REVIEW: Tanghalang Ateneo's "Don Juan: Ang Babaero ng Sevilla," Filipino translation of "Playboy of Seville"

Sex, lies and swordplay 
By Walter Ang
December 15, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

DURING the 1600s, there was no television, radio, internet, nor MMS- capable cellphones yet. So it's not surprising that comedia (which does not mean "comedy," but rather "drama" or `play") performed in public squares and marketplaces may have been all the rage. It was easy to please the audience with clear-cut portrayals of good triumphing over evil by showing plays such as Tirso De Molina's "El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de Piedra" (Playboy of Seville and the Stone Guest).

In this day and age where one is weaned on the fast-cuts of MTV and the thousand and one distractions of techno-gadgets, how does one catch and sustain the attention of an audience with a centuries-old morality play about a womanizing leach who gets his just desserts? Tangahalang Ateneo braves an attempt with "Don Juan: Ang Babaero ng Sevilla," a translation by Salvador Malig, Jr.

First, they bring in National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal. He has created a false proscenium for the humongous stage of the Irwin Theater in the Ateneo campus. Covering almost a third of the stage, Bernal's facade contains the action to the center. In this facade, there are motifs of wings and an ominous all-seeing eye high above the stage, a celestial counterpoint to the devilish treachery that eventually unfolds onstage.

Then, director Ricardo Abad fills the space with lots of action. The Tanghalang Ateneo moderator and artistic director regales the audience with dancers darting in and out of scenes, singers punctuating the drama, and actors who have very large movements and walk about a lot as they scream their lines.

As Don Juan conquers one woman to the next and escapes the consequences each time, Bernal's large set pieces move about to create different locales. Three large curtained walls and two stair sets become the interiors of a house, the sidewalk of street, and a whole menagerie of other settings. These pieces do not move automatically as you would see in an expensive Broadway production. But they cleverly fall into place, as local theater practitioners put it endearingly, "mano-matically," powered by the cast hidden in the shadows.

Cheeky exposure
Now with all these components that help literally move the action along, we also have a very hunky Jay Españo playing Don Juan. Don Juan is, after all, a sexual fiend, so there are plenty of scenes where Españo takes off his shirt to reveal his pecs and six-pack abs glistening in the light. To the delight and muffled shrieks of the ladies in the audience, there is even one scene with some "cheeky" body exposure.

Unraveling the sexual undertones of the script does not end there. We have fights between the men with their long, stiff swords. Not the usual clumsy swordplay one sees onstage, these actors pulled off believable scenes under the guidance of fencing master Walter Torres.

Then we have the layered costumes of the women, also designed by Bernal. Cumbersome silhouettes that Don Juan's sneaky words melt to reveal the wearer's inner but very real sexual desires.

And, of course, we also have sex scenes choreographed by Dexter Santos. Highly acrobatic, we see Don Juan dragging his ladies all over the stage and ending up in some very contorted positions.

If there is a hunky leading man for the women, the men also get treated to beautiful leading ladies. If you keep an eye open, you can catch the Reese Witherspoon look-a-like in the chorus, as well as the sterling Missy Maramara as one of Don Juan's victims, the fisherwoman Tisbea. Maramara's throaty voice commands attention as she delivers her fiesty and earthy monologues. When Tisbea realizes Don Juan's deceit, Maramara erupts like a volcano and lets loose a fire-and-brimstone speech complete with cheerleader choreography.

However, not all the scenes are large and noisy. The production provides studies in contrast with light, intimate scenes. Fun moments are courtesy of the comic timing of Ogie Alcasid sound-a-like Chrisitan Verlarde II, playing Markes dela Mota, and Joseph de la Cruz, playing Don Juan's sidekick/conscience Catalinon.

In the scenes where Don Juan preys on his women, just like his flowery and twisted lies, the set design is usually detailed and busy. In contrast, when two women left in the wake of his duplicity air their grievances, the stage is stark and empty. Just like a heart betrayed, it is filled only with blinding white anger.

When we near the end of the play, this anger builds into a collective force when the victims come to collect from Don Juan. One is then led to ask, is the anger justified? Don Juan openly breaks the rules to act on his lust. The women, however, must break rules in secret to act on theirs. If they are all breaking rules anyway, is it really just a matter of not getting caught? Is the question just a matter of personal freewill versus social obligation? Will a 17th century play lead a 21st audience to ask, to paraphrase the title of a cable TV show, "Who's morality is it anyway?"

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Getting a nipple ring

The (Nipple) Ring 
By Walter Ang
November 2003 issue
MTV INK Magazine

I don't know when it was exactly that I decided I would get a nipple ring. But when I finally got my head to agree with my heart, I spent a few days scouring the internet to research body piercing. I figured if I was going to get it done, I'd better know what the hell I was getting into!

I got loads and loads of information and used my super editing skills to trim it down to a four pager summary. Prepared with my research, I proceeded to find an appropriate piercing parlor where I could have my procedure performed. (Don't you just love alliteration!?)

A friend tipped me off to a tattoo/piercing parlor in a Makati mall. I went to do a visual inspection, or more commonly termed in the Philippines as "ocular." It seemed clean enough. They had a Certificate from the Sanitation Department on the wall, which what I thought was a good thing. I asked a couple of questions and got suitable answers. It also helped that there were a lot of people getting tattooed that day and I could see the piercers in action. I decided I would return the following week to get the procedure done.

But first I had to find a ring. It was not an easy task! There are basically two types, rings and barbells. Most of the barbells I found were either too long or too thick, and I settled on an aptly sized stainless steel surgical ring. The stainless surgical steel sounds so ooh-la-la, but it serves a very important purpose. My research indicates that other metals (like silver and gold) will tarnish and the thought of me getting silver poisoning is definitely not ooh-la-la.

The day of the pierce (Wince rating: 3 out of 5. But you know you want to read on.)
I recruited my friend Donna to go hold my hand in case anything untoward happened. It didn't hurt when the needle went in. It hurt a little when it was coming out the other side. What hurt the most was when he was pulling the needle out while inserting the ring! It felt like a giant lead pipe was being dragged through my chest!

The embarrassing part is that after the ring was in place and just before the piercer screwed the bearing in, I started trembling and before I knew it, my whole head went numb, I couldn't hear anything and I had this overwhelming sensation of wanting to sleep.

It was so trippy! I had never fainted in my entire life before and the funny thing was, I had three different thoughts running through my mind simultaneously.

Thought # 1: Oh my God, I must not faint! I must not faint! It's not macho! It's so wussy!

Thought # 2: I *must* pay close attention and remember what fainting feels like so I can write about it in the future. I am a writer, after all.

Thought # 3: Oh boy! I'm going to faint! I have to tell them before I pass ouuuuuu . . .

A few minutes later When I came to, I could smell ammonia and felt a hand supporting my chin. And yes, my friend was holding my hand, bless her.

One final sweep of the piercer's hand screwed in the bearing to hold the ring in place. All done!

They let me keep the needle that was used to pierce me. How cool! It's like bringing home your own appendix after they take it out!

That afternoon
I walk around the mall with my two hands holding the front of my shirt away from my chest. I'm sure I looked like a total doofus, but my whole pec left was hurting so much. Even the wind made me cringe.

That night 
I call my med student friend to ask why I fainted. He thinks it's because I was probably holding my breath too long from the pain and my body compensated by making me hyperventilate and faint. I suspect what he really wanted to say was, "The reason you fainted is simply because you're a wimpy geek!"

I am afraid to even take a shower. What if I faint when the water hits my ring?! What if I faint and fall on the cold tile floor and hit my head and die!?!

On Monday
I show my coworkers in the office. They all scream. Even the guys.

The following morning
I receive a text message from one of my officemates. "Sobrang ayaw ko sya. d ko makalimutan noh. ASAR ka talaga. U shldnt have showd me dat. Now i can't get it off my mind!"

A few minutes later, I get another text message from the same person. "NAIINIS AKO SA IYO!!!!! Naalala ko ung nipple mo. BWISIT KA!!!"

A few days later (Gross rating: 5 out of 5. You have been warned.)
There are mornings when I wake up and there are white crusty thingies around the holes where the ring goes through.

On some mornings, pus comes out of both holes. Blech! I have to squeeze my tit to get most of it out. Double blech! I warned you!

Months later 
My nipple and areola were tender for about a week after the piercing. But after that it was pretty okay. Now that months have passed, icky stuff doesn't come out of the holes anymore and the ring doesn't hurt at all. In fact, when properly ? err, handled, the pleasurable sensations are more than doubled compared to my pre-ring days. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

When people ask me when I'm going to get my other nipple pierced, I say, "Fainting once in my life is enough. Thank you."

Whispers and quivers: Walking tours of Manila's cemeteries

Whispers and quivers 
By Walter Ang
November 2003 issue
MTV INK Magazine

As November loomed closer, I felt the earth quiver and heard it moan with whispers from souls beyond our world. Just kidding! I didn't really hear anything, but I did feel it was the perfect time to take a walking tour of the La Loma, Chinese and North cemeteries.

I've known my friends long enough not to invite the ones who'll look at me like I've taken crazy-pills, nor the ones who will cross themselves and sneak glances at my forehead, trying to see if horns are beginning to grow. Instead, I rounded up a bunch of morbid freaks, I mean, ehem, adventurous, curious and fun-loving individuals to join in this enterprise.

We met up with our tour guide Carlos Celdran, a bubbly and gregarious fellow, and began our journey at the La Loma Cemetery. Energized by the bright afternoon sun, we were eager to explore the earth and see what stories it would reveal.

Beginning at the end
Away from the city noise and clutter, the tombstones and statues of angels stood tall and erect, serene monuments calling our attention to the Netherworld. Carlos, who also does walking tours of Escolta Street in downtown Manila and Intramuros, started off with extremely insightful historical and architectural tidbits on how the cemeteries came to be. He wove in economics, politics and all sorts of trivia -- all without sounding like a droning teacher from Social Studies class.

In fact, seeing tangible remnants of what he was talking about made it so much fun and entertaining I wondered why we didn't have this tour as a field trip back during my student days. My tourmates got so into it that they were practically shouting out names of laws (feeling like game show contestants, I'm sure) that I had long buried in my brain like the Tydings-Mcduffie Law, Jones Law and some Hare Krishna Law. I, on the other hand, had flashbacks of terror teachers asking questions I didn't know how to answer. The past really does come back to haunt you!

Before we left La Loma, we tried to sneak into the church and stumbled upon a group of men having some sort of religious meeting. I was once told never to be afraid of dead people, "it's the live ones you should look out for." No words rang truer at that moment. Apparently, it was some secret exclusive men's faction and these guys wouldn't allow the women in our group to go in ? talk about freaky.

Next stop was the Chinese cemetery where Carlos gave us joss sticks (incense to the rest of us) and "wishing" paper money to burn so we could do ancestor worship. Just like the Chinese, how exciting! We solemnly did as instructed, watching smoke from the tips of our burning joss sticks float to the sky, our intents and desires along with those ethereal wisps, onwards and upwards.

The Chinese cemetery is a cornucopia of visual delights, with rows and rows of mausoleums that featured a mixture of Oriental and Christian motifs. As Carlos gave us an overview of Chinese death rituals and burial customs, we were led to a mausoleum with a glass façade and a velvet curtain keeping its innards away from prying eyes (like those of nosy, noisy tourists, ehem).

This particular mausoleum, according to a source, is the only one in the world to have been included in the Guinness Book of World Records for having an airconditioner. Lots of mausoleums have those now, but I suppose this one started the trend. These days, there is nothing beyond those floor to ceiling curtains, since its, uhrm, residents have been moved to another cemetery south of Manila.

The high cost of plots have spurred a steady migration, leaving a lot of the graves in this cemetery empty now (what our tour guide described as "desecrated tombs"). This strange fact, along with the stillness of the air and the sight of crumbling walls and fallen angels cracked in half added to the eerieness and sadness of it all. I have grandparents buried there so the place was not new to me, although I imagine it must have provided a surreal, otherworldly experience for the rest of the group.

A grave for everyone (and their dog, too)
Our last stop was the North Cemetery, a veritable melting pot of races, classes and religions. And stories -- this place is a treasure trove of lore and juicy, steamy tales.

We go to see the plot of the Thomasites, the Katipunans, the Freemasons, and yes, even our country's first World Flyweight Boxing Champion, Pancho Villa. The circumstances surrounding their deaths are as colorful as Pancho Villa's headstone and as textured as the intricate carvings on some of the statues punctuating the cemetery.

What surprised me was that this cemetery is apparently the final resting place of a lot of the former presidents of our country. So this is where they end up! For those of you who think dead presidents are only good for having their faces printed on money, this tour will definitely change your mind.

"Remember, it's not tsismis if it's true," Carlos began, and proceeded to dish out tales about our former heads of state that made our eyebrows arch and jaws drop. Affairs, conspiracy, murders ? twists of truth that would put any telenovela to shame.

Our last stop was the stately plot of former president Manuel Roxas. As we took time out to digest and relish all the information we had learned that quiet, lazy afternoon, we were challenged to find out where the Roxas's family dog had been buried. The night had begun to steal away the sun and the sky had turned a pale gray. Someone from our group finally found Bogie's little niche, a pet who left his family forever in his tenth year of life.

Feel like waking (stories of) the dead? Contact Carlos Celdran at 671-7726 or 0916-783-1383 or

Death in a Chinoy (Filipino-Chinese) Family

Death in the Family 
By Walter Ang
Oct. 29, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I was all of 13 years old. I was juggling the twin hurdles of puberty and high school --my body was growing faster than my skin and I was barely a month into my freshman year -- when I'm woken by my aunt one morning, her face full of sadness. Then I hear the news that pulls the rug from under my feet, and I begin a long arduous fall.

My mother had died. The hours and days (and years even) that came after was an unreal blur. First things first, I had to have my head shaved. It's a custom followed by Chinoys since you can't have your hair cut for 40 days. I'm not sure if you're supposed to get a haircut for practical reasons because you can't get it cut again for sometime, or if the act in itself is some sort of prescribed tradition. Someone accompanied my two brothers and me to the barbershop and minutes later, the manicure ladies were murmuring hushed tones of "Kawawa naman sila." while my hair fell in clumps to the floor.

When we arrive at the funeral parlor, we're greeted by requisite banners with Chinese characters bearing messages of condolence strung across the hall. People who are already there don't know how quite to look at us. The smell of incense smoke, wilting flowers, and the sweat and perfumes of visitors combined into a heady, sickly sweet mixture in the air. My head spun.

The next few days were filled with so many people coming and going, gingerly offering their soft condolences, pronouncing the word only we Pinoys can: "kondolens." I began to revile the word and the saccharine tone with which it was delivered!

My siblings and I went to a Catholic school and they sent over a priest to say mass. My mother had turned into a Born Again Chrisitan before she died and her group sent over a pastor or whatever they're called. My relatives, of course, had Chinese monks and nuns come over as well to chat and pray. All I could think of back then was thank heavens they didn't all come on the same day! I don't know if it's okay to think of funny things when someone has just died. I suppose it's one of the mind's defense mechanisms.

Sometimes I recall the internment day filled with clouds, sometimes I remember how hot the sun was, I'm not sure what it really was anymore. I do remember how my sister almost wasn't allowed to attend. She was born on the year of the monkey, and apparently, for that particular day people born under certain birth animals weren't allowed to join in things like burials. If there's one thing I've learned about Chinese customs there is always a loophole. They simply had my sister turn her back to the funeral procession at the gates of the cemetery. Problem solved.

I had never seen nor hear so many people crying, but there was something that I saw that was more surreal that that. Someone had been hired to videotape the ceremony! No one had told me about it and part of me wanted to strangle the guy. I don't know if videotaping funerals still happens now, but it's still one of the craziest things I'd ever seen in my entire life. Eons from now, if for some reason the archives of the National Geographic Channel's documentaries on death are ever destroyed, archeologists who need to study funeral rituals of Chinoys can come to my house and dig that tape up.

After they slid in my mother's coffin into its concrete niche, they started burning paper effigies of a house, a car, and other representations of worldly pleasures. This was to ensure my mom would have all these things in the afterlife. Then, being the eldest child, I was tasked to hold my mom's portrait in my scrawny arms and was whisked away into a car. I was made to sit in front, my family at the back. We were promptly driven off to a Chinese temple, leaving everyone behind.

I had stored these memories in the closets of my mind, but they rattled noisily again when I recently took a historical and architectural walking tour of the La Loma, Chinese and North cemeteries. During the tour, which I wrote about in detail for the November issue of MTV INK (shameless plug!), our tour guide had recounted some Chinese burial customs that made me think back.

I remembered wondering how my siblings and cousins and I -- our generation, would handle things when the time came for us to deal with our other loved ones' deaths. No one explains things like death rituals and customs to you. I impishly thought that one day maybe I could write a manual of sorts and earn a lot of money. A Chinoy Book of the Dead, so to speak. No first draft as of yet.

Despite the lighter moments that I recall, I also remember how deeply overwhelming everything was. How angry, lost, sad, scared and frightened I felt, sometimes sliding from one emotion to the other, sometimes straddling all together at the same time. How irritating it was to have all these strangers intrude on such a personal tragedy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Not being able to just grieve in your own space and in on your own terms.

Years went by and I eventually learned about the value of ritualized grieving and the five steps of dealing with trauma. I began to slowly appreciate what I had to go through, the cudgels of academic and logical thought easing the confused heart. I also learned to appreciate how time erodes the hard edges of painful memories into fuzzy mute images, so that one no longer has to remember with clarity and vividness whenever one thinks back.

REVIEW: Ballet Philippines' "Carmina Burana," choreography by Alice Reyes

Horror music, live! 
By Walter Ang
Oct. 29, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

All I know about classical music, I heard from the cartoons that I watched growing up. I know all the music aficionados out there are now cringing and beating their breasts in frustration. Don't worry, at least I know how to pronounce Chopin. Smile.

Also, thanks to Ballet Philippines' production of "Icons," I now know the title of a certain piece of music often used in horror and suspense films, usually in apocalyptic scenes where humankind perishes in a huge fireball. This piece of music was most recently used in the opening scene of MTV's "Jackass: The Movie."

"Icons" went onstage at the Main Theater of the CCP and featured the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. The first act was filled with lighthearted song and dance with the Madrigals singing three songs and the dancers performing two pieces with the orchestra.

Tony Fabella's choreography of "Bahay Kubo Atbp." was at turns funny and solemn, but always celebratory in tone. It was a great counterpoint to what the audience was to see in the second act: Alice Reyes' choreography of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

As the curtains went up, it was a breathtaking and awesome sight that greeted the audience. Rows of choral singers in black robes and yarmulkes flanked the stage as guest conductor Maestro Eugene Castillo raised his baton. The stage revealed towering rock formations with the ballet dancers in formation, veiled with smoke emerging from a central cauldron.

When the music began as the singers hit the first note and the dancers executed their first gesture, you could actually hear gasps from the audience. I was absolutely enthralled. It was a powerful moment that showed how such enduring yet fleeting beauty could be created within the confines of a stage.

Delicious shivers went down my spine as I recognized the music as something I had always heard on TV or in the movies, but never in real life before. It was amazing to hear it for the first time with a full chorus and orchestra. Whenever those kettle drums and cymbals went off together, it was rousing good fun that made my heart quicken.

This time around, Ballet Philippines was able to pull off a successful assembly of collaborators. National Artist for Set Design Salvador Bernal's set, imposing rock formations against a striking backdrop of diagonal lines, elicited a refrain of wows from the ladies seated behind me. Production supervisor Santiago Galvero's expert rendering of the textures resulted in a simple yet ominous piece.

Castillo was every bit the conductor of my animation memories, with long hair that flapped as he vigorously coaxed and guided the music out of his orchestra and the chorus of singers that included the San Beda College Chorale, University of the East Chorale, Our Lady of Fatima University Chorale, Asian Youth Singing Ambassadors, soprano Maria Katrina Saporsantos, and baritone Ramone Acoymo (alternating with Noel Azcona). The cute factor was supplied by the Kilyawan Boys Choir filling the box seats in their schoolboy glory.

The text of the music was taken from the poems of 13th century wandering students of England, France and Germany known as the Goliards. It's interesting and hilarious to note that the Goliards were known more for their shenanigans and tomfoolery like getting drunk, gambling, and rioting.

The music, voices, text and set laid the groundwork for the dancing. Dark and brooding choreography started the piece, but as the movements progressed, it also showcased intimate, graceful scenes, as well as some definitely Bacchanalian displays of eroticism and a finale filled with hope and renewal. Lighting designer Jonjon Villareal's simple colors and subtle light changes effectively complemented and heightened the emotions onstage.

Re-stager Ida Beltran-Lucilla must have certainly had her hands full resurrecting the dance steps that were first performed way back in 1974, eons before I was even born. Her efforts were not for naught, the dancers filled the theater with their massive energy and graceful legwork. Of note was Kris-Belle Paclibar. This young lady who played the title role in last month's Darna imbued so much anguish and torment into her role that it was almost painful to watch.

Making performance art in Manila

Performance What? 
By Walter Ang
October 2003 issue
MTV INK Magazine

Like a virgin The first time I ever saw performance art was via a documentary on Yoko Ono. The TV screen flickered with black and white images of her seated in the middle of a room while, horrors of horrors, people from the audience armed with scissors snipped away at her kimono!

Like a virgin ? live! Later that year, I got to catch a performance art festival in Penguin Café, Malate. Intrigued by what I had seen on TV, I wasn't going to let the real thing pass me by!

Just some of what I saw: Two shirtless guys, one slumped over the other, crawling all over the place ? on the floor, tabletops, the bar.

A guy who washed people's feet with a basin of beer.

And the weirdest one of all, a guy who put his hands in his pants and either 1) pretended to spank the monkey or 2) really spanked the monkey.

The friend I had Tom Sawyered into going with me and I fancied ourselves adventurous and open minded. We tried to see the art in performance art. We really did. We liked some of the stuff we saw. The rest just made us either laugh or roll our eyeballs. But it was loads of fun, and that's what counts.

Party Crashing While drinking free wine (and making pa-sosi) at a party I'd crashed, I'm introduced to this man with large, round eyes and an intense stare. Turns out he organized the performance art show I'd seen years back. "So what is performance art exactly?" I ask. He answers me indirectly by telling me stories of performance art that he has seen, but not giving an articulated dictionary definition. I stare into my glass and wonder if I'd had enough to drink for the night.

How party crashing makes you part of an event you didn't even know about Toreador ringtone goes off. "Hello?" I say into my cellphone. "Hi Walter! This is Mor'o!" Slight pause as I searched my memory banks. Ah yes, Yuan Mor'o, the performance art artist who I met last year! "I have something exciting to tell you. Let's meet."

So we meet and I find out I've already been included in the official list of performers for the 3rd Philippine International Performance Art Festival (PIPAF) dubbed "LAKARAN 2003." Why do I feel like my life is a sitcom?

Although I felt honored and excited (and important and glamorous and artistic), I asked, "Why me?" Mor'o answered, "Why not?" This is the part where I heard the canned laughter, like I was a character on "Will and Grace." He went on to explain that he included a line up of performers from different disciplines, writers included.

I'd done theater work, so I wasn't nervous about performing in front of a crowd. But I was coming from a totally different milieu and I wanted to clarify what it was exactly that I had to do. So I asked again, "What is performance art exactly?"

This time he tells me what it means by negating other performing arts forms. "It's not theater, it's not spoken poetry, it's not dance. We use props, but we don't call them props. We can talk, but we don't use a script." He concluded with a flourish, "Just do what is in your heart and be true to yourself!"

Okay. I can dig being true to myself. "So I'm scheduled for one performance, right?" I asked. "Two!" Mor'o smiled with glee. Now I really know my life is a sitcom! Groan.

A few hours before the opening performance Tonight, all 40 or so artists from several countries will be performing at the festival opening at the Kanlungan ng Sining in Luneta Park. It is humid and I am stuck in traffic!

Have thought long and hard about what to perform. The thing with performance art is that you either pick up on the performance's Very Deep Thought (as travel guide "Fodor's Up Close New York City" calls it) or all you see is a bunch of wackos who look like they've taken crazy pills. In short, you either see the art, or all you see is ka- fuck-you-han (pronounced "kapakyuhan" for full effect.)

But as Oscar Wilde puts it, art is in the eye of the beholder (a.k.a. the audience), or something to that effect. He says it so much more eloquently in the prologue of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," check it out on the internet.

Opening night Just some of what I saw: 3 guys and a girl tied together by packaging tape. (And no, there is no nudity nor leather straps!) The guy on one end screamed into a radio, the guy on the other end passed out polvoron wrapped in cellophane to the audience.

A Thai artist spread stuff from his backpack (notebook, water bottle, pens, etc.) on the ground, wore a raincoat, then walked around and around and around his seat repeatedly saying, "I'm so tired." Then he sat down, drank water from his bottle, and put the stuff back in his bag.

And the funniest one: A guy who made the audience hold up strips of tissue paper over his head while he attempted to step on two soda cans. After he squished the cans, he cut the strips by tried by burning them with a lighter. However, the first strip didn't stop burning and prompted the crowd to give out a collective gasp of fear. The guy had to stomp out the mini-fire he'd made.

What I did: I cut a hole in a 8.5 by 11.5 piece of bond paper that was big enough for bodies to go through. Neat huh?!

Like a virgin ? no more! A few nights later, Penguin Café is filled to the rafters with a motley crew of colorful characters. How exciting to be doing a piece of performance art in the same place where I first saw it live!

I chatted with the other performers while waiting for my turn. I found out that most of them where visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.) with a peppering of theater actors and ballet dancers. We shared beer and stories of our backgrounds. Some artists brought along their families, some had friends in the audience.

It was fun evening full of people who wanted to share their art and, well, their Very Deep Thought. I did a variation of my piece for the opening night, hoping that the Very Deep Thought of my piece would be well conveyed. If not, I just hoped the audience had fun. Afterwards, I promptly melted into the crowd and partied the night away.

Liz Batoctoy designs Darna for Ballet Philippines

Designing Darna 
By Walter Ang
July 12, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Say you're a superheroine and you battle evil elements of society like robbers, gang members, evil snake-haired women and all sorts of nasty characters. It's great that you have a magical stone you can swallow to give you superpowers, but where in the world are you supposed to have your wardrobe done?

Your outfit should be able to withstand the rigors of flying, hand-to- hand combat and other calisthenics involved in fighting crime. And of course, being the ultra Pinay superheroine that you are, you'd have to look just abso-bloody-lutely fantabulous! Why just play when you can also display?

For Ballet Philippines' August production of "Darna," a multi-media show with dance, flying and music, the task of creating the right look for the cast of characters fell to the able hands of Liz-Fjelle Batoctoy. Saturday Super Special sought her out with our noses. You know you've found her when you get to the house that exudes the distinct aroma of rugby. The quiet white facade of the house belies the cornucopia of activity and colors and textures inside it. What greeted us were rows and rows of heads, transluscent and opaque torsos, wide metal frames in all shapes, sketches of monsters, aliens and other fantastical beings. Oh yes, and bottles of rugby.

Liz and her husband Benny Batoctoy are well known in the movie and theater industries for their work in prosthetics. They have provided creatures for movies like the recent Spirit Warriors 2. In the theater scene, the couple made waves with their colorful costumes and props for Trumpets' "Little Mermaid." Among other productions, Liz designed the eerie and unsettling set for Tanghalang Pilipino's "Drakula" last year. With degrees in Fine Arts
(Sculpture) and Stage Design from England, Liz came to settle in the Philippines in the early 90s and has been adding her slant to the local design scene ever since.

Designing process
Liz has already designed for a few Darnas before, including the movie version with Anjanette Abayari. This, however, doesn't relax her standards for new designs. "I try to do something different each time," said the svelte, blonde designer. "I always believe it's going to be better each time."

In fact, such is her dedication to the designs that she "went around in circles just figuring out if I should include a sando in Darna's outfit or not." You'd expect that kind of fervor for details from someone who also said, "Wonder Woman's costume is so boring, isn't it?"

"The process always involves a lot of redesigns," explained Liz. "It's based on the timeframe and the availability of materials." And what materials indeed! Fabric, latex foam, fiberglass, and steel wires are just some of the stuff she uses for her costume designs. We wouldn't be surprised if we saw a dancer wearing a kitchen sink onstage.

Liz uses locally available materials as often as she can. "Necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes you just discover new materials or techniques as the need arises," she explained. While Liz sometimes has to order her polyuretha-whats-its foams from abroad, she never has to worry for want of fabrics. "Divisoria is great! You see all sorts of fabrics you would've never imagined. It's also a lot, lot, lot, lot cheaper than other places."

Color palette
While the materials provide a range of textures to the costumes, Liz ties it all together by assigning color motifs to specific characters. Darna (played by the beautiful and sultry BP dancers Christine Crame and Kris Belle Paclibar) is given striking red and gold, while her arch-enemy Valentina (played by Earth-saver Chin-chin Gutierrez and Dreamgirl Tex Ordoñez) is robed in maleficent purple and black. The taong bayan are given earthy greens and browns, while Valentina's boy-toys get to parade around in gaudy hues of fuchsia and lime green.

Once the final designs are rounded up, BP's costume staff goes to work. Production manager Ida Elopre is all praises for her core team, "Manang Terry, Manang Senyang and Manang Diding handles all the sewing requirements while our dependable technical director Manong Ago helps execute props and headdresses."

The dancers will usually test the initial products in rehearsals for comfort, ease of movement, and durability. This production poses some challenges because the dancers will be flying. While other shows with flying usually hide the equipment, BP's "Darna" will deliberately show the harnesses, cables, and pretty much the entire flying mechanisms ? similar to a marionette show. Liz has to incorporate the harnesses into her designs, as well as make sure the fabrics and construction of the costumes will withstand the highly physical milieu of the show. From sketches on paper to fully- realized ensembles, the costumes in this production will surely take flight once "Darna" starts its run. Audiences will have another layer of the show to appreciate ? seriously fun eye-candy.

REVIEW: Philippine High School for the Arts' "Rossum's Universal Robots" and "The Tempest"

Look do we have here! A promising group of young thespians 
By Walter Ang
April 30. 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"No one can hate man more than man himself," said the poster heralding a twinbill presentation by the Philippine High School for the Arts.

Despite the bleak and ominous tone of the poster, after watching the show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Huseng Batute Theater I announced to my friends that, "I haven't had this much fun watching a theater production in a very long time!"

Having seen too many plays and musicals that were too pretentious, too commercial, and too unoriginal, this recital cum graduation by the theater majors of the country's only arts high school was definitely a breath of fresh air.

The young students from all over the country gave off a vibrant, earnest energy in the two comedies they presented. They had an obvious passion for the craft and art of theater that renewed my faith in the form.

"First and almost"
The matinee featured Czech writer Karel Capek's RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots). Graduating senior Nina Angela Rumbines shone in her portrayal of Helena Glory, the idealistic and vulnerable young woman on a humanitarian mission to liberate the robots in Rossum's Universal Robots factory.

Rumbines was paired with fellow senior Jean Marc Cordero who made a nasty yet funny Damon, the factory's general manager who falls in love with Glory. Other seniors in the cast included Mary Aimee Leduna (Alquist) and Joseph Keith Anicoche (Dr. Gall), whose German accent was spot on.

It was Damon who said, "No one can hate man more than man himself," when the handful of humans inside the robot factory realize too late the repercussions of playing God. The play ends on a positive note, but still gives the audience a lot to think about in this day of genetic manipulation and robotic advancements.

One of the most hilarious parts of the play was the cast's use of commonly mispronounced/misused English phrases interspersed into the Filipino translation of the late Rogelio Sicat. Teacher/overall director Herbert Go, who is also associate artistic director of the CCP resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino, said the use of these phrases was inspired by a line in the play, "Well, well, well indeed."

This gave way to the cast's use of uproarious lines like, "Well, well, well! Look do we have here," or "So far, so good, so far," and "First and almost, it's not your problem anymore, it's my problem anymore!" These unexpected lines (which can be found online at kept the audience rolling in stitches and diluted the tension during heavy scenes, keeping the tone light and easy.

Apart from acting, Rumbines also designed the set, while PHSA alumni Kristine Balmes had costume design responsibilities. Balmes' simple yet creative use of black and silver created a funky and otherworldly look to the robots. The whole look of RUR was very textured and very, dare I say it, cute!

Look and feel
While Rumbines gave "RUR" an industrial and electronic look with large metal sheets, she evoked the isolated island setting of the second play, William Shakespeare's "The Tempest," by using sand and bamboo. Balmes took off from this stark setting and filled the characters' costumes with all colors of the rainbow. The candy colors and varied patterns added vigor to Rody Vera's sterling Filipino translation "Ang Unos."

Go constantly exposes audiences to material in Filipino translation as it shows "the breadth and depth and versatility of the Filipino language as a medium of translation." Go and Vera have collaborated before as director and translator, respectively, with Dulaang Talyer's "Antony at Cleopatra" and Tanghalang Pilipino's "Rhythm Method."

In their latest effort, most male roles were given to female actors, and Skyzx Shannah Labastilla was easily the standout with her earthy and eloquent portrayal of Prospera. Other seniors in this tale of magic and enchantment include Alison Segarra (Miranda), the sultry Isablle Antoinette Martinez (Bastiana), and Roselyn Loria (Antoinetta).

As Prospera's magic tempest brought over a ship full of old enemies to the island, her spirit slave Ariela carries out the legwork. Senior Anna Rea Catamora brought down the house by portraying Ariela as a lithe, flexible creature that would contort would every line. Audiences would stand up from their seats just to see what kind of pretzel shape Catamora had turned herself into whenever she had to speak! Her imitation of a frog was definitely one of the great scene stealers of the evening.

The play ends with old trespasses forgiven and new loves forged; as with most Shakespeare comedies, all's well that ends well. This recital, however, is not the end for these high school graduates who've had to juggle a regular academic workload with extensive arts training for the past four years.

As senior Roselyn Loria believes, "What's past is prologue. What's been done over the years is mere warm-up for the events ahead." If the recital is any indication, this batch of graduates is certainly all fired-up for the world ahead.

Rebirth of Romance: The Registry wedding venue

Rebirth of Romance 
By Walter Ang
March 30, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Tucked into the heart of San Juan, the cozy and relaxed atmosphere of the "The Aviary" once attracted countless couples in search of good food and romantic evenings. Many were disappointed when it stopped operations.

However, managing partner Ferdie "Pido" Villanueva would still receive inquiries to book the space for wedding receptions long after the fine-dining restaurant had closed shop.

Even former customers and friends all continued to espouse the virtues of the location. Encouraged by their constant prodding, Pido rounded up a new group of partners and set forth to renovate the place into its new incarnation, "The Registry." No longer a restaurant, but now a venue to be rented out for special occasions.

Like a glorious phoenix reborn, The Registry formally opened with a grand affair complete with a pair of models dressed up as newlyweds alighting from a silver Jaguar before they proceeded to the ceremonial ribbon cutting.

The opening also featured a photo exhibit of "Ninangs" photographed by Dominique James with the 30 x 40 prints produced by Imagesetters.

"We wanted to highlight the importance of Ninangs in weddings," said partner Bong Lozano. "This is our tribute to them." Featured Ninangs were prominent personalities that included UNIFEM Phil. Committee chair Olga Martel, National Commission on Women president Nona Ricafort, S Magazine publisher Aster Amoyo, Mandaluyong City first lady Carmencita Abalos and Pasig City vice mayor Lorna Bernardo among many others.

New Look
Guests to the opening were the first to see The Registry's facelift. "It's now softer and lighter. The antiquated atmosphere of 'The Aviary' was brightened," explained partner Bing Bernardo. Apart from some cosmetic retouching, much of the old-Manila charm still pervades the space. From the grand white wrought-iron gate, one can already glimpse the delights inside: several areas with personalities of their own.

The Patio (capacity to fit 180 pax) is the first area, filled with towering bamboo and rows and rows of horsetails. The most appealing part of the patio is that its landscape can be customized to suit whatever whim or fancy one may have.

An accomplished garden designer, Pido explained, "The look can be changed depending on what our clients want. Tropical, Asian Zen, rose garden, there are endless possibilities!" The look can be continued into the Indoor Garden that fits 250 pax.

The adjacent garden is lush with wildly exotic foliage of the humongous varieties. Bromeliads from Hawaii and Florida, as well as ferrox cycads from Africa, flank the ground while gigantic staghorn ferns (one of the hardest to culture) adorn the elevated gazebo. It's a most romantic spot for garden weddings, with a 25 foot high two-layer waterfall at the back, flowing into a pond filled with giant kois as long as 3 feet.

Beside this is a flight of stairs that lead up to even more function areas. The Gothic Hall (150 pax) is replete with candelabras, chandeliers, and elegant antiques from ancestral homes. This hall includes gold-leafed wooden arches, tiled floors, and french windows that lead to the stately balcony.

Beside the hall is the Green Alcove, which can comfortably fit 50 pax. Both these rooms, including the downstairs Indoor Garden, overlook the aviary filled with brightly hued macaws and talking cockatoos from Australia and the South American rainforests.

The stainless steel kitchen is also on the second floor and will be home to several affiliated caterer: Auffrance Catering, Batis Asul Catering, Hizon's Catering, Josiah's Catering, Juan Carlo Catering, Nina's of The Aviary, Portico 1771 of Malate, and VS&F.

Just outside the Gothic Hall is a bridge that crosses to the Bamboo Hallway (25 pax) and right beside it is the Bridal Room where the newlyweds can take a breather away from the crowd. All the different textures, colors, atmospheres, flora and fauna stems from Pido's wish for people to have a sensual experience.

"The sound of the waterfall creates such a serene and soothing sound. The flora and fauna are a delight for the eyes. This is a wonderful environment not only for wedding receptions, but as well as the ceremony itself, theme parties, debuts, and other special occasions," he said.

"In fact, children's parties would also be wonderful. For them, we bring out the snakes and tarantulas. They have a great time since they see and touch plants and animals they would only normally find in picture books."

With such accouterments, The Registry truly is a feast for the senses. The partners are all confident that their hands-on approach to managing the venue, from design to coordination, will surely make any blushing bride beam with joy and pride.

The Registry is at 233 J. Abad Santos St., Little Baguio, San Juan. Call Bing Bernardo (0917 523-2368) and Bong Lozano (0917 891-7805).