Filmmaker Kanakan Balintagos returns to the stage with his prodigal play

Filmmaker Kanakan Balintagos returns to the stage with his prodigal play, 'Mga Buhay na Apoy' for Tanghalang Pilipino
By Walter Ang
Sept. 12, 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Kanakan Balintagos
(formerly Auraeus Solito)
Kanakan Balintagos (formerly known as Auraeus Solito) won first place in this year's Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, Dulang Ganap ang Haba category, for his "Mga Buhay na Apoy."

Balintagos sees the win as "magical," a good omen of sorts, as he's currently directing the rehearsals for its debut staging for Tanghalang Pilipino in October. Not to mention that he'd assumed that his copy of the play had been lost.

He'd directed short scenes in class while studying at Philippine Science High School which inspired him to take up theater at University of the Philippines. There, he founded experimental theater group UP Tropa; directed several productions; wrote a play "Esprit de Corps;" and wrote the book and was co-lyricist of the musical "Manhid."

"I even acted for Anton Juan in 'The Bacchae' with Ishmael Bernal," he says.

Shifting visions
Balintagos grew up in Sampaloc, where his mother would put him to sleep with tales of "interwoven myths" from her Palawan childhood. These stories stayed with him and emerged as two plays.

From left: Karen Garelan, Russell Legaspi
and Irma Marasigan
He wrote the first one, "Ang Maikiling Buhay ng Apoy," in 1993 and staged it as his college playwriting-directing thesis.

A year later, he wrote "Mga Buhay na Apoy," but didn't stage it because "it was so personal, my most personal work, I hid it."

After college, Balintagos visited his mother's tribal lands. "I experienced the rituals and the indigenous culture of the Palaw'an people, my mother's roots. I was enthralled by their aesthetics and realized I couldn't capture this in theater. It transformed my mind into a more cinematic vision," he says.

Leaving theater
He may have left theater at that point, but it never really left him.

His first short film, "Ang Maikling Buhay ng Apoy, Act 2, Scene 2: Suring at ang Kuk-ok" (available for viewing on, was based on his play.

His first full length movie, "Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros" (for sale on was adapted into "Maxie The Musicale" by Bit by Bit Company in 2013.

Last year, his musical "Manhid" was restaged by Ballet Philippines; he made a film version of "Esprit de Corps."

It was while digging through his files for the script of "Esprit" that he found his long lost copy of "Mga Buhay na Apoy."

Prodigal play
"It reappeared 20 years later, it's my prodigal play," he says.

And now the prodigal son comes home to theater. "Ironically the main character in this play decides to return to Palawan and now this play has made me decide to return to my first love, theater," he says.

He's also fired up by his Palanca win. "I was so inspired by the energy of the writers at the awarding ceremony!" he adds.

The play had received a staged reading at last year's Virgin Labfest. "It made the audience cry. It made the actors cry during rehearsals. For the actual performance, I told them not to cry until the fourth act, but when the third act came, they couldn't help but cry again," he says.

"Medyo masakit kasi. The family in the play reveals sacrifices they've made just to be able to live in Manila." Mother figures loom large in this play. Irma Adlawan-Marasigan plays the matriarch alongside veteran actresses Malou Crisologo and Peewee O'Hara as other maternal characters.

"Maybe the reason why the play only resurfaced after two decades is that it's now time to tell the story. I'm more mature now as an artist, I can face this play now. I have the distance needed to direct my own family's story."

Far from being bogged down by the memories evoked, "Nag-eenjoy ako sa teatro ngayon nang sobra sobra. Kakaiba. The feeling of directing theater again is deep and profound. The feeling is very spiritual, food for the soul."

Now that he's made the switch back to theater, this time, it's cinema that's trying to pull him back. "My actors tell me that I should make it into a film," he laughs.

"But it was written for theater. I want to test its full potential first on stage. I have a feeling I will be in theater for quite some time again. Manunga banar (for beautiful truths)!"

Music is by Diwa de Leon, set design by Paulo Alcazaren, costume design by James Reyes and lighting design by Dennis Marasigan.

Tanghalang Pilipino's "Mga Buhay na Apoy" runs Oct. 2-25 at Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Call 0917-876-3678 or 832-1125 loc. 1620 and 1621. Tickets also available through Ticketworld at 891-9999 or Like on Facebook (TanghalangPilipino). link: