Dulaang U.P. stages anti-sarswela 'Basilia ng Malolos"

Dulaang U.P. stages anti-sarswela 
By Walter Ang
February 26, 2007
Philippine Daily Inquirer

After having directed several productions using foreign material without any "linear" plots, Dulaang U.P. artistic director Jose Estrella wanted to do something "with a storyline, something Filipino." She then came across "Basilia ng Malolos," a sarswela written by Nicanor Tiongson, and was instantly intrigued when the playwright informed her that it was actually an "anti-sarswela."

"It still includes the usual elements of the form like a bida (protagonist), contrabidas (antagonists), the music, and the 'morally correct' ending, but we reinterpreted and transformed, subverted even, these very elements to suit our storytelling needs," said Tiongson.

"Basilia ng Malolos" deals with a group of women that Jose Rizal had written to in 1889 to congratulate them on having a night-school opened. "That was the only thing people knew about them. That they made an innocuous, upper-class request from Governor-General Valeriano Weyler to have Spanish language classes."

There was certainly more than met the eye. After having written a book, entitled "Women of Malolos" and published in 2004, on the history and biographies of these women, Tiongson has intimate knowledge of the reach and implications of their little school.

"It wasn't just a school," claimed Tiongson. He contends that this group of "feisty and intrepid" women were deeply involved in the revolution efforts of the time. They made waves big enough to warrant notice from notables like Rizal and Marcelo Del Pilar. Wanting to bring their stories to a broader audience via an art form, "The sarswela seemed the logical choice. Also, her time period corresponds to the beginning of this form."

Changing the form
Tiongson already has one sarswela, "Pilipinas Circa 1907," under his belt. It was performed in the 80s and 90s by companies like Peta and Tanghalang Pilipino. "This time, I explore the life of Basilia Tantoco (to be essayed by Jenny Jamora) and her role as a leader of the women of Malolos. In the context of the whole reform movement, the things she did were a major salvo," he said.

"When I heard the term 'anti-sarswela,' I had to ask what it meant." laughed Estrella. However, the opportunity to reinvent and update the sarswela is just the kind of thing this innovative director likes to sink her teeth into. "The material is a challenge to direct. At the basic level, there's an idea that sarswelas follow the love angle of the protagonists and they live happily ever after. In Basilia, the surprise comes at the end when all of that is defied and we all see what she does after that."

Tiongson hopes that audiences will ultimately be led to question long-held perceptions and notions of society and culture. "We want people to examine the roles that society assigns them. How the colonial rulers and the feudal elite, with their patriarchy and oppression, have given us customs and beliefs that we hold as 'natural' and 'Filipino.' But are they really as natural and Filipino as we think they are?"

Contemporary sarswela
Tiongson's desired results are a tall order, "But I have one hundred percent trust in Jose. She's a very intelligent and original director." To this end and to further deconstruct the usual devices of the sarswela, Estrella collaborated with musical director Joy Marfil to retool the music of the songs to highlight the struggles of the characters. The objective is that, unlike the pretty melodies and kundimans of romantic sarswelas, the music for this anti-sarswela must not overpower the ideas conveyed by the lyrics.

Estrella is excited by the development of the production's different elements. "I like directing stories that have movement and songs. It's an interesting way to tell the story of Basilia, of feminist ideals, of equal rights. I want to give the audience a different way of looking at it all."

Executing this vision has attracted collaborators that include Dexter Santos for choreography, John Abul for costume design, Ludendorffo Decenteceo for set design, John Batalla for light design, and Mele Yamomo for video design.

And because the scope of Basilia's active life extends well into the 1920s, many years after the end of the revolution against Spain. "Most of the cast and staff have to do double and triple roles. It's really epic!" said Estrella. "But I staged it as simply as I could so that it's easy to follow. There's a contemporary touch to the staging to make it accessible and familiar."

"Basilia ng Malolos" runs until March 4 at the Geurrero Theater, University of the Philippines. Call 926-1349 loc. 2449.

Also published online:
http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/lifestyle/lifestyle/view_article.php? article_id=51563

Archive link:

Alternative Valentine's Dates

Alternative Valentine's Dates 
By Walter Ang
February 14, 2007
Philippine Daily Inquirer

We know the formula for Valentine's Day dates. You have the de rigueur chocolates, flowers, fancy dinners, soft music, the works. It's all fun and exciting and romantic, but if you'd rather not deal with the crowds, the traffic and the endless list of things that could go wrong, you can also try 2bU!'s alterna-date ideas. We've come up with a list of different date ideas you can try on the day of love. Hey, your time together can be just as romantic even without candlelight.

Take a hike. 
Arrange for a private walking tour of either vibrant Escolta or bustling Chinatown or colorful Quiapo any area of downtown Manila you haven't been to before. If you've never been to these parts of the city, you might as well visit them with someone you like, right? The nostalgia in those old art-deco buildings, the aromas of the merchandise, the vigor of the people are all ingredients to this on-your-feet date. If you're feeling brave, you can go on your own and revel in the joy of the unplanned itinerary. If you'd rather have someone guide you along, check out the websites of streetwalkers Ivan ManDy (www.oldmanilawalks.com) and Carlos Celdran (http://celdrantours.blogspot.com/).

Picnic in the city. 
Forget Tagaytay or Baguio. Have a picnic in the middle of the city. Where you ask? Away from the maddening crowds, you can spend a nice quiet evening together on the rooftop of a building. Sitting on your gingham blanket, you can dine under a canopy of stars and amidst the glow of city lights. You heard right, a night time picnic. The sound of the occasional car horn from down below will only add to the urban flair. You know what kind of soundtrack would make it feel like a scene right out of a movie? Bring along a transistor radio and tune into an AM station that plays those old Tagalog love songs. The crackle and static is all part of the fun.

You can make your cake (and eat it, too!).
Try learning something you both have never tried. Not only will you experience or learn something new, you create a new memory for the both of you to share. Why not learn how to ballroom dance or take a one-day cooking class? You don't have to say sweet nothings to each other but you can surely bake it right up. Remember the movie "Ghost"? Be your own Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze in a pottery class. The Instituto Cervantes (http://manila.cervantes.es/) has some upcoming gustatory-related classes like "Mastering Spanish Wine" and "Introduction to Spanish Cuisine."

Day at the museum. Admit it, the only time you've been to a museum was back in the fourth grade with your classmates. This time, no one is forcing you to go so you'll have a better chance of enjoying yourself. Plus, you're a little older now, which means you can finally actually appreciate the things you can see in a museum. There are lots of different kinds of museums (and art galleries) that will suit your fancy (art, history, etc.). To find one that will interest you both, you can visit the site of the Musuem Volunteers of the Philippines (http://mvphilippines.hypermart.net/index2.htm).

Also published online: