The Pastiche that is “Sintang Dalisay”

In a globalized world (my apologies for this cliché), an artistic production can only survive and remain relevant if it is able to take on in the multi-variegated characteristics of the consumers, the socio-political milieu of the setting it finds itself, other market realities, and the ever changing vicissitude of the audiences’ taste. The preceding statement, being a cliché, admittedly, has, of course, this interesting ability that characterizes most trite lines—it terminates further thoughts and explications, which, a reader wanting a more well considered and balanced treatment of the subject, ends up at best accepting the thesis without considering its true merits, or worse dismissing the attempt as a total waste of his precious time.

This reaction paper to the play, though not promising to eliminate all clichés that are usually a staple in most writings about artistic productions much bigger than the essays themselves, will discuss why Sintang Dalisay, a modern dance drama based on the early 20th century awit utilizing Igal, a “traditional and expressive dance genre of the Sama (also known as Bajau or Bajo of insular Southeast Asia” (Hussin quoted in Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Rome ni G.D. Roke, 9) is an example of an Asian adoption and adaptation of a Western text which resulted in a hybrid of sort that while still, interestingly, retains its distinct Asian-ness is successful in becoming a totally mutated text that is neither east nor west. It drifts in the middle, rendering itself both a representation of humankind’s universal dreams and desires made concrete and tangible by Asian artistry and innovations.

Sintang Dalisay, a production of Tanghalang Ateneo, direction by Ricardo Abad, movement and dance choreography by Matthew Santamaria, stage design by Salvador Bernal, music design by Edru Abraham, and lighting design by Meliton Roxas, Jr., is a theater production of late that attempted and succeeded in defying all quotidian statements about what a modern (or postmodern) theater should be.

It is an interpretation of an awit by G.D. Roke’s Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo which was published in Manila in 1901 (Ick quoted in Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo ni G.D. Roke, 11).

An awit, according to Ick, is the Tagalog rendition of metrical romances from Europe brought to the country by the Spaniards. The plot usually revolves around lovers (who are usually from the affluent class) caught in a feud between their families. The star-crossed lovers, to borrow Shakespeare’s phrase, of the awit usually involve a Christian and a nonbeliever (more often than not, a Moro) who fight for their love and eventually succeeding in the end by way of proselytizing (of the Moro to Catholism) or some magic.

The postmodern theatergoer, both easily distracted by shifting and disconnected images and hungry for an identity pegged upon un-shifting grounds, a child of the most influential medium of his time, the internet, will find Sintang Dalisay providing him with a much needed respite from all noises, the hackneyed meanderings, and the obvious lack of identity. Despite the pastiche (the word should not be understood in its derogatory sense)—the medium, Igal of the Sama; the music, gamelan of maritime Southeast Asia; the language, Tagalog of the early 1900s (with some whisking of political humor that will not make a contemporary audience feel lost); the text, an adaptation of the famous bard’s Romeo and Juliet (and other sources: Mateo Bandello’s Romeo e Giuletta derived from Luigi da Porto’s Historia Novellamente Ritrovata di dui Nobili Amanti, William Painter’s The Palace of Pleasure, and Arthur Brooke’s The Tragicall History  of Romeus and Juliet (Ick, quoted 12); the actors, young Filipino thespians studying in one of Manila’s exclusive universities; the audience, a multi-national lot (seated beside the writer of this essay that night was a bunch of boisterous Japanese girls who giggled at the exposure of the sweaty pectoral muscles of the male lead as he and his young lover undulated to the sound of the wooden string instruments)—this dance drama was successful at its definition and representation of what it deems Asian theater.

Homi Bhabha, a prominent cultural theorist, said that this hybridity is a response, a show of resistance, if we can put it this way, of the former colonies to the power of the colonizers that persists even after the colonial structures have been demolished in the middle of the last century. This idea of “hybridization,” which was taken from Edward Said’s work, results in the materialization of novel cultural forms from multiculturalism.

Sintang Dalisay, is a beautiful progeny of this hybridity. Nonetheless, the reading of this theatrical text’s hybridity should not end in the discussion of aesthetics but should be extended to the political and theoretical. Instead of seeing colonialism as something locked in the past, Bhabha shows how its histories and cultures constantly intrude on the present, demanding that we transform our appreciation of cross-cultural relations (4). This adoption of a western text and the postcolonial adaptation of this text to the realities of the receiving culture lend it a new identity that is truly its own—it is neither Romeo and Juliet nor the original Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Romeo of G.D. Roke.

It is Sintang Dalisay which is that unremitting attempt to relocate the center, to find a place where it destroys the cliché. And in so doing widens the plane of discourse.

Works Cited

Bhabha, Homi K.. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge. 1994.

Tanghalang Ateneo. Sintang Dalisay Isang Pagbabalangkas ng Awit na Ang Sintang Dalisay ni Julieta at Rome ni G.D. Roke. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila. 2012.

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Magsimula ka

I didn’t know that the classic OPM song Magsimula Ka came from a musical of the same title. It was, according to my friend Gibbs Cadiz, one of the very first musicals in Filipino staged in the 1980s. With the onslaught of Broadway musicals that almost totally eclipsed the Philippine musical theater scene during that decade, Magsimula Ka was a welcome respite from the tried and tested production of musicals imported from that famous street in the Big Apple.

After my Media Literacy class at UP last Thursday which ended at around 7:30 in the evening, I took a cab to Greenhills. It was my first time to be at the Music Museum, or the Greenhills Shopping area, so I had no idea where it was except that it’s “sa likod ng mall”. I thought of directing the cab driver to ask around where the venue was as he was also not knowledgeable. It was a good thing I did not because the word Music Museum was in bright white neon light, drowning all the other signage in the area. I climbed up the narrow semi-spiral staircase and was directed by a very amiable staff to my seat.

The venue was not as big as I imagined it to be based on the video clips of concerts shown on Showbiz reports of the nightly prime time Tagalog news programs I used to watch. I got not expectations of the production either. I am not keen on singing and dancing. But since Gibbs invited me, I thought of giving it a try. Although i know it’ll run for more than two hours which is my threshold of boredom for musicals and other forms of theater.

The musical was not extraordinary. There were some painful moments, probably because of the un-updated script or the exaggerated acting, but the play was, shall I say, passable. It reminded me of Janice de Belen or Manilyn Reynes starrers that failed not in giving me goosebumps when I am reminded of them now. And interestingly, Magsimula Ka gave me lots of those.

Ciara Sotto’s performance was very noticeable. It was noticeably unnoticeable. The rest were forgettable. Though I remember, while writing this line, that the maid and her paramour who were both superfluous in as far as the story line was concerned, did catch my attention. And to think that the musical could stand on its own without them. But Magsimula Ka would have totally lost my attention had it not been for the duo.

I wonder why my professor in that Media Literacy class did not include theater in the list of media we will be dissecting in class. I got to suggest it to him then.

Thanks to Gibbs Cadiz for the ticket and the wonderful during- and after-dinner conversation.

A night of ‘A Little Night Music’

I watched my first live musical last night at the RCBC auditorium with a friend I met more than a year ago when I was still struggling in Manila (not that I struggle less now, of course I do, but at least for different reasons). I received the invitation from Gibbs Cadiz several days before to watch Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I gave myself days to decide whether to watch something that might bore me comatose and end up wasting my time, or give it a try and see for myself if a Filipino production’s take on a Scandinavian playwright’s adaptation of a 1950s Ingmar Bergman’s flick, Smiles of a Summer Night, would work and not end up becoming a shoddy version of the original Broadway production.

And I believe it worked.

I am the least capable of reviewing this production, so I’m leaving it to the experts to do what has to be done. I got nothing to compare it to except for some live video recordings of popular musicals such as Rent, My Fair Lady, and splices of Jesus Christ Superstar. And a live performance is definitely not on the same plane as the limited perspective of a recording.

