Review of Tanghalang Pilipino's 'Golden Child'

Review of Golden Child
By Walter Ang
December 2008 to February 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

In David Henry Hwang's "Golden Child," Chinese-American Andrew is visited by the ghost of his grandmother Ahn when he grapples with the dilemma of soon becoming a father, a notion he rejects. To help him accept and take responsibility for his soon-to-be-born child from his third wife, Ahn insists on telling Andrew the story of her own father, Eng Tieng-Bin.

Tess Jamias, the actress playing "ghost grandmother Ahn," transforms into "young Ahn," while Art Acuna, the actor playing Andrew, becomes Eng. The story thus takes us to when Ahn was still a little girl living in Fookien (Fujian), China in the early 1900s. Her father Eng returns home to his three wives after several years of doing business in the Philippines. Having been exposed to the "outside" world, he brings back a fascination with Western ideas such as individualism and Christianity. His idealism seems harmless at first. He shows them gifts like cuckoo clocks, waffle irons and phonographs. But soon he seeks to bring about change (such as eventually prohibiting foot-binding in his household) resulting in trouble for everyone.

Originally staged in the USA, Tanghalang Pilipino's staging brought over New York City-based Filipinos like director Loy Arcenas and actors Art Acuna and Tina Chilip. Chilip was recently featured in the short film "Bampinay," while both Arcenas and Acuna received special citations for directing and acting, respectively, from the Obie Awards for the staging of "The Romance of Magno Rubio." After the local run of Golden Child, Acuna will go on to join Pan Asian Repertory Theater's samurai version of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Obligation and free will
Arcenas also designed the set and fills the stage with layers upon layers of sheer curtains that become translucent or opaque with the lighting design of Barbie Tan-Tiongco. It's a wonderful visual metaphor for the many "invisible" walls of social, cultural and familial obligations and norms that confine, restrict and confuse the characters.

The acerbic First Wife (Irma Adlawan-Marasigan) clings to tradition; the cunning Second Wife (Tina Chilip) plots to elevate her status by staunchly going along with Eng's proposed changes; the earnest Third Wife (Liesl Batucan) yearns only to be with Eng.

While Jamias employs body language and voice changes to effective use as a believable old woman and a ten-year old and Acuna gives a heartfelt performance, it is these three talented actresses that are a treat to watch. Each of the three gives her own character a different and convincing take. Thankfully, the script allows them individual moments to shine because the play ultimately is their story: how each wife responds to the inevitable changes that are throttling their way.

The results of these changes do not end too well for all, but it makes for strong tragic drama. Drama that is diluted by the framing device of ghost Ahn and her grandchild Andrew. In fact, it feels almost like a concession employed by Hwang to make the story of Eng Tieng-Bin and his family more accessible to American audiences. Even child Ahn, the titular "golden child," sometimes feels like a distraction to the advancement of the story. Even in a crucial scene where her feet are finally unbound (signifying not just the unbinding of her feet but how everything else starts becoming undone), the power of the scene quickly fizzles out because her coming into her own is not fully explored by Hwang.

Personal history
Nonetheless, weaving in and out of comedy to tragedy, Hwang ultimately paints a love story with a message of hope and redemption in the end. Chinoy audiences would have appreciated the production for its imagery, the sense of personal (cultural) history it evokes and, if not for anything else, the fact that stories of the Fujian Chinese (who ended up in the Philippines) are so rarely seen onstage. Note that Hwang is actually descended from a Chinoy family from Cebu and the play was inspired by his own family history.

Most Chinoys audiences who grew up here are sure to relate to issues raised such as respect for tradition versus openness to new ways of doing things and even Christian religious beliefs versus Chinese customs of ancestor worship. A similar topic that was raised in the recent staging of Koh Jun Eiow's "Ang Dalawa Niyang Libing" which tells the story of Chinese in Malaysia who convert to Islam for convenience in processing business permits.

The issue is, of course, not at all centered only on religion. Is it more of a general disregard for principles or just a strong affinity for adaptation-as-a-necessity to survive? Or is it more of the sacrifices one endures for love? Hwang's "Golden Child" can definitely serve as a starting point for further discussion.

The show was alternately staged in English and in a Filipino translation by Doreen Yu and Dennis Marasigan, a nice option for audiences as they were able to choose the language they are most comfortable with. The people who brought this play to Manila should start working on a Fujian Chinese translation as their next agenda. There aren't a lot of professional Chinoy actors but even an amateur group like Chancel Repertory could take a shot at it and provide a meaningful theater experience for the Chinoy community.

Benjamin Pimentel: A writer's sense of mission

A writer's sense of mission 
By Walter Ang
November 24, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Currently showing at the intimate Tanghalang Huseng Batute of the Cultural Center of the Philippines is "Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street," a play adapted by Rody Vera from the novel by Benjamin Pimentel, which recently won the Juan C. Laya Award for Fiction in the 2008 National Book Awards.

Staged by Tanghalang Pilipino, "Gerilya" tells the stories of a group of Filipino World War II veterans as they wait for the full benefits promised to them and, at the same time, as they wait for their "long-distance call from heaven."

Directed by Chris Millado, the play features a powerhouse cast that includes Tommy Abuel and Bembol Roco alternating in the role of Fidel and Lou Veloso and Bodjie Pascua alternating in the role of Ciriaco, just two of the several characters who reminisce about their days in the war, the women they've loved, and the families they've left behind.

Real stories 
Pimentel grew up in Quezon City and took up political science at Ateneo De Manila University. He relocated to the USA in 1990 to attend University of California-Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and eventually became a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, covering information technology and Asian American issues.

"It was also the same time when Filipino veterans started moving to that area after they were granted the opportunity to become American citizens," he says. These were the Filipinos who fought alongside US forces against the Japanese in the Philippines. They were promised citizenship when the war began but were only able to claim on the agreement almost half a century later.

He would notice these old veterans hanging out in one of the train stations on Powell Street. "May of these men were old and sick. San Francisco can be a beautiful place, but the weather can be brutal," he notes.

While their service during the war entitled them to citizenship, Filipino veterans were not entitled to the regular benefits of American military veterans. They were only entitled to receive supplemental security income, roughly USD600. "They need to survive on less than that in order to send home money to their families, which in San Francisco, is virtually impossible," he says. He points out that many Filipino veterans usually share one room, from five to ten people per room, and end up eating at soup kitchens.

Final mission 
Pimentel likens the arrival of these men on American shores to a final mission, of "beteranos [plunging] into their new battle as old men." They now fight against the forces of cold, hunger and loneliness.

Pimentel started writing about the veterans and discovered an ineluctable dilemma many of them face: In the mid-90s, the veterans' plight drew enough attention to spur the fight for an Equity Bill that would grant them equal benefits enjoyed by other US military veterans. However, if the Filipino veterans were to die in San Francisco while waiting for the bill to be passed, there is a considerable financial burden to ship their bodies back to the Philippines for burial. A burden most of them cannot afford. "For many Filipinos, cremation is a `no, no'," he says.

The stories of their yearning for dignity stirred Pimentel into developing a non-fiction account of their plight together with documentary photographer Rick Rocamora. The project did not materialize, but their stories stayed with Pimentel. He soon turned to fiction to "retell and reimagine what these men had gone through."

He wrote a short story, "Waiting on Powell Street," which won first prize in the Bienvenido Santos Story Contest in the US. This inspired him to expand the material into a novel. He'd started writing it in English but soon encountered resistance. "It was as if the characters in my novel rebelled against me. They'd ask why I was making them speak in English when they were Filipinos," Pimentel says.

Another level 
The result of his work was picked up for publication by Maricor Baytion of the Ateneo de Manila University Press and became a bestseller last year. The novel is currently available only in the Philippines but there are initial plans to translate the novel into English.

Pimentel has previously written "UG, An Underground Tale," about the life and times of Edgar Jopson, a bestseller in Manila in 2006, and recently completed "Pareng Barack: Filipinos in Obama's America," published by Anvil. "`Pareng Barack' is my take on the racial, ethnic, immigration issues that have cropped up in the context of the recently concluded US presidential campaign," he says.

Pimentel recently arrived in Manila and caught a performance of the play. He says, "The play takes the novel to another level, it's heartening to see the stories and themes of the book acted out onstage. The actors are really great!" Discussions have been held to explore the possibility of touring the production in the US, however, due to prohibitive costs, the option of having Filipino American or Asian American theater groups based in San Francisco and Chicago stage the material is also being considered.

"Pareng Barack: Filipinos in Obama's America," will be launched on November 26 at 6 p.m. at Bestsellers Ortigas, Robinson's Galleria. "Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street" runs until November 30, 2008. For details, call 832-3661 or Ticketworld at 891-9999.

Also published online: writers-sense-of-mission

Akari lamps and light switches for Pinoy homes 172977/Shining-in-Shenzhen
Shining in Shenzhen 
Text and photos by Walter Ang
November 19, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Akari CEO Chris Tiu (left).
The Akari brand of lighting and electrical products, despite using the Japanese term for "bright light," is actually a completely Filipino creation. It was introduced to the Philippine market in 2002 by Carlson Philippines, a company founded by Carlos Tiu that started out as an importer of electrical and lighting items from Japan.

