UP College of Music’s 'Putri Anak' reimagines the 'komedya'

April 8, 2017
Philippine Daily Inquirer

University of the Philippines College of Music is staging "Putri Anak," a new komedya about a celestial maiden who, while attempting to reunite with her sisters, helps two arrogant warriors battle the sun-eating sea serpent Bakunawa.

Ela Lisondra (right) plays Putri Anak.

The production is part of the college's centennial celebration dubbed "Sandaang Taon ng Himig at Tinig: Pagpupugay ng UP Kolehiyo ng Musika," and is coproduced by the UP Center for International Studies.

Directed by Jina Umali, the play has a libretto by Enrique Villasis and Christian "Juan Ekis" Vallez.

The story is based on the Celestial/Sky/Star Maiden tales found across Asia and the Philippines, where the main maiden's wings are hidden from her by a man. Variations include Luzon's Gaygayoma, Kamdali/Kadmali and Taraw versions; the Visayas' Makaya version; and Mindanao's Maiden of the Buhong Sky, Putli Intan (Princess Diamond), and Putri Anak (Princess Child).

Playing Putri Anak is Ela Lisondra, who was in the 2014-2016 West End revival of "Miss Saigon" and 9 Works Theatrical's "A Christmas Carol" and "American Idiot."

Alex Dagalea plays Rajah Sulaymon, Jude Servilla plays Sultan Magnaye, and the UP Dance Company rounds out the cast. (Servilla is Eat Bulaga's Birit Baby 2009 Grand Champion.)

Evolving the komedya

The music is by Verne dela Peña, chair of the college's musicology department. Academic and artistic exploration spurred the college's decision to produce this new komedya, partly to explore ways of evolving the genre.

Alex Dagalea (left) as Rajah Sulaymon and Jude Servilla as Magnaye.

Komedya, derived from the Spanish word comedia (drama), is commonly known as moro-moro from its use by Spanish colonizers as an evangelizing tool, where Christians were portrayed overcoming villainized Muslim Moors (moro).

This adaptation uses indigenous lore for its setting, omits the religious bigotry and  "celebrates Asian culture, heritage and artistic expression."

Some elements of the "classic" komedya are retained such as the sing-song delivery (diccio or dicho) of lines written in verse, and the story having romance and battle dances (batalya).

One innovation is the inclusion of singing, with music direction by Mary Katherine Trangco. "It's absent in the traditional form. We're also blending Southeast Asian theater practices, dances and musical styles," says Dela Peña.

The fight choreography by Jeremy dela Cruz incorporates arnis, sagayan (Maguindanao and Maranao war dance), pencak silat-a martial art common to Southeast Asia-and Javanese court dance.

Hybrid music

Dela Peña builds on the komedya's European-Asian hybridity. "The music is grounded on this hybrid nature but shifts the weight more toward the Southeast Asian sound.

"The music borrows heavily from Maguindanao and Kalinga rhythms layered under Southeast
Asian modal tonalities and framed in punctuative and cyclic structures typical in the region."

"My goal is to approach a pan-Southeast Asian popular, folk singing and melodic style."

To this end, he has assembled a gong and drum ensemble typical of Southeast Asian practice, such as Indonesia's gamelan, Brunei's gulingtangan, Thailand's piphat, etc. Music will be performed by UP Tugtugang Musika Asyatika.

"However, I've retained traces of the traditional komedya brass band sonority by including woodwinds (flute, clarinet, saxophone) and military drums (snare and bass drum). I've also added a bandurria (plucked lute) to reference lowland folk traditions." Music will be performed by UP Tugtugang Musika Asyatika.

Completing the ensemble is a chorus of celestial maidens led by the seer Kadunong. "The use of the chorus as the celestials and the conductor as diviner may be seen as a statement on the spiritual role of music in society," says Dela Peña.

"Putri Anak" has choreography by Angela Baguilat and Jeremy dela Cruz, set design by Mark Legaspi, costume design by Darwin Desoacido and lighting design by Shax Siasoco.

"Putri Anak" runs 3 p.m., and 8 p.m., April 9, Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino, Cultural Center of the Philippines. Tickets: Ticketworld.com.ph. Details: Fb.com/UPCollegeofMusic.

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