Johnson's Pure Essentials Teen Cheer Competition 2001

It's the girls' time to shine 
By Walter Ang
November 28, 2001
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Mobs greeted me at all three gates of the Araneta Coliseum. Parents were screaming at guards because they were not being allowed in for the Johnson's Pure Essentials Teen Cheer Competition.

I waited for the crowd to disappear before going in. When I asked one of the women at the gate, she muttered something about it being "standing room only" inside.

The oath of sportsmanship was already underway when I entered. If anyone had doubts that cheerleading was an actual sport, s/he should go to a competition like this to be convinced otherwise. It is not just a sport, but a difficult one at that! After a nationwide elimination search, 13 schools finally made it to the coliseum that day. Young women dressed in their school colors whipped up a storm as they performed their repertoire?they danced, they cheered, they yelled, they flew. And, boy, did they ever fly!

The Sisters of Mary School girls were the daintiest of the bunch, looking very lithe in their elegant costumes. Their 10-minute presentation incorporated rhythmic gymnastics routines, including a swaying stunt (or human pyramid to us noncheerleaders). The result was graceful and unique, but lacked the expected and necessary spunk and punch for a cheering competition.

Assumption College (AC) had good energy, used interesting music like "Moulin Rouge's" "Cancancan" song and was the only school that had flawless musical segues. It also had the scariest looking spotters and bases?these are the guys who lift and throw the girls into the air. Those guys looked like they were forced-fed steroids and testosterone! Bases get stepped on a lot and have to lift bodies, while spotters have to be quick on their toes to catch falling bodies.

Winners all
The AC girls were my bet for second runner up, but Poveda Learning Center took that one with its sharp and fun choreography as well as clean stunts and great basket tosses (3-4 bases throwing a "flier" into the air.)

School of the Holy Spirit was first runner up with its great ability to dance in sync aided by clean and sharp choreography. The girls had the healthiest glow among all the contestants and had an infectious, perky energy. One cheerleader looked like Gabrielle Union from the movie "Bring It On" from certain angles. Her mouth was opened wide in a smile from the moment she stepped on the floor until her team left.

Miriam College delivered on all the criteria used to judge the competition. It showed off its assets with dynamic and creative choreography that incorporated technique and skills. The girls danced in sync and the presentation made good use of everyone on the team?not just highlighting the fliers. They also had a strong background cheering squad that had dynamic choreography as well. All these factors combined to assure them of the grand prize. MC also won for cutest costume although it seemed to me De La Salle Zobel's costumes were cuter, with the nifty stylized letter Z in front.

We've got spirit
Other schools lost points for being unable to make clean stunts. Usually the bases and climbers (the girls on the tippy-top of the stunts) were bunched up together and slow on the lifts. And the dismounts were clumsy and didn't' have enough of a snap?some of the more creative dismounts even had girls blowing kisses before falling off the top. Elpidio Quirino High School relied too much on their fliers and climbers (although very impressive) and didn't have enough on choreography.

Colegio de Sta. Cecilia seemed to have too many spotters. This made their climbers seems less able since there were so many people waiting to catch them if they ever fell. But everyone was impressed when the CDSC girls had one leg in the air when their music conked out. And we all know the drill when the music stops: you freeze wherever you are. Troopers that they were, the girls had their legs up there for the longest time and endured it all.

Interesting to note was O.B. Montessori's rotating stunt and Pedro E. Diaz High School's use of Hotdog's (a band from ancient times) "Bongga Ka `Day" to end their presentation. Yes to using more original Filipino music next time, please!

Overall, the schools gave performances that showed a high level of commitment and effort. The girls performed stunts, twisted their bodies this way and that, fell on occasion but always scrambled back up?all this with a smile permanently attached to their faces! It was remarkable to see climbers dance on top of a base's shoulders or hand like it was the simplest thing in the world to do.

And you have to hand to those hardy bases who lifted and threw with all their might. It's tough to be in high school, no question. And to have hours and hours worth of practice and pressure added to your list of things to do is no joke.