Akari first distributed energy-saving lamps and switches, eventually adding rechargeable batteries, flashlights, and cords to its range of products. Carlos' eldest son Christopher is at the helm these days as CEO and he invited Inquirer Lifestyle to visit their manufacturing plant in Shenzhen, China.

"Although we outsource the manufacturing of our products to a large-scale production base, we do all of the designs and technical specifications," says Tiu. "We're committed to quality and we follow rigid international safety standards."

This is the reason Akari chose a manufacturer with close to 65 years of experience in research, production, and distribution of lighting devices, electrical wiring accessories, and intelligent control systems. Stereotypical images of a plain warehouse factory are nowhere in sight at the sprawling complex. A sculptured garden campus provides a striking contrast to several tall edifices that dominate an area covering over 300,000 square meters.

The production base has over 3,000 employees that include 200 engineers, 300 technicians, 100 electrical experts, and 500 management personnel. "Our manufacturer implements the ISO9001:2000 international quality management system and 5S management standards," says Tiu. "Quality control standards are usually set higher what is required. For example, if the minimum standard set by the government is 6,000 hours for the life of a light bulb, we make it 8,000 hours."

Texture and color 
"Our aim is to develop a complete range of quality but affordable energy-efficient lighting and electrical products easily available to anyone who wants to save energy, money, and the environment," says Tiu. "Our energy-saving lamps are five times more luminous and 80% more energy-efficient than normal incandescent lamps."

To add a bit of flair or to complete the small design details for home interiors (and even commercial spaces), Akari also has a line of switches and switch plates to choose from. To ensure strength and durability, the production plant pulls out random switches from every batch produced and subjects them to a machine that turns them on and off at least 40,000 times. If the switch doesn't hold up, the entire batch will not be released.

In Akari's Deco series of switches, the Regular range comes in white and is appropriate for minimalist and classic tastes. Home owners or commercial spaces that need a splash of color will appreciate the Soft Touch range with its assortment of interchangeable multicolored frames like fantasy blue, romantic purple, jazz black and pink lady, while the Elegance range comes in champagne, cola silver and coffee black.

For an unexpected touch of whimsy, the Picture range allows users to insert any photo or image they choose, such as a computer print-out of a painting, into the plate. Spaces that are aiming for a sleek or industrial feel can consider the Prestige range which comes in metal finishes like gold, silver and bronze or the Glass range which uses clear tempered glass. "We test drop the glass plates to make sure they don't break," Tiu says. Prototypes are underway for a range of plates that will come in a leather finish.

Automated for savings 
Beyond design finishes, Akari also has the E-tech dimming pattern switch which allows up to four different lighting schemes to be preset. "This lighting control device can accommodate up to four circuits using existing electrical wiring," says Tiu. A demonstration was done at the main conference room of the production base. At the switch of a button, lights instantly dimmed prior to a presentation using a projector.

"For home use, an example is use it for the dining room where you have a brighter light design for family dinners but a cozier ambience for romantic dinners. For the living room, you can have one lighting design for entertaining guests and another design for watching movies with the family?all at the push of a button. Best of all, the dimming capabilities allows users to save on electricity costs. Galleries, museums, exhibition halls can also benefit from the device," he says. "If you're a bachelor with four girlfriends who have different tastes in lighting, you should get one of these," he adds with a laugh.

For an even higher level of lighting control, plans are underway to introduce the Smart House lighting automation system. "The system allows homeowners and building or mall operators to conveniently control home lighting, airconditioning, and alarm systems. It can be operated through texting or the internet. The operating time of lights and aircon units can be scheduled to save energy. Studies have shown that the system can add up to 30% savings in electricity costs," he says.

The system also uses motion detectors that can switch lights on when someone enters a room as well as switch lights off in unoccupied rooms. When installed outdoors, motion-activated lighting is also useful for security measures. "It even has a replay function that records one full week of actual household lighting activity and then replays it to create the illusion that the house is occupied. If you plan to have a long vacation, it will be an excellent deterrent to intruders," Tiu says. "In addition, through the Smart-House, socket outlets can be switched off remotely to ensure that certain electrical appliances are not activated by children."

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Even kids get to enjoy photo workshops at KidsAhoy

Even kids get to enjoy photo workshops 
By Walter Ang
Nov. 3, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

"Alon Self Half" by Alon Severino
Renowned broadcast journalist Howie Severino did something for his son's sixth birthday that most parents wouldn't usually have done. Severino and his wife, Ipat, curated an exhibit of photos taken by their son Alon.

"We wanted to do something different for his birthday and photography is something that almost everyone can relate to," he says. "Of course, we were quite proud of him, but the pictures are less a testament to any budding talent than a commentary on the democratizing power of technology. It's really seeing the world through the eyes of a child and photography is just the medium"

Severino waxes enthusiastic about the possibilities that are now available for children as far as photography is concerned. "Kids can takes pictures because they can these days. When I was a kid, cameras were big, expensive, shot on film, and off limits to kids," he says. He recalls being apprehensive about using the family camera because if he caused any damage to it he would've had to contend with an entire group of people.

In his blog, Severino notes, "With cameras getting cheaper, better and smaller, it's a wonderful time to be a kid. You can record your own childhood ? including the way your face is evolving -- and not rely on the biased eyes of those who have left childhood far behind."

Severino points out that the digital divide "is being bridged by cheaper and better gadgets, but this divide usually refers to economic class, or even continents." He posits, however, that "we rarely do we mean age, and in Alon's case the ability of modern technology to empower someone who just turned six."

Alon has been taking photography workshops exclusive for children at Kidsahoy, a venue for parents who want a social environment for their children to learn and play. Instructor Kaloy Yap points out the differences in teaching photography to adults and children. "With adults it's more of the nitty gritty aspects of photography and the tone is more formal. With children, it has to involve play and incorporates fun while they learn," he says.

Current workshops are composed of ten sessions with one topic per session. "It's actually a detailed currciculm but it's very accessible. We teach kids about everything and anything that you can find in a regular point and shoot camera. We have topics such as portraiture and landscape photography," Yap says.

To make things more interesting, classes on macro or close-up photography involves a trip to the backyard and unearthing stones to shoot ants and maggots. Parents are tasked to model for the portraiture classes. "It's fun to see children directing their own parents on the `correct' way to pose," says Yap. The workshop also includes a session on light painting, taking photos of a moving light source such as a flashlight in a darkened room. "When the kids start showing signs of boredom, we bring out the toys and ask them to take photos of the toys," he adds.

As for equipment, students can use "whatever their parents give them." Yap points out that digital cameras are the norm for children as they are sturdy and some models are even waterproof. "There are cameras now that you can drop from as high as six feet and you can also swim with them to several meters below the water," he says.

Nina Gonzales has taught photography workshops to teenage girls from Sagada National Highschool and was co-curator of Foto Baryo, a touring photography exhibit featuring works of children (most recently held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines). "In general, technology in photography has hugely impacted the access to imagery. Age is little limitation here because photography is so innately connected to the eye and the view. One person's glance can be as inspiring as anyone else's regardless of age or geography," she says.

"The world looks different to kids," says Severino. "At naturally low or crazy angles, the shots also focus on things the adult eye may not: favorite toys, for example, or his mother through an electric fan."

This does not mean, however, that the quality of their compositions or shots are inferior to adults' output. Yap says, "Children will surprise you with angles or shots that rival a professional. It's almost mostly from a 'worm's eye view' because of their height, but they have a fresh view."

For details on Foto Baryo, email For details on photography workshops at Kidsahoy, call 0920-517-8127.

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Cory's life now a musical

Cory's life now a musical 
By Walter Ang
Nov. 3, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

While a musical and a concert have already been made about a former Philippine First Lady (the East West Players theater company of California staged "Imelda: A New Musical" in 2005 while David Byrne and Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook devised a "song-cycle" titled "Here Lies Love," staged in Adelaide in 2006), no one has yet made a theatrical production that focuses on our country's first female President. Until now.

"Cory: The Musical," a production based on the life of former president Corazon "Cory" Aquino, was conceived by Lourdes "Bing" Pimentel (wife of Senator Aquilino Pimentel), a self-taught composer who has produced and composed musicals such as "Nasaan si Hesus," "Huwag Pumayag sa Dagdag Bawas," and "Pagibig sa Bayan."

To say Mrs. Aquino's life has been trying is an understatement. She is known to have been a devoted wife who was supportive of the political career of her husband, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., whom she married in 1954. He started out as mayor of Tarlac, became the youngest senator in Philippine history in 1967, and emerged as a leading critic of the Marcos government. He was arrested during martial law in the 70s, sentenced to death, and eventually allowed to leave for exile in Boston with his family.

Her husband's assassination in 1983 catapulted Mrs. Aquino to global recognition. After a snap election in 1986, she served as the 11th President of the Philippines until 1992, the country's and Asia's first female President. Through all her struggles, Mrs. Aquino emerged, as Wikipedia notes, "a world-renowned advocate of democracy, peace, women's empowerment, and religious piety."

