Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Reimagined Miracles

Life is so hard these days that I have a tendency to treat theater as my happy pill. Safely embraced by comfortable seats in a glamorous theatre, I let my mind go and escape into a different realm. I come out somewhat rejuvenated by the mere sight of talent on spotlight.  Himala did the exact opposite of that yet I have not an ounce of regret watching it. There is a brooding melancholy in me. As I type this, I still feel remnants of the musical in my blood stream. I left the theater trembling. I walked out of the theater with silent tears replacing the river of tears I left in the theatre. I had so much to say but I couldn't coherently converse with anyone because I was stuttering, still reeling from the impact of what I had just seen. I had to take a moment to recognize what shook me to the core.

Himala the Musical ( See Link : Himala the Musical Teaser) is an adaptation of the epic movie that Nora Aunor starred in. It was about a story of a peculiar town (Barangay Cupang) who was drowning in tragedy. A heroine is borne when their Elsa reveals that she  had an encounter with the Virgin Mary. She starts healing the people and the town is changed for good. I knew the story, I knew the characters but what I didn't know was that despite this, it was still capable of puncturing me with constant punches of difficult truths being revealed scene after sceneThe story I had expected to see was a retelling of Nora Aunor's role, Elsa, but what I witnessed was a retelling of the town's story.  In an intimate setting, I entered Barangay Cupang and became a spectator of their life.

The performance started with sounds of the howling wind quieting down the audience The small black box theatre was transformed into a sunken garden with the audience surrounding what would be the provincial town of Cupang. Bamboo fences and minimal nipa structures separated the audience from the performers. Glistening in sweat, parched with poverty, the actors disturbed the silence. Soon, Elsa personified by Aicelle Santos, was introduced. Santos early on differentiated her performance from the iconic Nora Aunor as she deviated from the very mysterious glass-eyed Elsa. She came out early on as the most "unremarkable" almost "invisible" member of Cupang. To be honest, I was looking for her just like Nanay Saling (Bituin Escalante). There was an awkwardness to her steps and a tentativeness in her initial approach. It was much later that I completely grasped that Santos' Elsa was a clean canvass of nothingness. Her initial scenes were so intelligently laid out that at the end of the musical her transformation was poignant yet powerful. Santos succeeded in portraying a simple woman tested by burden, conflicted with a taste of unexpected fame, bruised by immorality and loss. At the end of the musical, she stood there in her sacred ground and addressed her people, totally changed by the experience. Santos was victorious in unfolding Elsa's humanity and redemption. Truth be told, I was impressed with her voice during the press conference but her stripped down interpretation of the songs gave so much meaning to the music and lyrics created by Vincent De Jesus. I didn't just hear the songs, I felt them.

Aicelle Santos as Elsa
Photo by : Kyle Venturillo

Nanay Saling is played by Bituin Escalante who broke my heart each time she came out. She was a picture of a mother who understood the concept of unconditional love. Her portrayal was so sensitive that it reminded me of how self-sacrificing a mother can be. Despite doubt, despite fear, despite conflicting beliefs a mother can hold her child's hand to weather the storm to protect her. Escalante's usual belting booming voice was replaced with evocative softness. Every lyric pronounced with crystalline emotion. I dare say this is one of her best stage performances.

The town who depicted the different voices of weakness in desperation was spectacular. Kakki Teodoro as Nimya was gold. As the antagonist, she was abrasive yet endearing and her voice was ringing above everyone else's. Neomi Gonzales as Chayong was the perfect contrast to Teodoro's boldness and Santos' meekness. She was delicate and immaculate in song and in characterization. David Ezra's tenor voice has a moving quality. His guilt-ridden portrayal as Orly was so pivotal to the story. Sandino Martin's intensity as Pilo was brilliant. He never let go of any scene. His silent moments were priceless and were just as marvelous as his notes. Floyd Tena as the voice of reason in this musical was solid. His anguish was affecting.