It was great to see the fantastic support of parents, siblings, schoolmates and friends. Girls usually have to take a back seat to the boys in interschool sports competitions, so this was a great way for them to take centerstage for a change. Having private and public schools on one playing filed was also a good idea. However, one can't help but notice the economic differences?materials for costumes, props used and even the physical build of the girls. I don't need to tell you which girls had more "energy reserves" in their bodies.

Perhaps there should be a budget ceiling for costumes and props next time just to help even the playing field a little bit more. Or maybe they could come up with "public-private sister schools" teams to compete next time. It could help drive home the objective of friendship, exchange of ideas and sharing and all that.

French Film Fest 2001 at Shangri-La Mall

French Film Fest 2001 at Shangri-La Mall
By Walter Ang
June 2001

I caught two films at the French Film Fest held recently at the Shangri-La Cinema. The lovely people at the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise de Manille made the film fest part of their French Spring Festival and admission was at my favorite price, free.

Foreign films are not for every one. An open mind for cultural differences and nuances must be the first consideration. Speed reading skills are also a practical consideration. After all, apart from the word 'oui' and 'omlette du fromage' (courtesy of popular cartoon nerd Dexter) not everyone understands French. Only the subtitles are our saving grace. And they didn't even translate 'oui' anymore, for that matter.

The first movie I caught will be familiar to comic book lovers of two warriors from a Gaulish village. 'Asterix and Obelix Vs. Caesar' was a hilarious look at how these two and their fellow villagers fight off the nasty Roman empire with the help of a magic potion that gives them all superhuman strength.

Village people
Gerard Depardieu is the perfect person to incarnate Obelix (they're in production to do another installment and this time they'll be going up against Cleopatra) and he plays it with the perfect combination of oafish sweetness and genteel humor. Roberto Benigni, who shot to worldwide recognition with 'Life is Beautiful', was funny and fabulous as everyone's foil, Destructivus.

Their Julius Caesar had the most wonderful Roman nose imaginable (read: humongous) and the actor they picked to play a Roman general called Caius Bonus is, by far, the only human person I've seen who looks like a cartoon character. I swear if I didn't know the guy was a real person, I would've thought his face was computer generated.

The movie's visual appeal and production design was inventive and fun, and Asterix's village looked like it emerged from the pages of the comic book. The movie kept with the comic's funny treatment of the characters' names like Semiautomatix, Panoramix, Cacofonix and Parfarnalia. Of course, the audience just loved Obelix's dog's name: Dogmatix.

One thing I noticed though was the audience's reaction to one of the scenes in the movie. When the Roman soldiers got ready to attack the village, they formed phalanxes, the military move where soldiers interlock their shields. I guess this move must not be as well known as I thought it was since the audience laughed and thought their formation hilarious. Oh well.

Segue to black
The only other movie I got to see was 'Code Unknown'. This one starred the luminous Juliette Binoche, who last made waves with the Oscar nominated 'Chocolat'. Code Unknown is a far cry from the light comedy Asterix offered. The movie's subtitle stated as much: seven unfinished stories.

The movie's format was interesting as they had the first scene contain several different characters interacting in a street altercation. From that point onwards, most of the characters in that first scene shot off into their own tangent storylines, thus beginning the seven independent stories.

The stories had no 'formal' beginnings. You didn't know what the character's backgrounds and motivations were. The scenes were mostly 'a day in the life of' these characters as they sought to resolve one problem or another. You had the range of Juliette Binoche's character, an actress with a strained relationship with a photographer, to an illegal refugee from Bosnia. With so many characters and no neat resolutions, there was a lot left unsaid.

All throughout the shifts from one story to the other, I felt as if I was channel surfing, only someone else as holding the remote control. Perhaps this is what all movies will be like in the future. In this day and age of shortened attention spans, one wonders what kind of gimmickry or innovative idea will a two hour movie have to come up with next to catch an audience?

Speaking of audiences, I experienced another strange reaction from the audience. With seven stories to show, the movie relied on a simple technique to segue from one story to the next. The screen would go blank for a few seconds. Every time the screen went blank however, the audience let up a collective wave of sighs and groans and 'tsk, tsks.'

They let out this reaction with the same intensity as if the movie had been suddenly stopped by a power outage. The problem was they let out the same exact reaction with the same exact intensity each time the screen went to blank. We probably went through, and I'm not kidding, three dozen blank screen segues before most of the audience finally got it and kept quiet. Either that or they must've gotten tired of reacting so strongly. Well, c'est la vie.

REVIEW: Tanghalang Pilipino's "Carmen"

Love-spurned soldier stabs wanton sex goddess 
By Walter Ang
Nov 3, 2001

The first opera I ever watched was a shortened English version of Macbeth. For an opera novice, 90 minutes of the stuff wasn't too bad to get introduced to the art form. (Although I must admit I came out of the theater thankful that it wasn't any longer.) This time around, the opera was George Bizet's Carmen. In chamber version (read: shortened) and in Tagalog, it seemed interesting enough to try out.

With two friends, I caught the story of Carmen ? a "wanton sex goddess" (Bridget Jones-speak for you) who toys with the feelings of geeky, milquetoast soldier Jose. His love spurned by this free spirited bohemian, Jose goes into a convoluted rage ("Turns into a serial killer," said my friend) and eradicates everyone in sight, including Carmen. All of this while singing, of course. And that, little boys and girls, is the lesson of this story: always be wary of the quiet ones. They're the ones who go crazy and start shooting everyone.

In this Tanghalang Pilipino and Philippine Opera Company production, director Nonon Padilla interspersed the singing with monologues ? "letters" from OFWs that tell of the pathos in their lives away from home ? in an "experimental collage juxtaposing the opera Carmen with the lives of Pinoys living abroad."

Padilla likes to make his audience think and this time is no different. The monologues tackled the eventual problems and situations encountered by our OFWs ? lost loves, lost lives, the difficulties of living a transposed existence. The director aimed to parallel their experiences with Carmen's own gypsy life. This concept is not easy to digest however, and it takes some effort to reconcile the two.

Brought to life by the very able ensemble, the monologues seemed to take more prominence (perhaps of its grimmer tone) and the opera seemed to become mere a backdrop. When the show ended with bleak statistics of the OFW diaspora (for example, every year, 600 OFWs do not come home alive), the opera is reduced to a mere afterthought.

Breaks 
The opera featured Jay Valencia-Glorioso as Carmen (alternating with Josephine Roces-Chavez) and Eladio Pamaran as Jose (alternating with Nolyn Cabahug) who sang to the music conducted by Joesfino Toledo. Unfortunately, it did not feel as if there was enough passion and love onstage. The monologues seemed to douse most of the emotional build-ups in the opera.

It felt like watching two productions for the price of one. In fact, the monologues themselves could very well be spun-off and developed into an independent production. "The OFW Monologues" as an answer to the "The Vagina Monologues" perhaps?

With the Filipino translation by Jose Capino, an opera in our own tongue is at least more appealing than some foreign language where you have no idea what's going on. In this case, for audience members who aren't well-versed in Filipino, the opera also provided English supertitles. For all the grief we give Americans and their supposed lack of grammar skills, our own mastery of Filipino isn't so hot.

Just like subtitles except that it's flashed above the stage, during the night we saw the show, the supertitles were more annoying than helpful. Mostly off-cue, the titles were late or did not match the lyrics and not all the actors' lines had translations, which defeated the purpose.

The show runs two hours without intermission, but there's no need to raise those eyebrows since it runs at a fast pace and is over before you know it. Is it possible that since TP has a largely student audience, the monologues were used to keep the youth's notorious short attention spans on track?

It did seem the monologues served as a sort of "commercial break," ? before you could tire of the opera, the monologues stepped in to change the pace and vice-versa. Opera need not be an intimidating endeavor with productions like these. Not exactly a full-blown version of what opera is perceived to be, this at least gives the audience a taste of what it can be.