Now that it's 40 years old, remembering great moments at the CCP

Remembering great moments at CCP
By Walter Ang
January 18, 2010
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Illustration by Steph Bravo
The Cultural Center of the Philippines concluded its nine-month long 40th anniversary celebration in September 2009. With its theme centering on remembrance of its past 40 years, I was inspired to take a look back at the many shows and events I've seen and experienced there.

While I am not old enough to remember all 40 years of the CCP's past (my parents weren't even married and probably didn't even know each other yet when it was opened to the public in 1969), I am old enough to admit having seen a little more than a decade's (or two) worth of shows there.

When I was still in grade school, I had fleeting encounters with this huge edifice along Roxas Boulevard. I didn't know it was supposed to be an important national institution, all I knew was that I liked looking at the lit up fountain when we would pass by.

My family and I occasionally ended up inside the CCP's Main Theater for school foundation anniversary shows or recitals and variety shows staged by cultural troupes from abroad (contorting Chinese acrobats were always fun to watch).

The Folk Arts Theater, on the other hand, was where I saw magician David Copperfield perform his tricks. I'm sure I'd been there a few more times before the David Copperfield show when I was much younger, because I have memories of those rattan chairs that were still in vogue in the early 80s.

The early 90s had ushered in a sort of national interest in all things theater given the number of Filipinos who ended up in a little West End musical called "Miss Saigon." Maybe it was partly because of this milieu (no matter how indirectly) that, by the late 90s, I started developing a vigorous interest for watching plays and musicals. I saved up my allowance (and as the years passed, my salary) and would troop to the CCP, on what was soon to become a regular basis, to catch me some shows.

I remember the year 1998 because that was when I saw visiting Fil-Am theater group Ma-Yi Theater Company's staging of "Flipzoids." It was part of the CCP's line up of shows for the country's centennial celebration. It centered around three transplanted Filipinos in America across three generations and their conflicting notions of identity, home, and family.

The show made a deep impact on me with its story, message and staging. As a Chinese-Filipino myself in my early 20s, I related to the characters' sense of displacement and frustrating stabs at establishing their identities. Also, the script by Ralph Peña was just flat out hilarious.

I remember plays mostly by CCP resident theater company Tanghalang Pilipino. I saw works by Filipino playwrights and world classics in Filipino translations in all sorts of stagings in all three major theaters: the Main Theater (Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo), the Little Theater (Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino) and, my most favorite performance space to this day, the intimate basement Studio Theater (Tanghalang Huseng Batute).

I remember Malou Jacob's "Anatomiya ng Korupsyon," with Eric Cruz's hyper real government office set design, complete with worn out aircons and twisted venetian blinds, and actor RJ Leyran's nuanced characterization of an office messenger.

I remember "Ang Ulo ni Pancho Villa" directed by Nonon Padilla, with actor Joey Paras' (as the titular character/body part) disembodied head being flung about the stage (and him eating a cockroach).

I remember Herbert Go's staging of "R'meo luvs Dew-Lhiett," his brilliant adaptation of Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers set in Tondo, using jologs kanto-speak intermixed with Rolando Tinio's translation.

I remember "Ligawang Ligaw," (Shakespeare's "Love's Labor's Lost") whose set designer Gino Gonzales filled the Little Theater stage with grass from apron (edge of the stage) to rafter.

I remember "Insiang," whose set designer Bobot Lota, transformed the Studio Theater into a real-life squatter's area, and whose females leads Malou De Guzman and Sheenly Gener, burned their souls into audiences' minds with their powerhouse confrontation scenes.

Other companies
Of course, TP was not the only company whose productions I watched.

I remember Zeneida Amador as Shakespeare's King Lear.

I remember "Larawan," the musical version of Nick Joaquin's "Portrait of an Artist as Filipino," with Celeste Legaspi and Rachel Alejandro as the two sisters singing onstage about wanting to catch rats.

I remember the hilarious play version of the cult-classic camp-fest movie "Temptation Island," featuring male actors doing the four female lead roles.

I remember one recital of the Philippine High School for the Arts that featured "R.U.R." (Rossum's Universal Robots) and "Ang Unos," a sterling translation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by Rody Vera featuring Skyzx Labastilla as Prospera (instead of a male Prospero).

I remember the very first Virgin Labfest in 2005, with Lou Veloso and his pitch-perfect comic timing in "Geegee at Waterina."

I tried exploring the world of dance and ballet, too.

I remember "Swan Lake" with Lisa Macuja as Odette/Odile. I remember being acutely aware of the realization that when the corps de ballet would leap on stage, they all landed with a thud?so very different from the snippets of seemingly "silent" ballet dancing I'd seen on TV or in the movies.

I remember Ballet Philippines' "Shoes++," featuring five different dances, with each piece featuring a different kind of shoe, from stilettos in the first piece to bakya in the last rousing number choreographed by Tony Fabella. My favorite was the piece featuring diving flippers choreographed by Alden Lugnasin and the hilarious saleslady who had monologues in between dances, played by Herbert Go in a uniform that looked suspiciously very familiar to the ones worn in SM.

I remember dropping my jaw in awe at opening movement of BP's "Carmina Burana," when the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra struck the first thunderous drumroll, the choir sang the first sonorous word, the lights went up on National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal's dramatic multi-linear diagonal backdrop veiled in fog, and the dancers glided on to the stage ? all at the same time. It is one spine-tingling, goose-bump and gasp inducing moment I will never forget.

Not just shows
And yes, that famous musical "Miss Saigon" was staged in the Main Theater in 2001. Other performances by groups from abroad that I recall include the UK's Watermill Theater when they did Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" with an all-male cast.

I also remember another company from the UK that performed Shakespeare's "Macbeth," and that's when I confirmed that just because you come from the same country as Shakespeare, it doesn't mean you automatically can stage his works effectively.

More recently, Taiwan's Cloud Gate Dance Company performed at the Main Theater and filled up the stage with ankle-deep water!

Then there are the alternative performance spaces like the ballet rehearsal studio where I watched Dulaang Talyer's "Mga Kwento ni Gabriel Garcia Marquez." There are other rehearsal halls, multi-purpose halls, and the Silangan Hall (where, as it was explained to me, post-show cocktails used to be held), where staged readings, auditions, or lectures are usually done.

There is the Production Design Center, where I spent one summer in a set design workshop together with a host of other students in stage management, lighting design, and acting workshops.

There are the art galleries, where I once saw an art installation with a collection of golden donuts attached to golden dildos (now how's that for art?).

There is the dinky little "buffeteria," where I usually wolf down a meal before rushing to catch an evening show. There is the Tanghalang Manuel Conde, where I first saw Hayao Miyazake's "Tombstones for Fireflies." This year's Virgin Labfest even had its actors invading the bathrooms with their five-minute performances.

Obviously, this indulgent little inventory of memories is not nearly enough to cover the many productions, events, lectures, workshops, exhibits and whatnot (including dates, both successful and disastrous) that I have had the privilege and pleasure of experiencing at the CCP.

But the short trip down memory lane was fun and, hopefully, other visitors of the CCP, whether hardcore regulars or the fleetingly sporadic, will also be inspired to do some reminiscing of their own.

Happy 40th anniversary CCP and looking forward to what you have in store for 2010!

(Note: Submitted in September 2009 intended to coincide with the end of CCP's nine-month celebration of its 40th anniversary that month but was published in January 2010.)

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