31 December 2015

Only vow

This year I vow to rebuild my poetry collection.

Off the top of my head, I lost:

Seamus Heaney
Marianne Moore
Louise Glück
Gwendolyn Brooks
Edna St Vincent Millay
E.E. Cummings
Don Paterson
Elizabeth Bishop
Alice Fulton
Lucie Brock-Broido
David St John
Anne Carson
Cherrie Moraga

So maybe I'll start with them.

I can't believe I'd be this hurt to remember a line, a word, a turn of phrase, and not be able to find the pages where it came from. That I'd only find nine poetry books on my shelf. Material things, yes, but mortality is material and I'll cling to what I can so long as I can.

Been struggling with the thought of letting go of what's gone, allowing space. But they weren't gone. They're in my head, in a printing press and in a bookshop, somewhere.

23 December 2015

No girl power, only power

It must be my limited purview. When I gained consciousness, the nation was ruled by a housewife. Now, in my lifetime, I’ve seen two women presidents — and it might be three if we all survived this coming elections.

I grew up watching Ally McBeal and Charmed, both of which had female leads, the former in position of power (she’s a lawyer) and the latter, gifted with supernatural powers (they’re witches). In school, the deans, department heads, and the brightest, most opinionated students I had shared classrooms with were female. When I got out of school, I entered companies and publications where I worked with girl bosses and editors. In my own circle of friends, the ladies stick to their passions, make a living out of them, seek romance, nurture a family and look good doing it.

The concept of “girl power” was lost on me: there was only power, available in varying degrees to all members of the human race. I never thought that those people I mentioned had something others of the same sex were devoid/deprived of. As it turns out, their “normal” was the world’s “extraordinary.”

Sure I witness discrimination. One time I rode a cab that almost bumped into the car in front. The male cabbie sighed, “Tsk. Babae kasi ang driver.” He obviously didn’t notice that his passenger was a girl. But I don’t file instances like this under “misogyny” and cry foul on behalf of womenkind. I chalk it up to sheer impropriety. We’re all walking stereotypes and we see people as types, whether deliberately or subconsciously. You are measured in more ways than one: by your clothes, school, job, Twitter followers, literary preference, accent. Girlhood is a minor inconvenience.

To be honest, what’s distressing is this relentless invitation to fit the image of the modern woman: daring, outspoken, uncompromising, can-do-it-all and -do-it-better. It’s another suffocating box.

—Full story on GIST.PH

17 December 2015

That moment Beethoven invaded my video game

An indication that someone is famous and influential? When their name is known to those uninterested, even ignorant of their area of expertise. Ask a non-classical music listener which classical artist they know, chances are they’ll say Beethoven.

Anyone who took piano lessons practised every day to perfect Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Für Elise, and the more ambitious ones take on the entire Moonlight Sonata. To the rest of us who can only try, thank goodness for the CDs and concerts that allow us to appreciate the glorious sounds, whether digitally in our living room or live in music halls.

Imagine though the delight of coming across his compositions in an unusual setting, say, a video game. There was a time in the ‘90s when “Earthworm Jim” became popular, and to its credit it was a weird, fun, not to mention addictive game. What made purchasing the next instalment, “Earthworm Jim 2” worth it was hearing the Moonlight Sonata, particularly its third movement on the last level. Jim was running and the fast, somewhat dark vibe of the piece fits the scene. What a finale.

Granted, classical music have been used several times in video games. But to hear one of your favorites, that will certainly make you giddy. Two centuries after his death, the German composer’s works are still being used in — and discovered by new generations through — video games, TV shows and countless movies, from horror to romance and comedy. That’s immortality for you. Happy birthday, Beethoven!

—Originally published on GIST

01 December 2015

Anton Juan leaves the secret garden to the imagination

An elaborate piece of work can either test or arrest one’s attention. Such is the case with Repertory Philippines’ adaptation of Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s The Secret Garden, a musical based on the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel of the same title. In it are symbolic set pieces, ghosts walking — and singing — among the living, flashbacks, and quite a large cast of characters with a chorus.

The year is 1906, the place is England. Young Mary Lennox, after being orphaned, lives with her widowed uncle Archibald Craven. In her new home she discovers locked up in one of the rooms her sick cousin, Colin, who is about the same age as her and is convinced that he’ll die at any moment. She also learns of and is lured by a secret garden, which, as is later on revealed, is emblematic of the characters’ lives. It is dead because their spirits are down, and it blooms when they begin to open up.

The audience doesn’t get a peek at this wondrous garden. Even the house that contains the complicated family and its ghosts is only hinted at. On the stage is what seems like a huge stone roughly chiseled to form ladders and platforms, barely resembling a dwelling. “When we look at rocks or crumpled surfaces, figures and faces surge out of them. I wanted the house to be that of a rock from which memories would come out of,” explains director Anton Juan.

“The garden and the house must be completed in the imagination of the audience. Hence I wanted (the color) white and steps leading as if to nowhere. Once, I was in Hagonoy directing a traditional play for Babaylan, and I saw a madwoman, once rich, climb the only remnant of her once-mansion — a flight of steps. She would climb it and descend, then disappear into a shack behind it,” he continues.

With all the build-up to the garden, the detailed costumes, playful lighting, and unique imagining of the Cravens’ house, it’s natural to expect an equally creative set design for the titular garden. But the audience will soon realize that the production is leaving it entirely to their minds, where most of the magic happens anyway.

“The audience is the garden — the wick inside of us that Dickon sings about to Mary,” shares Juan. “This is also the colonized self inside us, the culture and history in us oppressed by dominant cultures, empires, order, technology and ‘science’ mis-used. The millennials (the silent generation) must see this. The wick awaits to grow and blossom, awaits freedom of expression.”

The question is, can the show be enjoyed without knowing the intent behind it? It certainly requires undivided attention. The actors’ affected accents can get in the way of following the dialogues, and the music — save for the Final Storm, which incorporates a haunting version of nursery rhyme Mary, Mary Quite Contrary — is missing the melodic hooks that are crucial in sustaining one’s interest in a musical. It helps that there’s a committed cast onstage. Standouts are Lorenz Martinez (as Archibald), who makes the songs soar; Daniel Drilon, who steals scenes as the stubborn, distrustful, yet charming Colin — he makes you root for him; and Red Concepcion (as Dickon), who’s always been a reliable thespian.

Aside from the cast, especially the child actors, whom Juan selected for their “talent and truth,” Juan takes pride in collaborating on a show with his former students. “I am working with a dream team of artistic collaborators who were my students: Dexter Santos, Ohm David, John Ilao Batalla, Bonzai… And this time it is they who are there, helping me shape what I want for us to articulate, and expect: excellence,” he says. “Surmounting the difficulties of the stage used by two plays all at once [the musical runs alongside another Repertory production, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs], and the humble fees they receive, the dream team has collaborated on The Secret Garden and makes it mean (something) truthful and profound in these days of great violence.”

—Originally published on GIST.PH

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