In 1986, Mrs. Aquino was Time Magazine's Woman of the Year and was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Later on, she would be cited as one of the "100 Women Who Shaped World History" and become a recipient of the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. She was also chosen by Time Magazine as one of the "20 Most Influential Asians of the 20th Century" as well as one of "65 great Asian Heroes."

Pimentel says that when she learned the former president had contracted cancer earlier this year, she felt it time for people to demonstrate their love and appreciation for the sacrifices Mrs. Aquino had undergone. "I thought of gifting her with a musical," she says.

"Cory: The Musical" has twenty songs and tackles the life of Mrs. Aquino from her teenage years until the time she accepts the presidency. Acclaimed singer-actress Isay Alvarez, who is usually most known for being in the original London cast of "Miss Saigon" as Gigi and was recently seen onstage in Peta's "Skin Deep," will be playing the titular role.

"It's nerve-wracking," says Alvarez of portraying the former president. "I read a lot of materials on what she went through to figure out where she was coming from. There is a stereotype of Mrs. Aquino that portrays her as a timid person. But she's not timid at all; she's composed. And she's composed because she's really a strong person and she's gone through a lot."

Leo Quinitio serves as the musical director, conductor, and arranger while directing duties will be handled by Nestor U. Torre. Torre has been involved in theater, radio, TV, film, and entertainment journalism (he is editor of PDI's Saturday Special). He was the creative force behind musicals such as "Katy!," and "Magnificat," among others.

This production also serves a reunion of sorts for Alvarez and Torre since Alvarez was in the original cast of Torre's musical "Magsimula Ka." In fact, Alvarez's husband Robert Seña was with her in the original cast of that musical and is part of this one as Ferdinand Marcos. The role of Ninoy Aquino will be essayed by Sherwin Sozon, who was recently seen onstage in "Dalawa Niyang Libing," one of the plays in Virgin Labfest 4. Pinky Marquez will play Imelda Marcos.

"The story for this musical is really a study of two people, Cory and Ninoy," says Torre, who also developed the book (i.e. script) for this production. "It's about the dark night of the soul when Ninoy is incarcerated for seven years and the transformation they go through as a couple. It's about how hey are challenged by the events surrounding them, how they rise above themselves."

Produced by the Buhay Isang Awit Foundation, Inc., "Cory: The Musical" goes onstage Nov. 29, 30, and Dec. 1 at the Meralco Theater. For details, call Sheila at 851-3120.

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Sarah Geronimo rocks on

Sarah Geronimo rocks on 
By Walter Ang
November to December 2008 issue
You Magazine

Sarah Geronimo enters the photo studio with Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" clasped between her hands. As she settles into her make-up chair, she raves about the book. "It's great! It's really different," she says about the overnight sensation story of a mortal girl and her vampire boyfriend. Sarah shares that she loves getting caught up in a good book. "You become part of another world. It's a great feeling."

For a few hours this cloudy Friday afternoon, Sarah shares bits of her own not-so-little world. She's not unfamiliar with the concept of being an overnight sensation herself. Five years ago, at the age of 14, Sarah won a televised singing contest that bagged her a cool million pesos and landed her a ten-year recording contract with Viva Records.

Since then, she's racked up a long list of achievements that most girls her age can only dream about. Her public triumphs are but a click away. A quick Google search for her name yields countless results and her Wikipedia entry, when printed out, totals 11 pages.

Her debut album, "Popstar: A Dream Come True" reached a staggering seven-platinum record, selling more than 350,000 copies. Since then, her showbiz career has grown leaps and bounds. From singing, she's branched out into hosting and acting and has established a presence in TV variety shows, telenovelas and movies as well as commercial endorsements for different products and services.

Despite having achieved so much in so little time, Sarah has a surprisingly shy way about her. She has the aura of a little girl thrust into the first day of school, trying to find her way. But she definitely knows where she wants to go. "I feel like I've only achieved a fourth of my dreams. I still have a lot of goals in my life," she shares. "I want to be a successful international singer. I'd like to bring honor and pride for the Philippines."

Evolving The latest revelation in Sarah's ever-evolving career is her comedy acting chops. She was recently partnered with John Lloyd Cruz in the romantic-comedy "A Very Special Love," which earned P14million on its opening day. "It was very fulfilling, we didn't expect it to do so well. We had lots of fun shooting this movie, the atmosphere was very light."

It's a refreshing turn from the string of heavy drama telenovelas she's been in for the past two years ("Bituing Walang Ningning" and "Pangarap Na Bituin"). And a surprise that Sarah can actually be effective in making people laugh.

"It's more fun to do comedy but it's actually harder than doing drama," she says. "With drama, you just feel the situation your character is in and you can get carried by the emotion. With comedy, you have to have the right timing. Hindi ka puwedeng magpatawa para lang mapatawa ang audience. You're not allowed to overact." However, Sarah didn't have too difficult a time since she admits to being a clown in real life. "I'm very makulit and I like to joke around," she laughs.

These days, having wrapped her telenovela and movie, Sarah breathes a little easier and has a little more free time on her hands. "Taping for the telenovelas would take up almost the entire week," she shares. Although she still does concerts and provincial shows while fulfilling hosting duties on weekly variety show "ASAP," Sarah has had more time to catching up on bonding with her siblings. "We usually hang out after going to Mass. We do regular things like malling, watching movies and eating out."

Simple but adventurous "I didn't used to think about what to wear or how I should present myself in public," she says. "But I try hard to keep up." Sarah's partial to outfits from Zara, but she admits to being a typical t-shirt and jeans kind of girl. "I like my stuff from Bench. What's important is comfort, more than anything else."

When it comes to make up, she goes for light blush on and "just a little lip gloss." Peach and pink are her favorite colors for makeup. "I just try to always keep my face clean and I never go to sleep with makeup on," she says.

She's also trying to work out more. "I try to use the treadmill," she starts, then bursts out giggling. "I try!" Her hectic schedules doesn't really allow her much time to fit in a regular exercise routine, but it doesn't really matter though since she does a lot of dancing for her work anyway. "I love dancing! I'd like to learn all kinds of dance if possible."

Sarah's even learning how to play the piano. "One day, I hope to play the piano in one of my concerts and sing `If I Ain't Got You'" she says. Seeing how the photo shoot is portraying "the rocker side of Sarah," she admits that she'd be willing to try other genres or singing styles only if it weren't so difficult on her vocal cords. "I'm open to alternative rock, but I would have to be very careful not to damage my voice."

Big plans She tempers her adventurous side with a strong commitment to diligence and perseverance. Sarah is working towards finishing her Associate Degree in Arts from the Open University and she's already helped her parents put up several businesses such as a beauty salon, a clothing boutique and a panciteria. As for a romantic relationship, Sarah feels she isn't ready yet and wants to concentrate on her career and education for now.

She's happy working with and learning from her idols like Gary Valenciano, Zsa Zsa Padilla and Kuh Ledesma, to name a few. Her ultimate dream, however, is to perform a duet one day with her idol Celine Dion. International exposure isn't too far off since she's already recorded a duet titled "I'll Be There" with former Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough. The song will be included in Sarah's upcoming album "Just Me." Dorough (or more popularly known as Howie D.) flew in recently to do a music video of the song with her.

Sarah's career is definitely at full steam but she's untinged by any hint of it going to her head. In fact, she even finds inspiration in that Charice Pempengco, one of the contestants in a singing competition that Sarah hosted, has actually gone on to sing with Celine Dion. "I am so proud of Charice. I'm so inspired by her. It really goes to show that people shouldn't give up because God always has bigger plans for us," she says. Sarah may well be biding her time for the day she sings with Celine Dion, but in the meantime, she's certainly enjoying the ride.

Sarah will have a major major solo concert titled "The Next One" slated for late November at Araneta Coliseum and a Christmas album (her first) will be produced and arranged in December by no less than Ryan Cayabyab. She'll end the year with a Special Christmas Concert in December.

Ballet Philippines' 'La Revolucion' is poignant and powerful

'La Revolucion' is poignant and powerful
By Walter Ang
September 25, 2008

What is most interesting in Ballet Philippines' staging of La Revolucion Filipina is choreographer Agnes Locsin's entrancing dance vocabulary.

Audiences used to classical ballet will not find the usual poses and movements in this showcase of earthy and visceral emotion and strength.

Instead of the usual arms and legs extended to create a 'longer line,' Locsin has her dancers in bent, crooked and contorted choreography and it looks different, yet wonderful. She imbues her dancers with a unique grace and texture.

Some theater fans may remember shades of this kind of choreography from Trumpet's "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and SK Entertainment's "Rama at Sita," two musicals that featured Locsin's choreography.

This different approach is appropriate in that La Rev traces the struggle of Filipinos such as Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo,and Andres Bonifacio against foreign invasion set to the haunting music of Ryan Cayabyab.

In a way, Locsin's reworking of Western dance techniques into neo-ethnic movement already tells much of the story, because even in the form that she uses, there is already an unspoken revolt against established 'foreign' dance norms.

In the performance we caught, Mabini was performed by Biag Gaongen. He gives a strong performance,a study in quiet, interior power portrayed through intense and elegant dancing.

One striking image that Locsin creates is that of a male dancer (The Oppressor) holding up a female dancer (representing enslaved Filipinos) in a fetal pose, legs askew and arms outstretched in supplication. Using Dennis Marasigan's libretto, this is a sad but powerful image Locsin repeats towards the end of the two-hour narrative, when Mabini 'witnesses the treachery of his fellow men and the cruelty they inflict on their fellow Filipinos.'

In a way, perhaps it is her warning to audience members that they should keep in mind not to let that image happen again.

Set designer Mio Infante uses visual metaphors to reflect violation and intrusion. He places askewed, off-kilter ramp upstage, like a jagged, meddlesome finger pointing menacingly into the otherwise pristine stage. A large half circle, meanwhile, serves as the backdrop with a neon-orange triangle piercing into it.

Katsch Catoy's lively lighting design is able to create completely different looks for the stage, sometimes bathing it full of light and sometimes casting ominous shadows to full effect. One very small quibble though, in one crucial sequence featuring the Philippine flag, his yellow lighting was so strong (or perhaps the fabric was so faded?) that the red and blue stripes on the flag became a strange hue of orange and green.

Nonetheless, La Rev is a poignant piece that helps retell our history as a people and as a nation. It bears retelling, again and again, lest we forget.

Ballet Philippines will stage New Beginnings on October 17 to 19 featuring choreography by Alvin Ailey, Alan Hineline, and Max Luna III. For details, call 551-1003 or 551-0221.

Art Theater Clinique's 'Pinter Plays' is disturbing and exciting

'Pinter Plays'--disturbing and exciting
By Walter Ang
September 22, 2008

The Art Theater Clinique of Far Eastern University (FEU) presents an edgy, disturbing, and, ultimately, exciting production in its staging of "Pinter Plays." In this "devised theater performance," director J. Victor Villareal has selected scenes from three plays written by Harold Pinter, namely, "The Lover," "The Collection," and "The Homecoming," and does the directorial equivalent of hurling them into a blender and macerating them into a strange and intriguing show.

The intimate FEU Arts Studio where the production is staged sets a claustrophobic tone with its low ceilings. The acting area, deliberately placed under a low-hanging beam (even lower than the ceiling), creates a heightened sense of dread. Dribbles and spatters of red paint on the cyclorama panels and stage floor signal anxiety and foreboding.

Wikipedia notes that Pinter's works "often involve strong conflicts among ambivalent characters fighting for verbal and territorial dominance." Villareal takes these themes, mines them for all the sexual subtext they're worth and articulates everything unsaid through physical action.

Ambiguous indeed
Definitely not for audiences looking for wholesome family fare, Villareal injects the tight one-hour staging with gratuitous amounts of violence and obscenity. To wit, the show begins with four actors engaging in contorted coital poses (fully clothed) as they deliver their lines in an excerpted scene from "The Lover." The actors are actually playing only two characters (so it seems) and there is much ambiguity on who is really who and what is really what.

Villareal doesn't even use a single line from "The Collection," and instead, presents a bewildering choreographed bacchanalia of orgasmic shrieking.

The extraction from "The Homecoming" has the most semblance of a narrative, if you can call it that. A father and his son have a ridiculous argument about a pair of misplaced scissors. The lines seem mundane enough, but actors Arvin Baracena (the father) and Wilbert Castillo (the son) are made to scream, no, wail at each other.

Baracena, in particular, cuts a hefty presence onstage, his stocky frame notwithstanding, with a palpable and seemingly unending fury. Aggressive and predatory, when he drops the fourth wall and wades through front row audience's seats to look for the missing pair of scissors, he evokes discomfort and even fear.

The scene from "The Collection" ends with what can either be interpreted as a depraved, humiliating, submission scene involving the father, his sons and one of his son's wife, or a manipulative reversal-domination of the male brood by the wife.

Clearly, Villareal enjoys creating unease and relishes the indefinite. Pinter's work has also been described as "complex and contradictory." In the gray area between tragedy and farce, with a bit of theater-of-the-absurd thrown in, these two are a match, all right.

Love it or leave it
The cast of brave, young actors exhibit such howling rage, such scalding angst, such torrid abandon that it was impressive to behold. It's as if they threw all doubt out the window and submitted their trust completely to Villareal to guide them through the material.

All that moaning, shouting and moving about is actually easy to dismiss as gimmicky and a weak attempt at shock value, but for some inexplicable reason, in this off-kilter universe that Villareal has created, he somehow strikes a delicate balance and it works. Audiences who caught Villareal's direction of "Masaganang Ekonomiya" in Virgin Labfest 4 will be familiar with this style of in-your-face theater. His directorial conceits were a bit overwrought "Masganang" and did not quite work, but with some self-editing, it soars in "Pinter Plays."

To be fair, this is a production that not all audiences will like. His staging for "Pinter Plays" is the kind that younger or more adventurous audiences are more likely to appreciate. Given that majority of ATC's audiences are college students, the stage grammar Villareal employs evidently speaks to their language. Even in the more violent scenes onstage, they pick up on the dark comedy of it all and laugh the easiest and the hardest.

All bets are off in this insane, self-contained reality as the show ends on a hilarious note. Baracena and Castillo reprise their earlier father-and-son scene, line-per-line and with the same angry intensity, but this time, in complete gayspeak. It's probably Villareal's punchline and he's winking: if you didn't get it, then most likely, the joke's on you.

ATC will be staging "Spoof," a stand-up comedy show from Nov. 27 to 29 with 7pm shows at FEU Plaza. Admission is free! For details, call 735-5621 loc. 236 or visit

Apo Hiking Society: Four decades in the performing arts

Apo Hiking Society: Four decades in the performing arts 
By Walter Ang
September 15, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Apo Hiking Society, one of the country's leading music icons, will kick-off a year-long celebration marking their 40th year in the music scene with a pre-anniversary concert titled "Apo of the Philippines" on September 20, 8:00 PM, at the Araneta Coliseum.

The concert will celebrate 39 years of lasting friendship among Danny Javier, Boboy Garrovillo, and Jim Paredes as well as the music that they have shared with Filipinos since their group's inception when they were still in college (which was then known as the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society).

Paredes is now known more to younger audiences as one of the mentors to a group of singer-hopefuls in the premiere season of reality TV show "Pinoy Dream Academy." Older audiences who grew up with the group will recall that it also hosted several television shows including their own noontime Sunday show "Sa Linggo nAPO Sila" which turned into the daily noontime show "`Sang Linggo nAPO Sila."

Musical journey
Their upcoming concert is not at all a reunion concert or a comeback concert. After all, over the years, the Apo Hiking Society has recorded 26 albums and performed in thousands of live concerts in the Philippines and over 50 cities across the world including the United States, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.

"We actually do an average of 30 shows every year," says Paredes. Despite having immigrated to Australia a few years ago, he still schedules return trips to the Philippines when a certain number of bookings are lined up.

"Apo of the Philippines" is slated to be a musical journey of the group's unforgettable songs such as Pumapatak ang Ulan, Awit ng Barkada, Nakapagtataka, Ewan, Batang-Bata Ka Pa, When I Met You, Anna, Blue Jeans, Panalangin, Bawat Bata, and Saan Na Nga Ba'ng Barkada, among many others.

"I think we have around 60 recognizable songs. Of course, not all of them are popular, but when people hear some of our `less popular' songs, they are still able to identify us as the singers," says Paredes. "Somehow, our songs have a life of their own."

Tribute albums
So much so that two tribute albums have been produced: "Kami nAPO Muna" in 2006 (considered the biggest selling album in the country that year with more than 125,000 copies sold in less than 6 months) and "Kami nAPO Muna Ulit" just last year.

"It is a new world out there!" says Paredes. "Kids connect to our music, maybe not in the way I pictured, but nonetheless, they are connecting. It goes to show that if you stay around long enough, you get hip all over again."

The group has always been able to keep up with new technologies and trends. In 1987, they were one of the first Filipino groups to be recorded on CDs. Paredes, meanwhile, has joined the blogosphere with his online musings at

"Admittedly, I don't think we individually have great voices, but when we sing together, it's like we're three Clark Kents becoming one Superman," says Paredes. While the group has performed before in the Araneta Coliseum, they've actually only been guest acts. This time audiences will finally get to see them headline their own concert and are sure to be treated to the group's signature stage presence, unique banter, wit, and humor.

Paredes attributes the group's success to three reasons: "We enjoy what we're doing. We believe we're doing something greater than us." He then concludes, with a wink, "And we don't have sex with each other. Sex just complicates things."

For details, visit or call 426-0103 or 426-5301. Tickets available from Ticketnet at 911-5555.

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Opera for beginners: 'The Magic Flute'

Opera for beginners 
By Walter Ang
September 15, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

This September, Filipinos who've always wanted to try watching an opera but were too intimidated will finally have a chance to get their feet (and ears) wet with a one-hour children's version of the fantasy-opera "The Magic Flute" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

"To be honest, even I get bored sometimes when I listen to opera," says director Kokoy Jimenez. With that in mind, he and Karla Gutierrez, the president of the Philippine Opera Company (POC), developed the concept of staging a "colorful, entertaining, and visually interesting" production using black theater, puppets and animation.

"The Magic Flute" tells of Prince Tamino's quest to find the beautiful Pamina, whose image he has fallen in love with. During his search, Tamino gains a sidekick in Papageno, a bird-catcher, and encounters a myriad of weird and unique characters such as the Queen of the Night
(Pamina's grand but menacing mother), Sarastro (a high priest) and even a talking dragon. The prince will have to overcome ordeals to win his damsel in distress.

Eclectic Jimenez was chosen by the POC to bring this story to life because of his eclectic directorial experience. Aside from having directed the original Filipino musical "Kenkoy Loves Rosing," he directs "all sorts of productions like corporate shows and concerts." The most recent ones he's done were for Mitch Valdez and Gabby Concepcion. He'll also be helming the upcoming Apo Hiking Society concert at the Araneta Coliseum.

Aside from the shortened running time from the original three hours, the opera will be sung in English. "We had sportscaster Sev Sarmento do additional adaptations to the lyrics to make the show fit Pinoy sensibilities and realities," he says. The show includes the addition of a character called Ana, a little girl who is "transported into Prince Tamino's magical world."

"These devices are our efforts to bring opera closer and more accessible to the Filipino audience," he says. "Children are the hardest audience to please. Either they like it or they don't." The show is in good hands. After all, Jimenez is the man behind the country's longest running children's educational television program, "Batibot."

Proven So good, in fact, that this run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines is already the third for the production. "We first staged this in Pampanga years ago. We had no idea it would be this well-received. We had our second run in 2006 also at the CCP," he says.

This latest incarnation has incorporated some changes that have developed since the original run. The "Yellow Submarine"-inspired animation has worked well enough with audiences that when female singers were not available to portray the Queen of the Night for the show's second run, an animated version of the character was developed and is now a permanent element of the show.

"It's a really great way to expose children to opera so that they grow up not being afraid of it. But this show is not just for children, it's a show even adults can enjoy," he says. As an added treat, adults who grew up watching "Batibot" will get a chance to see one of the show's mainstays, Bodjie "Kuya Bodjie" Pascua, sing opera as he tackles the role of Papageno.

"I really appreciate the creative risks that the POC takes. They have a lot of ideas that are brave and they tap different directors who are not necessarily opera directors to infuse new blood into opera. The purists may not like it, but if it will help bring in new audiences for opera, then it's very exciting," he says.

Appreciation Founded in 1999, the POC is committed to developing opera appreciation among Filipinos by performing in malls, churches, community centers, government agencies, private corporate organizations, parks, and schools throughout the country.

POC's 2008 season will round out in October with two productions. To coincide with the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini's birth, his opera La Boheme (on which the musical "Rent" is loosely based) will be staged at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. This staging, to be directed by Floy Quintos, will update the material originally set in 1830 to the 21st century, following the stories of a circle of young artists' struggle against poverty and their quest for integrity. Helen Quach will be conducting the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

There will also be a restaging of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play "Master Class" at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater, RCBC Plaza in Makati City. Cherie Gil will portray the legendary opera diva Maria Callas with Michael Williams directing.

Magic Flute runs from Sept. 19 to 27 at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. For details, call Philippine Opera Company (892-8786), TicketWorld (891-9999) or CCP Box Office (832-1125 loc. 1801-1806). Log on to

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Philippines, Japan and Korea stages a 'Tosca,' Asian style

Tosca, Asian style 
By Walter Ang
Sept. 1, 2008 (http://www. pep. ph/guide/2498/TOSCA,-Asian-style)

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) recently staged a two-day run of "Asian Tosca," an experimental reworking of the opera classic by Giacomo Puccini.

Puccini's opera is based on a drama by Victorien Sarou and tells the tale of the jealous Floria Tosca and her boyfriend Mario during Napoleon's invasion of Rome. The Chief of Police Scarpia uses Tosca to gain information on the whereabouts of the escaped political prisoner Angelotti, whom Mario has helped.

This production, however, transplants the action to Asia. A collaboration with the Black Tent Theater (BTT) of Japan and the Nottle Theater of Korea, the Manila run of "Asian Tosca" is the current incarnation of a series of revisions and adaptations that have been made by the different theater groups involved.

The first "installment" of this multi-group touring production was created in 2006 by Nottle Theater and BTT. Last year, Peta and the Practice Theater of Singapore joined forces with BTT to further adapt the storyline, infusing their own understanding of each other's cultures and histories.

The attempt at creating a version of Tosca with an Asian perspective and staged in an experimental way was an exciting and creative experience for the audience. There is a mixed cast of Filipino, Korean and Japanese actors and the exposition of Tosca's main plot is told, more or less, in Nihongo, Korean, Tagalog and English dialogue with snippets of arias from the Italian opera.

To add to the unusual and unique flavor, the show begins with five Toscas (four Japanese and one Filipina). Later on, there are two Marios and two Scarpias. Actors interchange with each other from scene to scene, shifting from Japanese to Filipino and from young to old versions of the same character.

It is interesting that directors Soxie Topacio and Kirtani Natsuko decided not to use any supertitles (the theater equivalent of subtitles, where text is projected above the stage) for the first few scenes. This may have been a deliberate decision to further immerse the audience in the confusion that Tosca experiences.

The first half features mostly a Noh re-imagining of the story, where the "ghosts" of the different Toscas seem trapped in an endless curse to continually live through the events that lead to Scarpia's murder, Mario's execution and Tosca's suicide. In a nod to the Filipino's love of a good punchline, the second half upends the serious tone and flips it around to slapstick comedy.

Featuring Nor Domingo as Mario and Bernah Bernardo as Tosca, both are now ghosts in a netherworld where they realize what has happened to them. Angelotti is now a member of the Hukbalahap, the anti-Japanese resistance group in World War II and Scarpia (played by Raffy Tejada) is an officer of the Japanese army.

Corny one-liners lead to a Benny Hill-type chase scene when the ghost of Scarpia finds them and the three of them start blaming Angelotti (played by Willy Casero) for their deaths. While funny and entertaining, the scene's point does not really lead to anything until Tosca addresses the audience with the other four Toscas with a final message.

One of the more striking components of the production is its use of the leitmotif of the image of a running Tosca. Sometimes shown as a moving neon laser light display (calling to mind the works of Toshimitsu Takagi, found at and sometimes as actors running in "slow motion," this leitmotif provides a crafty way to weave a common thread through the multilingual, multicultural, multidimensional and multireality sequence of events and serves as the anchor for the show's poignant ending. It is this constant running that Tosca points out as her higher calling: to do so for those who are unable.

Peta will stage the children's plays Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang and Batang Rizal from Sept. 19 to Oct 12, Fridays to Sundays at PETA Theater Center. For details, call 410-0821 or 725-6244 or email

Gossip Boy makes trouble: Tanghalang Ateneo stages Shakespeare's 'Otelo"

Gossip Boy makes trouble 
By Walter Ang
September 1, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Buencamino and Maramara
In an age when everyone knows what everyone else is doing, it's easy to dismiss rumors since we hear so much of it all the time.

At the same time, TV shows like "Gossip Girl" shows us how easily technology like cellphones and the internet can help "substantiate" a piece of "news" with photo or video proof, image manipulation or video editing notwithstanding

In Tanghalang Ateneo's staging of Shakespeare's "Othello," audiences see how far hearsay can go when word-of-mouth and actual, tangible evidence are the only two things one has to go by.

In this Filipino translation by Rogelio Sicat and Luna Sicat-Cleto ("Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia"), director Ricky Abad and assistant director B.J. Crisostomo partners our tragic hero with his antagonist in a guitar-toting gossip-orchestrating Iago.

Iago despises Otelo, a foreign military general living in Venice, for bypassing him as a lieutenant and for marrying Desdemona. He plots to make Otelo believe that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio (the man Iago was bypassed for). But unlike Gossip Girl who (to be fair) only reports what is actually fed to her, Iago creates the lies that will bring on the downfall of the other characters.

Perhaps as a statement to our technology-aided gossip-obsessed world (or perhaps an acknowledgement that the premise may feel dated if set in contemporary times), Abad stages the play in its original 17th century setting.

While it is always fun and exciting to watch the Bard's works transplanted into different time periods (and even worlds), it's refreshing to see that Shakespeare can still work even if you don't wring him through a time machine.

Save for the directors' conceit of having Iago carry around a guitar, Abad and Crisostomo stick to a gimmick-free, no-nonsense and tight telling of the story, which serves the story well given its premise.

After all, watching a man end up going crazy and killing his wife just because he believes in the gossip of his so-called friend and takes a planted handkerchief as enough proof can elicit either horror and disbelief or, if not staged well, guffaws.

National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal takes his cue straight out of Iago's lines such as "with as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio" and "make the net that shall enmesh them all," by plying the floor and wall panels with intersecting lines to form a portentous lattice where our players will become entangled.

