. The energy in the room was palpable considering there were only a handful who have seen the movie and the previous stagings. It could be the novelty of it all or the respect for previous success. Nonetheless, the dynamic was captivating and I was completely satisfied being the observer. It seemed ironic to me that a roomful of people were finding out for themselves (in context and without the help of the actual play yet) if miracles were real. The actors even obliged and told their own touching stories about their lives. I remember thinking we seem like the perfect parallel to Elsa's Cupang (her community), awaiting for something convincing to hold on to. Thankfully, I did see something unravel that day. I can't quite call it a miracle yet because I have yet to see the show  but there is something enticing that has me rooting for cast. 

Miracle of Truth 

The esteemed scriptwriter and novelist Ricky Lee was present and he shared with us the  beginnings of the film. With his story clutched in his hand he pitched this project thirty years ago to so many directors only to be rejected over and over again. He finally won himself a chance when his script was given a second glance by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines  who gave him a grant to start the project. It's easy to understand why it was so difficult to pitch this story. It was depicting the Filipino in such a negative yet truthful way. With characters who embody altruism, materialism, deception and yes even stupidity, it is difficult to present the film as inspiring. The fact that it was produced and loved by its viewers was a miracle. The fact that it was translated into a musical and a concert is a blessing. But the real gift is that the newest staging comes so timely  when it is necessary to remind people what  the nature of the herd really is. The musical after all these years is still about truth and  the downfall of humanity. Its relevance should be a good reason to watch the show. If people go beyond interest and actually come then that would be miracle #1. 

Glitterless is more. 

Designer-Director Ed Lacson Jr. will be directing this musical. After three years in the making he is ready to share with the public his vision of what "Himala" should be. What is nice about Ed Lacson's point of view is that he doesn't seem to think that he is part of the equation. He humbly expressed that he has very high respect for the story and the music. He does not find the need to interject anything distinctly  "Ed Lacson" because the material is already gold. It seems he does not feel the pressure to make it his story or version. In fact he makes it  a point to discuss his process of distilling the theatrics to allow the words and the melodies to be heard with no distractions. It's safe to say there will be no frills, fireworks and glitter. There won't be any distinct choreography. While most people's mantra is build build build on the material, he goes break break break. Break the mold and allow people to see what is in the core of  Himala. He desires nothing but to  simply introduce the concept of humanity through the characters of the story. He moves to engage the mind. 

I have seen a couple of his sets and I am familiar with his very well rounded aesthetic sense. So far I have seen nothing but  intricate gorgeous fusions of contemporary and surrealist sets. That being said, I'm super curious to know what he means when he says his overall visual approach will be minimalist. I am likewise excited to get to know how he will bring the characters to life. With a fluff-free approach all that's left is a showcase of raw talent. Consequently, the actors will  put on the spotlight. His pivotal role is to ensure that there is a deep understanding of the complexities of each role. 

This millennial looking lad really impressed me during the press conference because he very clearly sees this production as art and nothing commercial. His propensity towards authenticity is quite promising. Perhaps he might be the miracle worker and if he delivers in his staging that would be miracle #2

Vince de Jesus is a genius

Vince De Jesus is a musical genius. When words fail, he seamlessly creates melodies that echo what otherwise cannot be explained. His melodies are always sensitive and textured with life. Having said that, the excerpts that were performed are telling of how great this show CAN be. If all his songs are sung as beautifully then perhaps that can be a glorious miracle #3 


I've mentioned  what-if miracles  of the formidable triad  but I do know of one certified miracle that has already happened. Himala is a product of a collaboration between two very different entities. Sandbox Collective and Nineworks Theatrical  have joined hands for the first time to produce the show. Avid theater goers will tell you that while the two teams are practically sister companies, they represent different brands of thought. Sandbox Collective is an edgy company who concentrates on fresh ideas presented with a contemporary feel. Nineworks Theatrical on the other hand presents the big Broadway hits dressed in theatrical glamour.  Now that is what you call a miracle. With producers like that you know Himala will be something to look forward to. It's a wedding with something new, something old, something borrowed and something blue.  

So far, Himala is a promising project with plenty reasons to draw people in. How about buying that ticket so we can both find out if there's hidden miracle to be found? See you at the theatre everyone. 

Ako ay tinawag ng Birhen
Minsan, nagpaangap kung minsan
Floyd Tena as the Priest 

Pano nalang kung hindi totoo?
Bituin Escalante as Elsa's Mother 

Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao.
Walang Himala

Check The Sandbox Collective for more details 

Cast : 

  1. Aicelle Santos as Elsa
  2. Kakki Teodoro as Nimya
  3. Neomi Gonzales as Chayong
  4. Sandino Martin as Pilo
  5. David Ezra as Orly
  6. Bituin Escalante as Elsa's Mother
  7. Floyd Tena as the Priest

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Conversation with Joseph Gatti

 All Photos Courtesy of Ballet Philippines
A beautiful breeze is coming to Manila bringing with it gusts of wind  from different parts of the world.  It seems almost unrealistically lavish at  first glance but  it's about time our flourishing local dance world is  interrupted and  given another push to perform at par with the best of the best.  Our usually uneventful Manila is scheduled to open its arms to back to back foreign ballet artists. The first installation is generously provided by Ballet Philippines who will be bringing  millennial favorite  Joseph Gatti to perform the Principal role of Basilio in their season-ender "Don Quixote". While our local artists are perfectly capable of entertaining locals with the colorful story ballet, I would have to say they made an excellent choice in Gatti. He will prove to be more than just a good dancer visiting Manila. He is guaranteed to inspire people. 

This experienced professional has been a winner from the start of his career. He won the Youth American Grand Prix with a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London in 2003. He became the first American male dancer to win the prestigious gold medal at the New York International Competition in 2005 . In 2006,  he became the bronze medalist at the USA International Ballet Competition  and silver medalist at the Seoul International Ballet Competition. In 2007  Gatti bagged the gold medal in the prestigious World Ballet Competition.  His  time with companies like  American Ballet Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet, Corella Ballet and Boston Ballet are reflective of his well rounded experience. His success tells the  story of an artist who has had a spectacular journey with wonderful output. Google Gatti and you will see that he has the capacity to stun people with what he can do with his body. That's enough reason for ballet fans to be elated that he is dropping by Manila. Surely he will deliver athleticism and artistry in a silver platter. However there is another side of him that was revealed to me through our quick correspondence.   Sharing with you snippets of our conversation that will easily distinguish him as a good role model for artists.

  • Gatti has always been very vocal about his gratitude towards teachers. When asked    about his parents' role in his success he had this to say. 

" I couldn’t have had my success without my parents. They  would always do anything for me up to this day. They have sacrificed a lot. Driving me to and from the school always so I would get my ballet classes in. They supported me through every moment of my training and career as a dancer. We were never a wealthy family but they made sure somehow to get the money needed for me when I went to the Royal Ballet School in London. My brother was the same, he would come to all my shows and constantly support and believe in me. We are all still super close to this day and we all live nearby in Orlando. It’s nice to be able to take care of my parents now when they need me after all the things they gave us it’s time to give back. I couldn’t be happier. And yes! My mother bribed me to take my first class I think it was 20 dollars "
His humility is safely locked in his system allowing him to move forward with an          attitude of gratitude.  
  • With all his achievements, you would think he would be complacent by now. However his social media presence clearly shows that he is all about  continuously striving for more. I asked him how he remains ambitious and driven. 

" I think it’s a combination of learning and experience and just having the love and passion for the art. My parents always taught me to never give up. If you really want it and your hungry for it you can accomplish it. I just have this mentality of always tying to learn and improve no matter my age or how many competitions or awards I have won. Once you stop that you might as well retire. I’m always striving to do better in my dancing and artistry constantly just as a person as well. I want to dance for a long time healthy and strong. I believe I can do it with the proper balance and care for my body."

He is completely focused on the craft and he has  the capacity to see beyond what is already good and he works steadily on achieving bigger things.

  • In recent times it was announced that Joseph Gatti would assume the role of founder and Artistic Director of United Ballet Theatre. It is a company that is dedicated to preserving the artist through creating an environment that ensures the health and happiness quotient is at an all time high. This new endeavor reflects how deeply he cares about the dancers' welfare. He explained his vision.
"United Ballet Theatre Company will have a schedule like no other company has had before. I have learned this from being in professional companies and freelancing as well. I truly believe having the proper rest time and balance of rehearsals and cross training makes the dancers stronger and healthier than ever. It will show onstage and the audience will be able to enjoy stronger, powerful artistic dancers who are happy on stage and feel they are in the best shape ever"

He seems to genuinely care for artists and is not afraid to go the extra mile so that others can enjoy their careers. He shares not only opportunities but mentorship as well. 

  •  He believes in the health and happiness quotient and so I asked him what advise he could give to to others to sustain it on their own. 

"You must be true to yourself! If your unhappy at a place you must have the courage to stand up for yourself and move on. You need to  seek a place that you feel respected. When you have a company that believes in you, it will do wonders for the dancers. You can work them hard and all but to have that respect and belief towards them and care. That will make the dancers have longer healthier and happier careers. So for the dancers, it’s being strong, always seeking that respect and being able to communicate with each other and have that camaraderie  towards each other. Constantly learning."
He believes in the preservation of dignity in an artist's life.That just means he believes that dance should be and could be a sustainable career. 

It seems to me that Joseph Gatti is a shining example of a simple person who succeeded because of the right attitude.  He looks at his past with gratitude and keeps it in his pocket to keep him grounded.  He works hard everyday so that he can ensure that dance will be still his tomorrow. He demands respect but gives it willingly to all those who work with him. He cares about the art but he also cares about sharing it to people. He is sure of what he wants for himself, sure of what he wants to offer others and most positively certain about how he wants to contribute in the world he lives in. His clear mindset is inspiring. Perhaps this  is what has allowed him to achieve so much.  Truly a lot of people can learn a thing or two from him. I can't wait to see him share his art to the Philippine dance community.  See you at the theatre. 

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