Sandino Martin as Pilo
Photo by Kyle Venturillo

Floyd Tena as the Priest
Photo by Kyle Venturillo

This musical is proof that there are no small roles, only small actors. The whole cast of this production was visibly invested in their individual characters with very specific motivations for each scene. I credit Director Ed Lacson for allowing the actors to give liberating performances that I'm certain will stay with them for a very long time as it will to the audience who witnessed their moments. Particularly memorable to me was Onyl Torres as one of Elsa's patients. He took us in a one minute journey of pain, healing and hope. Joshua Cabiladas' light and dark moments were pronounced. Many others in the ensemble made me weep. It was a full cast who left themselves at home and brought only their inner lights and darks on stage. I dare say this production is one of the best ensemble casts I have ever seen. The collective sound was haunting, their portrayals as real as it could get. 

Onyl Torres as a Patient
Photo by Kyle Venturillo

The cast was brilliant, the immersive staging was effective. Undoubtedly these made the musical powerful. But this show is relevant because of its shift in perspective. This production took the simple concepts of herd mentality, hypocrisy, crab mentality, greed, tolerance and even stupidity and molded it into one single concept that is communicated with so much power. These are not ills you see in other people. Finding blame for something bad, treating everything as destiny, justifying actions, pretending to be good, remembering to pray only when things go your way- it happens in moments in our lives. It is intrinsic to the Filipino (and perhaps the rest of the world). These define us as a people. The delivery of Ricky Lee's relatable colloquial dialogue was so organic and familiar that I realized that even a generally positive person like me have echoed them several times over. We have all been compromised one way or another. What Director Ed Lacson Jr. was able to do was to prompt for understanding by highlighting the blistering image of humanity's imperfection. When the rain finally came, so did my tears. In a smothering black box, the normality of it was puncturing, disappointing, bothersome yet it was truthful. Surprisingly there was no feel of judgement in the staging. This staging made sure that the message was brought down to most personal level possible. The impact was for the audience to determine.

Lacson mentioned earlier in his interviews that the show was a stripped down version of the glorious material crafted by Ricky Lee and Vincent De Jesus. Contrary to how everyone else is describing it, I believe that it wasn't quite a stripped down version. It was a built up version because it empowered all the characters to come alive to efficiently allow art to imitate life. Yes it was accompanied by a single piano, yes the set was minimal, yes only natural voices were allowed on stage. However, replacing the frills was a stronger more diverse collective voice and a multifaceted delivery of stories. For me it was more of a story flipped over and presented in a new perspective with new aspects to think about and new nuances to salivate over.

Himala is  truly a gift. It is a collaboration that sets the bar for everyone else. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Three Dancers Rise to the Top

Last Sunday was a milestone. Lisa Macuja announced that three of her homegrown talents were to join her roster of Principal Dancers. Congratulations are in order for Joan Sia, Elpidio Magat and Romeo Peralta  who now join Katherine Barkman, Rudy De Dios and Gerardo Francisco at the top bench.  Coming from an outsider's standpoint, it feels  pleasantly surreal. I'm having a "time-flies" moment. Wasn't it just yesterday when Magat was being introduced as someone to watch out for? Wasn't it just last week that Sia won in the Asian Grand Prix? Wasn't it just a month ago when Peralta took over Arachnida?  Hearing the news was pretty much like  taking a bite of a tasty desert. The sweet taste  lingers in your mouth and  reminds you of why the calories were so worthwhile. It's both satisfying and promising. I'm quite sure they feel the same way. The erratic but rich  journey of injuries intrigues, debuts and triumphs paid off and now they can look forward to better things ahead.  Surely if they keep on being loyal to their craft, the future will be nothing but great. But before we get too excited about what's to come, let's take a look at some of their past moments. #RoadtoPrincipal

Joan Sia and Romeo Peralta in Arachnida in Dance Manila 2016

Joan Sia in Giselle  Dance Manila 2016 

Romeo Peralta and Joan Sia in Bluebird Pas De Deux 2016

Joan Sia and Elpidio Magat Snow White 2017

Elpidio Magat as Benno Swan Lake 2017

Elpidio Magat as Prince Siegfried Ballet and Ballads 2018 

Romeo Peralta as the Second Prince in Ibong Adarna 2017

Joan Sia and Romeo Peralta El Adwa Ballet and Ballads 2018 

Sia started her BM story in 2009 when she was accepted as a scholar. She has enjoyed every role she has been given  but mentions  Giselle and Swan Lake as one of her favorites.  Truly these are the roles that have made an impression on people. Moving forward she dreams of dancing Carmen and La Bayadere with Ballet Manila. She also looks forward to more contemporary works. She has loved performing Arachnida by Agnes Locsin, El Adwa  and MAZN by Bam Damian. 