Interestingly, this design seems to be a hold-over (albeit a variation) from the set design of World Theater Project's 1996 staging of "Othello" that Abad co-directed with Anton Juan.

The concept of Iago's instrument-prop and the web-set are enhanced by sound designer Reamur David's crafty use of guitar sounds as ominous punctuations to the characters' lines. Audiences see just how deep Iago's machinations run when he plucks the "lines" on stage, as if they were guitar strings, as he plots against everyone else.

The set changes and different scenes are enhanced by the lighting design of Jonjon Villareal, who occasionally saturates the entire stage in a foreboding blood-red color. Bernal's costumes are gorgeous, detailed and well-constructed, fitting the actors well.

Almost all roles are played by alternating actors. In the performance we caught, Nonie Buencamino (alternating with Teroy Guzman) played Otelo and Irma Adlawan-Marasigan (alternating with Missy Maramara) played Desdemona. Both veteran actors fill the stage with their strong presence and consistency.

But the play is usually a showcase for the actor playing Iago as he is onstage almost the entire first act. In this case, Ron Capinding (alternating with Rody Vera) pulls off the role convincingly, filling the character with a constant agitation and disturbing menace.

Student actors Rachel Quong as Iago's wife Emilia and Exzell Macomb (alternating with Jaru Hermano) as Roderigo deserve praise for performing on the same level as the veteran actors. Macomb is funny as the quirky, whiny and forever-excitable Roderigo, the lovelorn milquetoast who bewails losing Desdemona to Otelo and becomes Iago's willing accomplice and unwitting victim.

The entire cast has a wonderful "sense of performance," giving an oratorical, almost melodic, delivery to the Filipino lines that does not, thankfully, deteriorate into melodramatic ham.

The final scene is a picturesque rendering as Otelo falls beside his wife, his long robes draped fully across the bed like an Aubrey Beardsley illustration, very much the defeated posturing peacock.

"Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia" runs until Sept. 6 at the Rizal Mini-Theater, Ateneo de Manila University. For details, call 0916-521-5154.

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Joanna Ampil joins Stages' 'West Side Story'

We hear you, Joanna 
By Walter Ang
September 2008 issue
Metro Magazine

If Joanna Ampil had a corporate job, she reckons she'd be a workaholic. But because she is an accomplished musical theater actress who's been based in London's West End for the past sixteen years, she describes herself as a "rehearsal-holic."

"I don't want to waste time," she says. "I really look forward to rehearsing, I love it." After flying to Manila, she went straight to rehearsals the following day for her homecoming musical in the Philippines: Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "West Side Story" produced by Stages, a theater company headed by Audie Gemora.

Joanna comes full circle by being able to finally work with Audie, the actor who inspired her to pursue a life on stage. She had seen him perform in a musical when she was younger. "I remember the way he was dancing. He was so free. That was a turning point for me, I wanted to get into theater," she says. There was no looking back for Joanna after she auditioned for the London production of "Miss Saigon" in 1993.

She had only turned eighteen when she started her run in the lead role of Kim for the famed Cameron Mackintosh-produced musical. After that came an impressive list of roles. She was Mimi in "Rent." She was handpicked by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar." She was Eponine in "Les Miserables." She actually graduated from the Eponine role to the Fantine role before Lea Salonga did.

Down-to-earth With credentials like that, you would think Joanna would be every bit a prima dona. The petite and charming actress is quick to dispel this notion. "I don't want my fellow cast members to be intimidated just because I've performed in London nor because I'm playing a lead role in this musical. I make sure I talk to everyone, after all, I'm just like everybody else," she says.

When Metro interviewed her, she was worried about, of all things, having onion-breath after a meal and schemed around with her manager Girlie Rodis on where she could sneak off to brush her teeth, giggling and all. Unassuming and earnest, it's easy to see why Joanna is so endearing and why she really is, as she claims, just like the rest of us.

But of course, definitely unlike the rest of us, she's got a great set of pipes. It is surprising to know, therefore, that Joanna's never had any formal training in singing. "I have a maternal aunt who made me listen to songs on the radio and explain the lyrics to me," she says. "So you could say she was my first singing teacher."

Joanna's parents realized their little girl loved to sing and supported her all the way. "I used to do shows in our living room," Joanna says. "My teachers in school were also very encouraging. I joined school shows and local contests."

Life leads the way Now, local audiences will finally have a chance to see why Joanna has been attracting rave reviews halfway across the world. Joanna admits that Kim was really her dream role and all the roles that came after where really bonuses. However, when she found out about the Manila staging of West Side Story, she made plans to become part of it just so she could play the lead role of Maria.

She's using rehearsal time to thresh out her characterization for her role. "Maria falls in love and her whole world starts revolving around that man. It's a challenge to get into that mode because I'm a very independent woman. I won't just drop everything for a man," Joanna says. "I focus on what I want to do in life and I work hard for it."

Her independence also plays out in the way she schedules for the future. "I'm such a gypsy. I don't like being tied down. I like being everywhere," she says. So peripatetic is her outlook in life that, save for a trip to visit her family in US this Christmas after 16 years of not being with them during the holidays, she still has no plans for after the run of the show. "I never, ever plan my life. I never even knew I would be able to perform in Manila. I just found out about the show through the internet," she says. "This way, everything's a surprise. This way, life's an adventure."

Nonoy Froilan is Still on Pointe

Still on Pointe 
By Walter Ang
September to November 2008 issue
Metro Him Magazine

From Nonoy Froilan Facebook page
Back in the late 60s, Rafael "Nonoy" Froilan joined the University of the East Dance Troupe as a folk dancer. He also studied ballet and jazz dance, eventually joining one of the country's premiere dance companies, Ballet Philippines.

Tall, lithe and talented, he soon became the company's principal danseur. Career highlights include partnering with Dame Margot Fontaine in a performance for then President Ferdinand Marcos and having a show created specifically for him by choreographer Norman Walker. "It was called `Song of a Wayfarer' and it was staged in Germany. That was the only time in my life where I received 24 curtain calls," Nonoy beams.

Despite retiring in 1993 from twenty years of dance, he has never really left the clutches of Terpsichore. He still teaches dance in several ballet schools, conducts master classes for Ballet Philippines, and is a consultant for the Philippine High School for the Arts.

He is also now known as the go-to man for video documentation of dance performances. "I've always been interested in video. Early in my dance career, I once used my Christmas bonus to buy a Super 8 video camera I had been eyeing," he says. He lugged along his camera to a performance tour in Europe and promptly become the company's resident videographer. "It was all intuitive. I learned as I went along and by reading books."

Nonoy's come a long way from buying film that could only hold three minutes of footage. He's fully booked as far as next year to provide coverage for dance performances. A staunch proponent of archiving, digitizing and preserving footage of past dance performances, his current projects include plans of bringing dance to television.

"I want to produce a show where excerpts of performances are interspersed with interviews with dancers," he says. "When you watch the Arirang channel on cable TV, they show cultural dances of Korea. In the US, you have PBS that broadcasts entire ballet performances and other classics. We should have that kind of show here, too."

Aside from working behind the camera, he recently acted in Paul Morales' independent film "Concerto." Unbeknownst to many, Nonoy used to work as a dancer for Peque Gallaga's variety show "Changes." His on-cam performing genes have recently blossomed in daughter Mica, one of the newest additions to the pool of VJs for music channel Myx.

When he's not in Manila, Nonoy can be found in his hometown of Calbiga, Samar, working with the mayor on setting up an arts council as well as advocating renewable energy sources. "We're working on developing mini-hydroelectric generators for this area. Aside from the arts, I'm very concerned with environmental issues," he notes.

Lester Pimentel-Ong teaches The Art of Fighting

The art of fighting 
By Walter Ang
September-November 2008 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Imagine a job where all you do all day is asking people to fight with each other. No, it's not being the manager of a boxing ring. Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Aside from telling them to knock fists with each other, you also have to teach them how to do it while making sure they don't hurt themselves. Oh yes, you'll also need to make them fly on occasion.

All this is what Lester Pimentel-Ong, a freelance TV/movie fight director, does. Having started as a fight coordinator in "a small movie called `Ex-con' years ago," his latest choreography was featured in the recently concluded TV show "Palos," which starred Cesar Montano and Jake Cuenca.

Lester got his mettle as a practitioner of wushu, which, he explains, is actually the generic term for martial arts. "It's what we all used to call kung-fu," he says. His father Ong Chiao Hing, himself a practitioner, exposed Leter to the discipline. Lester started training at eight and by the time he started high school, he was already being groomed to be a national athlete.

"It was fun when I was younger because it felt like playing. I got a chance to copy what action stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan did in the movies," he recalls. "The training became a little more serious by the time I was a teenager, we had to train three hours every day."

Lester even spent a whole summer in Beijing, China to train with Chinese coaches. "You're not allowed to complain. You get the feeling that the Chinese coaches own you and all your waking hours are allotted for training," he said a bit grimly, then laughs. "It's just like in all those Chinese martial arts movies where they show children training!"