Furthermore, I would describe my taste on theater art ignorant if not downright crass, and on musical illiterate. I can count using my fingers the number of plays I have watch in my entire lifetime, so I thought giving a little of my time watching the beautiful Dawn Zulueta sing (to my knowledge) for the first time, with a man whose reviews on theatrical presentations in the metro are highly regarded, would not be a waste of time. So off I went to Ayala  on a rainy Saturday evening.

And I am glad I went because the show didn’t fail to dazzle and nearly sent me to tears (if only for this part, I’d say it was an excellent production) when Dawn sang  the lachrymose Send in the Clown.

The direction by Bobby Garcia was seamless, and the cast almost perfect (although I can mention some few miscast such as the character of Henrik Egerman (Felix Rivera) who sounded a bit too gay and confused to me and Frederika Armfeldt (Crystal Baranda-Paras) who lacked any semblance (the appearance, that is) to her mother, played by Dawn). And I am glad I went because of the conversations I had with the writer Gibbs Cadiz before and after the show that were as animating as the articles he has written on theater.

Upon entering the venue, I noticed that I was ridiculously dressed down, wearing my usual garb of unwashed (two weeks and counting) jeans with a huge rip in the left knee and a simple black shirt while the rest were in their semi-formal or decent casual. I was out-of-place. I looked like I was attending a matinee show at the UP Film Center. I got so much more to learn and work on in conducting myself in events like this one.

And I need to buy a pair of black leather shoes.

Why “Why did the chicken cross the street?” is the most frivolous question ever formulated

There are questions about life whose profundity is worth reflecting about. For instance these three questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where do we go from here? are very critical questions for the spiritual survival of mankind. The attempts to find the answers to them sparked the birth of specific bodies of knowledge such as metaphysics, semiotic, and ontology that can stand on their own right as an independent branch of philosophy.

There are questions that are asked because they require practical answers which, although not philosophical in nature, are still necessary to maintain civilization. For example: If the slope of the line is the tangent of cosine b, what is the angle of the line opposite teta as it approaches the asymptote of the 4th quadrant 28 degrees east northeast of that toilet bowl to your left, granting that the formula y=mx+b is half of the diameter of that circle whose pi is not 3.1416 but 2.3X10 raised to the 23rd power of the speed of light in a vacuum?

Questions like the one before this paragraph may sound pedantic but they have actual applications in the field of civil engineering, architecture, weather reporting, space technology, communication, etc. They are not meant to be answered by laymen not because they are not capable of answering them but because there are specialized groups of people who are paid to answer them. Answers to these questions make our existence on this planet more comfortable, our lives easier, therefore allowing as to pursue the answers to questions of the first type.

There are questions that keep the society in order, at peace, and well-functioning. How are you? How’s your day? Can I call you tonight? Do you love me? Can we make love tonight? Will you marry me? Can I have a divorce? are of this kind. These questions maintain human conduct, the foundation of an urbane, civilized, humane, and cosmopolitan living. Without questions like these, we are nothing better than wild beasts or members of a barbaric tribe who are yet to be tamed by what we universally refer to as ecumenical acculturation (I am literally clueless as to the meaning of this phrase, but it sounds good so I am using it anyway).

The last kind of questions, which, I believe, is the least studied but the most interesting, is where the Why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-street? type of questions belong. These questions are devoid of any spiritual, utilitarian, or cultural significance. People who ask these questions indulge in their own frivolity and the buffoonery of the questions they ask. Mankind asks “Why did the chicken cross the street?” because of a combination of boredom and unabashed narcissism.

Different societies around the world have their versions of jokes involving the innocent chicken. This particular chicken, however, did not even think of crossing the street because, as all of us know, there’s nothing to be seen on the other side of the street that can’t be found on that side of the street the chicken is standing. But man’s prying won’t give the chicken his peace. Despite the apparent absence of any laugh-inducing tales that are truly humorous involving our chicken, mankind doesn’t stop concocting stories that explain why the chicken crossed the street (or if our chicken indeed did cross the busy street).

But it appeared that on the other side of the street, the chicken in question is staring at the entire of mankind wondering why the most advance species in the animal kingdom is wondering why the lowly avian crossed the street, which in fact he did not.