Magat has been with the Company since 2005. He started as a scholar. He was one of the few featured artists who performed in the World Stars of Ballet Gala alongside Sia  back in  2012. He hopes one day he'll get  to perform the full length of Don Quixote.  So far, Basilio is one of his favorite roles to play. (He has performed the grand wedding pas de deux).

Peralta has served Ballet Manila the longest having started with the Company as early as 2000 as a scholar. He enjoys  both classical and contemporary dancing. Particularly memorable to him was the role of Albrecht in Giselle which he performed at the CCP Main Theatre as a tribute to the great Mrs. Felicitas Radaic. He enjoys intense roles whether they are classical or modern. Among his favorites are Arachnida by Agnes Locsin, Velvet Wings by David Campos and Widmung by Bam Damian. 

The three seemingly have enjoyed every bit of their career. I am certain they will just love everything about tomorrow and beyond. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

CCP 2018 Season, Breaking the Boundaries

The conclusion of the very colorful ASEAN once again put the Philippines in the global map as a center of robust art. All of a sudden social media is filled with #pinoypride posts about how much talent exists in our country. But you see, we've been glorious all along. We just occasionally need a bit more spotlight directed towards the red white and blue. So let's talk about how great 2018 will be.

Living room of art

Last January 26, 2018 the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) set up a homey press conference. Vice President and Artistic Director Chris Millado was quick to say think of the CCP as the living room of arts. It is self explanatory, the CCP is a home that opens the doors to anyone and everyone. It is a venue for conversation prompted by the art that fills the space. It is a place to entertain and be entertained. Lastly it is a place that collects memories and snapshots of life much like the picture frames we can see in homes. Quite appropriate was the similarity of both places. I was inspired however by news that for 2018 it will go beyond the basic parallelism. It seems our living room of art came alive when it was completed by the nurturing heart of a parent. Incorporated in the 2018 CCP Season are worthy projects that heal the soul.

CCP President Nick Lizaso
Photo courtesy of CCP

CCP President Nick Lizaso addressed the press highlighting some of CCP's prioritized projects. 
The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO), one of the resident companies of the CCP, has worked several times with UP-Philippine General Hospital and Philippine Cancer Society with performances dubbed as Songs for Healing. Lizaso lauded the collaborative efforts of these organizations and announced that it is a project that he intends to strengthen. Continuity is a certainty. Just recently the PPO finished their first performance of the year at the PGH grounds filling the hospital with symphonic melodies meant to create a healing and soothing energy for the patients and the employees present. It truly was a wonderful way to start the year. Nothing beats the rush of art in an unexpected place.

Sining Para sa Kalinaw is an art for peace project organized by the CCP Cultural Exchange Department for the victims and evacuees of the Marawi war. Activities like art therapy and culture education are done hitting two birds with one stone. The victims are provided an escape from their otherwise dreadful present and they come closer to knowing about their cultural heritage.  In 2017 when the project started, there were fifteen CCP satellite councils at work to bring joy through art in depressed areas. There are now twenty six CCP satellite councils that are able to support the project (and others). In 2018, Lizaso reported that they are expecting another ten satellite councils to be fully activated. Warms that heart to see nurturing efforts that go beyond the boundaries of the CCP.

Another event that is worthy of attention is Marawing Salamat that will be held at the CCP Main Theatre on April 6, 2018. It promises to feature the very best of Philippine Opera and Fashion. The net proceeds are intended to support the rebuilding of Marawi City, the artistic and cultural  mecca of Muslim Mindanao.

Breaking Boundaries 

Millado updated everyone about the progression of their expansion project. Everyone is quite thrilled to find out that the ground breaking of the artist center will be happening in the near future. A space with forty rehearsal studios and a few galleries will surely elevate the Filipinos into a higher level. I'm just hoping that this time around ALL the resident companies get their own space to call their NEW HOME.


Dance Season 

2017 was a bit disappointing because efforts that have been gaining support and interest were discontinued. It seems 2018 will follow suit. Dance Manila was created in 2016 and was launched as the first and widest collaboration of Ballet Manila, Ballet Philippines and Philippine Ballet Theatre as well as other relevant dance groups. It was a festive showcase of Filipino talent. It was a wonderful collage of our range. Unfortunately it was not continued in 2017. I initially thought maybe it's a biennial activity but was disappointed it was still not included in the CCP 2018 dance calendar. It seems there is little to no chance of fulfillment considering the full calendar at the CCP.

International Dance Day which has been a tradition for years was also discontinued in 2017. While there still might be hope that the CCP would resume sponsorship of the celebrations, probability seems low. On the bright side NCCA just might team up again with generous Ballet Manila?! Storming heavens for that.

What is happening though is a comeback of Pulso which was last seen in 2012. This show is a celebration of Filipino dance. It exemplifies the diversity that exists here in the Philippines and presents the differentiation of dance genres. Pulso is tentatively scheduled in the CCP calendar on June 26-30, 2018.

Unifying dance activities for me is quite essential to growth because it's a time that competition with each other is set aside in favor of enjoying the inspiration that different flavored artists provide. It is my hope that there are more events to look forward to.

Ballet is Life

Balletomanes can look forward to mix of classical, neoclassical and all out contemporary shows this 2018. Ballet Philippines will begin the year with their season ender Don Quixote scheduled to run from February 9-18, 2018. This will be followed by the Young Choreographer's Showcase on June 8, 2018. National Artist for dance and Artistic director Alice Reyes will herself mentor 6 aspiring choreographers and have the company perform the their pieces in full. Neo-classical Carmina Burana will be performed on Sept 7-9, 2018. Mixed bill Carmen and Other Ballets will be shown on October 5-7, 2018. Lastly their Christmas Offering will be Snow White  which runs from Nov 30- December 9, 2018.

Philippine Ballet Theatre will have a few re-runs for 2018. Merry Widow will make a comeback and so will Martin Buczko (formerly from Staatsballet Berlin). A revitalized restaging of Cinderella will run from September 28-30, 2018. Ronilo Jaynario will re-imagine the ballet to adapt to the technical facilities of the dancers. PBT will again stage their family favorite The Nutcracker from November 16-18, 2018.

Line up seems fairly entertaining but I keep hoping for NEW and original Filipino ballets. 

Contemporary Flavors 

Aside from Ballet Philippines' possibly contemporary line up for the Young Choreographer's showcase, Neo-Filipino will again provide a platform for established choreographers to show their hopefully new  work on August 21- 27, 2018.

Healthy Competition
2018 is competition year with international and local  ballet competitions happening outside the CCP premises. Adding to that is the CCP Ballet Competition happening on Nov 14-17, 2018.

From inspiring advocacy projects, thrilling infrastructure possibilities to innovative unique dance line ups, I think the CCP will be breaking boundaries this year. If the idea is to reach out to new audiences  beyond the loyal and give opportunities to create new art, then I think it's gonna be a productive year. Looking forward to seeing and chronicling everything this 2018. Care to watch with me? Take a step into the living room of art  and enjoy the experience. See you at the theatre.
AMADA to be performed by Ballet Philippines at the "KING GALA, Tribute to Lucresia Kasilag"

AMADA to be performed by Ballet Philippines at the "KING GALA, Tribute to Lucresia Kasilag"
Dancers Candice Adea and Ronelson Yadao

Isay Alvarez for Triple Threat Concert
Isay Alvarez and Robert Sena for Triple Threat Concert

Dennis Marasigan talking about the rerun of "Ang Pag-uusig"

Impressive cast of Pag-uusig 

Jimmy Lumba and Kim Abrogena
Philippine Ballet Theatre's " Merry Widow"