Lester brought home a gold medal from the 1995 Third World Wushu Championships held in Baltimore, USA. He capped off his competitive career with a gold medal from the 2005 23rd SEA Games held in Manila.

Meantime, he got his philosophy degree at De La Salle University-Manila and, after that, he attended a course in Wushu and Chinese Martial Arts Specialization Training at the Beijing Sports University.

During his trips abroad, Lester discovered that the athletes he used to compete with had already started the transition from athletics to choreographing fights in showbusiness. They encouraged him to make a similar shift.

"Joining my former co-competitors in their productions, I started out as part of the crew in Chinese movies that were shot in Singapore and China," he says. Since local productions usually hired fight directors, he was able to slowly break into the domestic movie industry.

His ability to speak Tagalog and English gave him the edge. "Producers in Manila used to have to hire a group of ten to 15 people from Hong Kong or China to execute fight sequences," he says. "But they would also need to hire translators. With me, the language barrier disappears. I can read the scripts and I can talk to them freely for better collaboration. In the end, when they work with me, they still get international quality stunts."

Lester's work has been featured in action, fantasy, and even romantic comedies. One of his funniest works was a tennis match scene for the movie "Ang Cute ng Ina Mo," which starred Ai-ai De Las Alas, where the players are contorted and bounced around every which way.

"I'm not a natural comedian," says Lester. That's why he applies the same rigorous preparations he has learned from his background in athletics to his work. "I make sure to research first and collaborate with the actors themselves to see what kind of movements will be funny and yet safe for the actors to do." He always keeps in mind that, unlike the action stars of Chinese movies who are usually "martial artists-turned-actors," most actors he deals with do not necessarily have the training to portray action characters or execute martial arts moves.

No matter the limitations, whether in lack of training for local actors or budget constraints, Lester is optimistic for the local movie industry to break through in the realm of action choreography. "We can certainly do it. We have the talent," he says. One day, he hopes to direct "epic stunt sequences with a thousand extras, like the scenes in 'Braveheart' or 'Lord of the Rings,'" just like his idol Yuen Woo Ping, the action director for movies like "The Matrix."

Lester also stays busy as the Chair of the Wushu Federation of the Philippine's Development Committee. He's also in the food business with his wife Rosette with whom he has two sons.

"I enjoy doing action choreography since it uses traditional forms from Chinese opera that have been transformed into filmmaking conventions," he concludes. "It's a chance for me to share a bit of Chinese culture with the Filipino audience."

Tequi exhibit focuses on Perigord episode

Tequi exhibit focuses on Perigord episode 
By Walter Ang
August 25, 208
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Multi-awarded painter and printmaker Ofelia "Ofie" Gelvezon-Tequi was recently featured in the "100 Nudes" fund raising art exhibit of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA) for the university's centennial celebrations.

Known for her still lifes and use of symbolism, Tequi admits that she does not usually tackle nudes as a subject matter. For the exhibit, on display were four nude sketches she executed for a class exercise when she took further studies in Rome at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma.

In addition to being included in the exhibit, Tequi was awarded the UPAA Distinguished Alumni Award for Culture and the Arts at the grand homecoming and reunion held in Araneta Coliseum. "It was a surprise for me. I frankly did not expect it," she says. "It's a nice feeling to be validated for what we artists do." Tequi adds, "While other alumni are getting awarded for causes like poverty alleviation, I'd like to think that we [artists] advocate the alleviation of the soul."

The road to UP Tequi was born in Iloilo but had a peripatetic childhood. "My father Ramon G. Gelvezon was a military man. We moved from place to place as he was assigned to different camps in the Philippines," she recounts. "But when we needed to go good schools for more 'serious' education, we stayed put in Manila."

"My mother, Milagros L. Lucas, graduated from the UP Conservatory of Music and we always had music in the house - the popular songs of her youth and classical music. We learned to be eclectic in our musical taste although none of us made music our profession. Nor the military for that matter," Tequi adds.

Growing up, Tequi always liked to draw, but when she got to college, she initially enrolled in AB English. "I thought I'd wanted to be a kind of Brenda Starr (a comic strip character). During my time, there was still no real journalism degree," she says. "But I was thankful for the literature courses I had to take. These later became sources for what I would express visually. It was possible then to cross register in two different colleges and take up two courses simultaneously, which was what I did."

Tequi double enrolled in Fine Arts and there she met "wonderful people, great human beings both in the classroom and outside" that helped mold her artistic talents. "I had several National Artists as teachers like NVM Gonzalez and Jose Joya. Joya was not only a mentor but was also a friend. I remember riding the bus with him that went on EDSA as he lived all the way in Pasay then, while I got off at the Crossing on Shaw Boulevard."

Colors of home 
After college, Tequi has had over 30 solo exhibitions since 1970 in Manila, Paris, New York, and Monaco, as well as numerous group shows since 1968 in various countries around the world. She was the first female recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artist Awards.

For painting, Tequi usually uses acrylic on canvas or rag paper, collage and mixed media, and aniline on silk. For her printmaking, she usually does colored etching on zinc or copper plates and engraving on copper.

"My maternal grandfather, Pablo Lucas was the first Filipino director of the Bureau of Printing. Perhaps I inherited the genes for printmaking from him. I also, later on, was a book designer for the UP Press," she says. The major themes or topics that Tequi deals with in her works revolve around "politics, our relationship with the Almighty, and time."

In the home Tequi shares with husband Marc, a retired banker, in France, practically all of the artworks are by Filipino artists. "We have a number of works by Joya, of course," she says. "Macario Vitalis, BenCab, Claude Tayag, Phyllis Zaballero, Popo San Pascual, R.M. de Leon and many more. I also have a 1928 Amorsolo landscape that I inherited from my mother."

Tequi's husband was actually her French teacher when she was in college. "He was teaching in UP and the Alliance Française in lieu of the military service that was obligatory in France at that time," she recounts. They married in 1977 and moved to France the same year. Her daughter and two sons are now all married and have given Tequi five grandchildren.

Between two lands Her last exhibit in Manila was two years ago at the Hiraya Gallery. This year, Tequi will be sharing a glimpse of her life in France with Filipino art lovers. Tequi is currently preparing for an exhibit to be featured at the Alliance Francaise.

"It will be called `Périgord Still Life.' Périgord is the region where my family and I live and my still life paintings show, in some way, my life there in that village. There will be around thirty pieces of acrylic on linen and they will range from small to big sizes."

"I've used Périgord as a theme off and on starting with my exhibit with Budji Layug in Reposo but more consistently so starting with my show at Dr. Joven Cuanang's Pinto Gallery," she says.

Despite living away from the Philippines, Tequi clearly has strong ties to her land of birth. In fact, she foresees a "rich and varied future for Philippine art." She notes, "There is a lot of public interest in local artists who can satisfy a great range of tastes with works of high quality from the experimental to the conservative. And not just in the visual arts. Theatre is very much alive and fecund. In France right now, Filipino cinema is included in the Paris Film Fest. We Pinoys have something to say to the world, we `say' it in our language and we are sure the world will hear us."

For details on "Périgord Still Life," contact Alliance Francaise Manila at 895-7441.

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Ballet Philippines announces 39th season line-up, new co-artistic directors

New beginnings for dance, courtesy of Ballet Philippines 
By Walter Ang
August 25, 2008
Manila Bulletin

What many people don't know is that Ballet Philippines is a dance company that not only does classical ballet, it also does other forms of dance like neo-classical, jazz, modern jazz, neo-ethnic and even post-modern.

For its 39th season, the line up of productions has been carefully and thoughtfully planned to showcase its dancers' strengths in these different kinds of dance to as many types of audiences there are. This formulation is the initial output of the company's two newly appointed artistic directors Max Luna III and Alan Hineline.

Hineline, an internationally seasoned choreographer and ballet master, was on the faculty of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet as resident choreographer for 11 years. "I am thrilled and honored that the board has chosen the two of us to guide the company and its artists into its next phase," says Hineline. "This is a company brimming with talent and history in a city and country that is bursting with passion and energy ? what an extraordinary combination!"

Luna, on the other hand, is a former BP member and has had an internationally celebrated dance career with Ballet International de Caracas, Joyce Trisler Danscompany and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, where he was a principal dancer and in whose school he also taught for 20 years. "I've been very fortunate to have worked with different companies and now I want to share the knowledge and experience I have gained throughout my career and give back to the company that opened my eyes to the world of dance," says Luna. "Returning home to Manila and Ballet Philippines brings my life and career full circle. This is a dream come true!

Both have already been very busy infusing new ideas into BP, including a revamp of the company logo to reflect its entry into a new chapter of its lifestory. "The season's theme is `A season of new beginnings," because it's the next logical step for the company. It's been around for a while and the question is `What now?' It's time to mature, to grow, to take that next step," says Hineline.

Founded in 1969 by Alice Reyes with the support of Edie Elejar and the Cultural Center of the Philippines, BP has done over 400 works including full length classical ballets and indigenous works of Filipino folklore. Even though the dancers are all classically trained and perform many of the 19th- and 20th-century ballet standards, their repertory almost always includes modern works. "This season, we'll have classical ballet, innovative contemporary works and major new productions. There are shows for young people, for the chic and hip, for families, for everyone!" says Luna.

From tradition to neo-Filipino As a nod to Philippine and its own history, the season premiere opening in September will be Agnes Locsin's acclaimed retelling of Apolinario Mabini's "La Revolucion Filipina" With music by Ryan Cayabyab, "La Rev" was was first performed in 1997 in celebration of the Centennial of Philippine Independence.

"New Beginnings," the second show for the season, to open in October, brings in a touch of international flair with Alvin Ailey's "Night Creature," one of his most classically choreographed ballets with music by jazz-legend Duke Ellington. Audiences will also finally get a chance to see the choreography of the new artistic directors with Luna's "Mga Awit," featuring the music of Michael Dadap, where the many cycles of male camaraderie are explored, and Hinelines' "Thresholds II," with the music of Jerome Begin, described as "an angular, sexy, and fast-paced work that pushes classical ballet to its edges and audiences to their feet."

In December, families will have a chance to enjoy a comic ballet with Hineline's restaging of "Coppélia," a "timeless story of young love and one of the last great Romantic ballets ? a light comedy set in a quaint country village which tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a doll."

The season ends in March 2009 with "Neo-Filipino," featuring a revival of Alice Reyes' "Amada," a work inspired by the "Tadtarin," the annual three-day summer solstice festival of women that mixes pagan rituals with the Feast of St. John. The show will also feature two world premieres, one by Luna and the other by resident choreographer, Alden Lugnasin.

Audience favorites from this season will be included in the national tour, which will commence once Neo-Filipino ends its run. The tour will feature the Philippine premiere of Vicente Nebrada's "Our Waltzes" and will be brought throughout the country.

As it works toward bringing in new and more audiences for dance, Ballet Philippines allows its longtime (and any new) supporters to be part of its endeavors. The company has long had a Pointe Shoe Fund and a Sponsor-a-dancer Program where supporters can help subsidize dance shoes or the training for company dancers. It also gives perks, such as sneak peeks at rehearsals and invitations to exclusive receptions, to the donors of its annual fund.

BP board member Sofia Zobel Elizalde will chair a black-tie fundraiser titled "New Beginnings Gala" on October 16 at the CCP. The fundraiser will be co-hosted by honorary gala chairperson, Elizabeth Roxas.

For details on shows, call Ballet Philippines (551-0221 or 551-1003) or CCP Box Office (832-1125 loc. 1801-1806). For details on the New Beginnings Gala, call Steps Dance Studio ( 757-2984 or 843-8472).

Virginal, indeed: Review of 4th Virgin Labfest 2008

Virginal, indeed 
By Walter Ang
July 14, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

If a play is the fruit of a playwright's labor, then artistic collaborators like directors, actors, set designers and costume designers are the ones who tend and nurture the text into full blossom.

In this year's Virgin Labfest, the artistic collaboration of these different disciplines have produced four main sets of three one-acts that were staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, providing audiences with a veritable fruit orchard of subject matter to watch. A separate set was dedicated to children's plays adapted from published stories while another set featured three plays from last year's fest.

Although this writer was able to interview festival artistic director Rody Vera prior to the fest's opening, no details on staging were provided except for the line-up and synopses for each play. And that is always the fun and excitement of the Labfest, you truly never know what you're going to get.

With this many productions, audiences were treated to some that were a little raw, some choice picks, some that were run-of-the-mill, some that strained under their own weight and a few bad apples.

A little pruning needed 
Layeta Bucoy once again tackles her obsession with incest between siblings in "Las Mentiras de Gloria." Fortunate for Bucoy that her entry last year, "Ellas Innocentes," was chosen to be restaged. Unfortunately, for those who got to watch both her plays, it became clear that Las Mentiras is essentially a variation of the same banana.

Which is not to say that Las Mentiras was not a strong piece, given its tight dialogue, intrinsic rhythm and Tuxqs Rutaquio's sensitive direction. It did have a stray branch that needed clipping in the sorely miscast Bart Guingona as a working class grunt. Guingona bravely struggled with the Tagalog lines but ultimately was not able to project the bearing that was crucial to his character.

Njel de Mesa's use of glow-in-the-dark costumes, props and puppets as a device to push his adaptation of "Terangati" (under his own direction) worked well, but the material suffered an overly long overture and music that sounded too adult and heavy for a children's musical.

Koh Jun Eiow's "Ang Dalawa Niyang Libing" translated by Terrence Co and directed by Leo Rialp was an engaging clash of culture and religion. Rialp was able to add colorful theatrical touches with background scenes to add to his mis-en-scene as well as the use of a newspaper-reading, gossip-mongering Greek chorus. However, the story feels rushed for its one hour running time and yearns to be threshed out into a two-act play.

Both Terengati's and Dalawa's stagings were overscaled and busy for the standard small stage size used for all labfest productions, but should work better in larger venues.

Nurture to full bloom 
Argel Tuazon's adaptation of "Bru-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Bru-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi" directed by Mayen Estañero and Job Pagsibigan's adaptation of "Uuwi na ang Nanay Kong si Darna" directed by Catherine Racsag were a breath of fresh air and earnest energy.

In Bru-ha, plucky Bea Sarah Angoba plays a girl who thinks her neighbor is a witch. Coaching her to add more variety to her delivery of lines will compliment her charming confidence and talent. Estañero's use of a roving cameraman and live broadcast screen in the story's TV game show scene was a clever element to add excitement and fun for audiences.

For Uuwi na, many adults in the audience were moved to tears due to scenes that heightened the story's inherent poignancy. A wise move by Racsag to balance out her otherwise fun and funky interpretation of the Filipina Everywoman. Further development will make these two children's plays blossom to their full potential.

Ripe for the picking 
Hase Hiroichi's "Amoy ng Langit," provided a sweet, relaxed, and genteel viewing experience with strong acting from its ensemble cast who interchangeably used Nihongo, Tagalog and English to tell the story of school girls and their encounter with one of the girls' sister's ghost.

Fans of anime, especially those featuring school girls in everyday non-eventful situations like "Kamichu (Gradeschool Goddess)," "Ichigo mashimaru (Strawberries and marshmallows)," and "Paradise Kiss," will surely appreciate the acting and pacing conventions employed by director Toshihisha Yoshida (such as the girls contentedly sighing loudly while reveling in the fact that "The sky is so blue!" and the fact that talking to ghosts seem like the most normal thing in the world) that are so characteristic of Japanese animation.

Despite the cultural quirks, because it did not try to be anything else than what it was, Amoy's sincere and unassuming staging was a pleasure to watch.

Rogelio Braga's "Ang Bayot, Ang Meranao,at ang Habal Habal sa isang Nakababagot na Paghihintay sa Kanto ng Lanao del Norte" directed by Nick Olanka offers sharp and witty dialogue in a tightly packed and slick conversation. Repartee zips merrily along between actors Joey Paras and Arnold Reyes, as they play an odd couple who offers enlightening and insightful points on the many guises of discrimination: political, geographical, religious, workplace-related, gender or otherwise.

Hilarious and never preachy, Ang Bayot deserves a run that should be as long as or longer than its title. Hopefully, itinerant actor Paras will stay in Manila long enough to be recast in order to preserve the great timing he and Reyes share.

Floy Quintos' "Ang Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna" (under his own direction) presents a strong argument for a possible solution to our country's ills: would we be better off as a monarchy? He gives us a lady president who becomes the Philippines' first queen and her conversations with a hairdresser on matters of taste (not state).

Sharmaine Buencamino is brilliant as Quintos' beautifully written character. Wisely steering clear of aping known female presidents, Beuncamino imbues Queen Yolanda with a roiling hysteria kept under a fragile veil of iron will.

Tuxqs Rutaquio, as the deadpan and sarcastic hairdresser, was the perfect foil to the queen's ravings. Through his eventual acquiescence to her desires, we see that underneath the queen's delusional ambition, Quintos' lines and Buencamino's interpretation effectively show her sincere and burning desire to uplift the country. Surreal, funny and full-to-the-bite with strong writing and strong acting, this production is hands down the best of the bunch.

A durian for everyone 
Which brings us to the one fruit that casts a divisive opinion. People either love or hate the durian, and in the same vein, it is impossible to have an in-between reaction to Allan Lopez's "Masaganang Ekonomiya" directed by Victor Villareal.

The story features an interrogator and his captive. It features elements such as a female actor playing the interrogator with a tumescent phallus sticking out of her groin and constant interruptions to the exposition as the interrogator goes into trances whenever he's possessed by a dyslexic horse.

Less performance than it was performance art with dialogue, as the production assaults audiences' patience and sensibilities, it also challenges notions of what theater should or can be. Unapologetic in its strangeness and definitely thought provoking, it cannot be described any other way except as exciting, trite, avant-garde, yawn-inducing, awesome and irritating all at the same time. It is either the labfest's worst production, or its best.

Also published online: 148250/Virginal-indeed