“See what boredom can do!” The chicken exclaimed.

Review of Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko: the perils of unbridled improvisation

The theater is so endlessly fascinating because it’s so accidental. It’s so much like life.” – Arthur Miller

Arriving at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Audio-Visual Hall at exactly six 0’clock, I saw some of the faculty members and decided to find a seat near them. I sat beside Professor Rica Cainglet of the Department of Chemistry but I had to later transfer near the stage to hear better the exchange of lines of the character. She mentioned about how she appreciates students presentations like this one. I could not agree more. It’s now time students divert their attention from some really vacuous projects that have no other goal but inane fun to those that have a bit of substance in them.

When I asked her how long the play would be, she said “Depende kung masadyahan ang casts.” (It depends if the casts enjoy their performance so much so that they may forget about the time.) Her response was striking. I knew this particular theatrical presentation was going to be different. And indeed it was.

Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko (Professor Gecko’s Way) is a one-act play written by Alfredo Santos in 1980. This hybrid of a dramatic and spirited humor play portrays the system and techniques of a professor who unconsciously revels in his colonial mentality, adoring Shakespeare and viewing history through Western eyes brought about by his obsolete college education. His four students, Kiko, Babols, Ningning and Bondying are caught in the wall-less classroom of Propesor Tuko learning from their teacher and in turn teaching their professor a lesson he’ll never forget.

The play attacks imperial powers and the oppressive system that is pervasive in the education during the 80s. However, despite it being written thirty years ago, the play remains relevant; it unfailingly inspired chuckles from the audience not only for the slapstick but also for the  subtle and obvious bitter parody of the Philippine educational system.

This is a version of the play by the only theater group at University of the Philippines Visayas in Miagao, UP Intermedius. It was a smart decision to stage Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko in Hiligaynon instead of the original Tagalog because by doing so the play felt more real, the humor more amusing, and the characters easier to relate with.

Directed by Marvin Arcangel Aspiras, this version allowed the characters to be more free in rendering each performance different from the next (there were two show dates and two different venues). The entire play seemed to rely so much on the ability of the characters to improvise, but not too much as to veer away from the original intention of the playwright.

UP Intermedius also did a lot of changes in the play aside from language. The names of the characters were changed; they did away with Babols and replaced her with Bojo (or Benjo, it was unclear because of poor acoustics). Bondying, the character of the village idiot in the play, is a girl in this version.

This version of the play did not fare well in the technical aspect. The lighting, most of the time, was uncreative and inappropriate, if not primitive. Relying on the overhead fluorescent light, the characters looked as if they’re being probed on top of a dissecting table. And whenever foreground lighting directly in front was used, the orange light gave the characters a sinister look, which was not apt for the genre of this play.

The sound was equally bad, if not worse. The venue was too big for a presentation of this size. Because the venue was devoid of any curtains to absorb incidental noise, the supposed humorous lines were drowned in echoes, forcing the play to rely so much on the actions of the characters and the contortions in their faces to elicit laughter. To put it simply, the characters needed to exaggerate their own theatricality to deliver the message because the acoustics of the venue was not suitable for this play or any type other type of theatrical presentation.

I’ve seen presentations of experimental theater at the Bulwagang Huseng Batute in the Cultural Center of the Philippines. They call it, if I remember it correctly, intimate theater because the actors perform very near the audience, they can almost touch each other. Had this play been staged in this kind of venue, the very rich rhythm of Hiligaynon could have been brought out more effectively.

Those mentioned above, however, are lapses that can be ignored especially for a struggling school-based theater company.

The aspect that made this play animated during the earlier part proved to be the reason for its downfall. The improvisations of the actors, which provoked good laughter at first became tired and forced after the middle part, and it was obvious the audience felt this when these ad lib began to become redundant and unnecessary near the ending. The casts tried to be humorous for humor’s sake without considering whether that specific extemporaneous acts would help in the play achieving its goals.

The ability to ad lib is a sign of creativity, quick thinking in the midst of pressure. But real acting demands discipline acquired only through a careful study of the characterization and a passionate attempt to achieve perfection in the exacting art of the theater.

Worth mentioning, nevertheless, were the unforgettable performances of the characters of Kiko, female in this version, and her very adorable way of asserting the facts she knows by reading her ‘newly’ published history books written by Agoncillo, as well as the larger-than-life character of Propesor Tuko who, although limited by the static-ness of his character,  remained focus the entire time.

Bondying, turned out to be more annoying than funny at times, repeatedly and tediously extending parts which could’ve been altogether eliminated. The character of Ningning was overdone; so was Bojo’s (or Benjo’s).

After all, an actor can only do so much with a caricature.

Still, if there is any consolation, this Hiligaynon version of the play Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko is full of attitude. There was a serious effort to bring theater back to the university, an effort worth commending and nurturing. We can only hope UP Intermedius will come up with more productions, productions that would challenge the way we see our world and the way we think about the theater itself, and leave a statement that theater is alive in this part of the UP System.

Ang Sistema ni Propesor Tuko ( Professor Gecko’s Way) is a play in one act, written by Al Santos in 1980. It was first staged on 7 Feb 1980 by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) at the Dulaang Raha Sulayman in Front of Santiago, Manila. The original Filipino version was published in the PETA-KE Script Series 2 in 1983. The English translation was published in Nicanor G. Tiongson (ed), Modern ASEAN Plays: Philippines , Manila: ASEAN COCI, 1992.

This light dramatic and spirited humor play portrays the system and absurd techniques of a professor (who reveals colonial mentality as he adores Sharespeare and views history through Western eyes) to stressed on the attack on imperial powers and the oppressive. Thus, this play ends in a disagreement of the students and teachers who want to help this professor improve and update his absurd system.

‘Till when shall I wait for Godot?

http://www.beckettinvermont.org

When was the last time you waited for something or someone?

At 23 there are some aspects in life where I am already a bit confident in making generalizations about. Waiting, which I’ve never been good at, is one of these difficult games whose rules I am beginning to learn, and am hoping to eventually master.

No wonder I was caught in the absurdist* play by Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot. I first read the play when i was in high school. However, my 16-year old mind then, obviously, was not able to fully comprehend why Didi (Vladimir) and Gogo (Estragon) are waiting for someone they’re both unsure who or whether the man they call Godot is worth the wait.

Waiting is, for me, the hardest thing to do because it is the most intellectual of all activities. Modern society, owing to its tendency to simplify a lot of things, is slowly relegating this art to the dark cracks, away from the tip-of-your-finger comfort and convenience, away from the cerebral task of thinking while waiting. Contrary to what most people believe, waiting is never an empty exercise. The mind of a person who is waiting constantly wanders, always discontent with the explanations as to why he has to wait.

In the end, as one matures, he’ll realize that the act of waiting is more important than the reason for the wait because the act allows him to synthesize thoughts that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible should the person he is waiting comes too soon. So he endlessly waits, ignorant of the fact the Godot has arrived because the pleasure of thinking and the intellectual stimulation are more significant than finally meeting Godot.

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*Absurdism posits that, while inherent meaning might very well exist in the universe, human beings are incapable of finding it due to some form of mental or philosophical limitation. Thus humanity is doomed to be faced with the Absurd, or the absolute absurdity of existence in lack of intrinsic purpose.

Moros

All five in this picture are from Mindanao – the three people on the left, which the sender of the picture referred to as Moros, the playwright Rogelio Braga who emailed me this picture and the blogger.

I do not know if this is the most politically correct term for the Muslims of Mindanao or if it is the name chosen by the politically articulate Muslims who are based in Manila to call themselves.

Unlike Rogelio and the other three in this picture, I am ignorant of the politics in Mindanao. My elementary Sibika at Kultura teacher told us that ‘moro’ is a derogatory term as in ‘Moro-moro’ which means a phony war. I do not know if this still holds true or things have changed since I finished elementary in 1999.

I do not know if the knowledge I have of this part of the Philippines still holds true a decade after.

John and my friends

Picture taken by Alberto Bainto during the 5th Virgin Labfest at the Bulwagang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines.