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.
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."
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.