29 November 2016

Pretension is a virtue

How to be a princess: Practice kindness to an excess.
The spotlight shines on Sara Crewe, alone in her bed chanting in a foreign language. It’s not a familiar lullaby that’s coming out of her mouth, but something more intriguing. Before we could enjoy more of it, she’s interrupted by a young maid named Becky, who drops by to make sure that she’s okay and, while at it, get to know her better. Seconds later, men and women in traditional African clothing enter from all corners of the stage, singing and dancing to a festive tune — and we’re introduced to the world of a little princess.

Sara has been living in Africa, until her Timbuktu-bound father, Captain Crewe, has to send her to a London boarding school while he’s away. Because of Sara’s beauty, wealth — all the wonderful things going for her — the other girls at school, including headmistress Miss Minchin, aren’t very warm towards her. She’s however won friends with her personality, which she shapes by conforming to the ideals of a princess: kindness, grace, magnanimity.

To close its 79th season and usher in the holidays, Repertory Philippines brings A Little Princess, with book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Andrew Lippa. The inspiring and energizing rhythms of African music pervade this stage adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett classic (it’s interesting to note that Sara has lived in India in the original novel; makes you think if the decision to change locations is musically motivated). “African music is mostly five-four — not a common time signature I get to do in musicals, so that was a blast,” says musical director Ejay Yatco in describing the distinct pleasures of interpreting the score. “And I loved having live percussion.”

In almost every scene, there is a song and dance number that’s larger-than-life, like a child’s wild imagination. At times they disrupt the flow of the story, and even appear comical (a few giggles may be heard as meticulously costumed dancers jump from out of nowhere); but they never fail to elicit an appreciative applause from the audience. Credits go to director Dexter Martinez Santos’ breath-taking choreography, and the performers’ commitment and spot-on execution.

This visual and aural vibrancy makes up for whatever complexity the story lacks. Those who grew up reading the book and watching the movie and TV reincarnations of the beloved tale may find the onstage narrative slow, that come the second act, the action seems to rise and fall in a snap. Sara’s downfall after the news of her father’s death is barely explored for it to draw an emotional response. We also won’t see a more colorful, even three-dimensional Lavinia. She consistently serves as a catty, resentful contrast to Sara, that’s why it’s jarring when she has suddenly reconciled with the little princess towards the end.

Two characters that are a joy to watch are Roselyn Perez’s Miss Minchin and Jillian Ita-as’ Sara Crewe. Eschewing the stereotypical heroine-villainess dichotomy, the lead actors play their roles in a way that make them believable and deserving of empathy. Roselyn’s interpretation of Lucky (Had I had her start in life / I’m sure I might take part in life / Had I been lucky / lucky like her) is painful yet defiant, giving a glimpse of Miss Minchin’s vulnerability without abating her steely nature. Jillian, on the other hand, provides the charming blend of tough, smart, and caring.

A Little Princess is an engaging musical that encourages playfulness and wise use of imagination. We become what we pretend. One of the nicest scenes in the show has Lavinia mocking Sara’s pretensions to being a princess. To which Sara replies, “If I do like to play pretend, Lavinia, it’s lucky for you,” because if she didn’t, she would’ve already done something savage to Lavinia. This is not your typical Christmas story for children. It isn’t filled with ghosts or supernatural creatures. There is no magic here. Only a girl with an imagination, some damn good music, and human beings practicing kindness to an excess.

—Originally published on GIST

27 November 2016

And Justice for all

My favorite responses to Justice's new album, Woman.

1. From Zedd, who convinced me to sit down with Cross.

2. 'The distortion was so overdriven yet it somehow was melodic.' Yes. Same. Let there be light did it for me.

3. Did Skrillex intentionally say 'roll'?

4. An emotional thread. But yeah, here's music I can live in for years.

5. A most accurate description of Love SOS. My favorite in the album, and the universe.

6. That first note! (And last note and everything in between.)

26 November 2016

Road to Justice

10. Hard and filthy are two adjectives Justice fans often use to describe the French electronic music duo’s sound; and in the fandom’s lexicon, they only mean the highest of compliments. My first encounter with Justice didn’t evoke such words, though. Rather it was, Wow-whoa-what is this-oh my Lord! There are layers upon layers of distortion, yes; there are heart-stopping drum beats, yes; but there are also the most appealing rhythm and melodies; and nothing that I would ever associate with noise. Truth is I find their sound akin to classical music. If you gave Let there be light (“Cross”) a violin arrangement, or Canon (“Audio, Video, Disco”) a full orchestra version, they could sit beside your “Bach for Barbecue” favorites.

11. November 18 was duly marked on my calendar. It was the release date of Gaspard AugĂ©’s and Xavier de Rosnay’s third album, “Woman.” In September, Justice released the teaser single, Randy, which got me giddy with excitement. The mellow, melodious and radio-friendly number opens with a quick drum roll, which, if you listen to the entire album, kind of echoes a riff from the preceding track. This sense of continuity despite the variations in tempo and mood of each song has been present in all their albums and you have to appreciate the sonic experience it allows. I guess that’s why they’re great DJs — they know how to keep you on dance floor, if not at least keep your ears intrigued.

12. November 4 on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac. Gaspard and Xavier showcased a Party Playlist. They included The Paradise’s In love with you, which was also in their 2007 BBC Essential Mix. The Alan Braxe-produced song features Romuald Louverjon crying, “In love with you” over and over. When it finished, Annie asked the guys, “What is it about the French sound that is so French?” to which Gaspard replied, “I think the main ingredient is something very sad and happy at the same time… something naively romantic.”

13. In the same show, the Parisian duo shared that their biggest influences are pop music and love songs. Annie recalled their DJ set in Ibiza where, following Zane Lowe’s set, Justice played Donna Summer’s Dim all the lights. “It completely changed the mood,” said Annie. “You’re fearless about playing exactly what you want.”

14. If In love with you is a sweet surrender, Love S.O.S (undoubtedly influenced by the former) is pure helplessness. Here, Louverjon lends his vocals as well, and, as with the Alan Braxe track, the lyrics are economical. It begins with a siren, which stays wailing for a good two-and-a-half minutes and then quiets as Louverjon whispers, “L-O-V-E S.O.S. love” repetitively, as if fighting through the flatline; and the siren returns along with a richer musical texture. I have never had quite a physical response to music — and music alone (not the memory it exhumes or within a social context like parties) — until this song.

15. My assumption is, since English is not their native language, they’re more thoughtful about using it. Lyrics can be incomprehensible, outright weird and annoying, and I’ve stopped taking them seriously. I’ve always enjoyed Justice’s vocals-less numbers, but when they decide that someone will sing in a track, the voice is always part of a harmonious whole. And the words, they are simple enough to be meaningful in a way that mantras are; as in: “Use imagination as a destination” (Pleasure), “Music and lines, rhythm and melodies / so many nights, so many memories” (Stop), and “When you know you’ve arrived and it’s time / don’t shoot low, aim it high” (Randy).

16. Unlike its predecessors, “Cross” and “Audio, Video, Disco,” “Woman” starts off not with a pounding epic-scaled song (like Genesis and Horsepower) but with the dreamy, futuristic Safe and Sound. The space disco vibe is prominent in the album, especially with Pleasure, Stop, and Fire. Those craving grandiosity will find it in the seven-minute Chorus, which also has an element of gospel in it. And Alakazam!, as listeners have noted, picks up where Phantom Pt. 2 left off — the title may have suggested it, but that tune is like a magic spell’s beginning, middle, and aftermath.

17. Gaspard and Xavier (and granted many other artists) avoid talking about the science behind their art. I try to but fall short. So I’ll resort to more gushing instead. Justice crafted three studio albums in a span of ten years. Slow by popular standards. I don’t mind. I could live for a decade with “Woman.”

—Originally published on GIST


Read Part 1 and Part 3.

24 November 2016

The failure of the first draft

Amy Ewing and Me

“I’m very dark,” Amy Ewing would say, and you kind of both agree and disagree. Amy punctuates every thought with either a smile or laughter. When we met, the US election results were coming in and while she never concealed her frustration, she quickly set the topic aside because we were supposed to discuss her books, not politics.

She is dark, yes, in a way that her stories have gloomy themes and her characters navigate frightful spaces. But during our short conversation, all I saw was color. Literally, at first. You can’t miss Amy in a crowd, that is, it’s hard to miss anyone with purple hair. “I had a really bad month two years ago, and I came out of it feeling like I survived it and needed to make a change,” she explained when I asked what’s the deal with it. She also has tattoos with bittersweet tales behind them, one of which involving the death of a dear friend.

Needless to say, Amy is no stranger to tragedy. In 2008 she was laid off. With so much time in her hands, she had to figure out what she wanted. “I was working as a sales rep. I was terrible at it. It was probably one of the reasons why I got laid off,” she said, again laughing in the end. Amy went to NYU to study acting and had always wanted to be an actor, but she also loved reading fantasy and writing privately. Knowing all these, a friend suggested that she give YA fiction a try.

“And I did,” continued Amy. “The thing about writing is you can do it on your own and no one is responsible for it but you — which is awesome and terrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever pushed myself until I started writing. I realized, ‘Oh you were just really scared.’”

14 November 2016

You have one day of total freedom—no rules, no government, no consequences—what will you do?

Harrison Gilbertson has the face and demeanor of a heartbreaker. He walks across the room with the gait of someone who just woke up, hair unkempt, not meeting anyone’s eyes. Everything changes, however, when he smiles. There is a sincerity about him that convinces you of how much he respects his craft and how little he cares about celebrity trimmings like fame and adulation.

The Australian actor is in the Philippines for a promotional tour of Fallen, the film adaptation of the Lauren Kate book of the same title. It tells the supernatural love story of Lucinda ‘Luce’ Price (Addison Timlin) and Daniel Grigori (Jeremy Irvine), who are both sent to Sword and Cross, a reform school in Savannah. Rounding up the list of major characters is Cameron ‘Cam’ Briel, which Harrison plays. Cam is a fallen angel who becomes Luce’s other love interest, or, as succinctly described by Harrison, “the boy who gets in the way.”

Inspired by his role, we wonder if Harrison has committed any delinquent act and been held in detention before. “I should say that I have, just for fun, but no I haven’t,” he says, laughing. Seems like his inner bad boy isn’t ready to come out for an interview. But it doesn’t matter, we’re delighted with the Harrison who lights up as he talks about the pleasures of acting and how he wants his young yet already exciting career to unfold.

(Read the full interview on GIST.)


Except for Dick Gordon, I always fall in love with every person I interview.

Last Monday I met Harrison Gilbertson. The guy geeks out on acting and I regret not asking more questions about his craft.

Before parting I requested that he pose a la Cam Briel (the character he plays in the film he's promoting) for our readers, for fun. In a split-second he transformed. After getting the shots I wanted, I said, 'Wow, you really got into the Cam character; you're not even talking to me anymore.' He quickly changed expressions again, went back to the shy, happy guy, and said, 'Oh no sorry!'

Harrison Gilbertson poses a la Cam Briel


He's the complete opposite of bad boy Cam Briel. In fact he won't do anything slightly criminal if he had one day in a world with no rules.

'No rules, so no gravity? I’d fly back to the Philippines and fly to all the islands.' —Harrison Gilbertson

13 November 2016

Notes on journal-writing

Sundays — mine — are meant for reading under the late afternoon sun, coffee in hand and all the other beautiful clichĂ©s I work hard to afford. Today I deviate from routine. Not that I planned it. You don’t schedule an itch.

At the cafĂ©, rather than taking a novel out of the bag, I took out a notebook and a pen. Dear A, fuck you. Nah, I’m better than that. (Nah, you don’t have the guts.) I said I would just draft the letter then move on with my reading.

Three hours later, I was still writing. With that time you’d think I’d fill out an entire notebook, but no, the finished product was a concise letter telling A that she hurt me, that her actions disgusted me — everything I wanted to say, how I wanted it said.

It was perfect. I was so satisfied that as soon as I reread it down to the last sentence and the final full stop, just to make sure the right words were chosen and arranged in the right order, I didn’t feel the need to send it anymore.


Porcelain is too expensive to break, not to mention too much of a mess to clean up. Shouting is cathartic, but the neighbors may not be sympathetic. Kicking puppies will land you in hell.

The paper can take a beating. But besides emotional release, writing cures the heart’s hangovers. In trying to articulate problems and feelings, you dissect them in the process.

When you’re (over-)thinking, words and images float around your head. Somehow the paper, its physical limits and intrinsic rules — go from left to right, from top to bottom, from one end of a train of thought to the beginning of another — force you to chill out and get out of your head to see things from a sobering distance.


Twenty things I should do/have before I turn 20: A handsome, loving boyfriend, preferably Edward Furlong(ish); 20,000 pesos in the bank; make a wish on a falling star; travel to the US; do something important; decorate my dream bedroom; a 23-inch waist…
Things to do before I turn 25: Publish a book, get a notebook computer, drive my own car, have my dream bedroom, earn my first million, have a wardrobe filled with fashionable clothes and shoes, travel to Europe…
Bucket list of sorts:


The Peter Justesen catalogue was one of my favorite reading materials when I was barely a teenager. I remember cutting out a photo of a cute laptop computer and then pasting it in a scrap book. While staring at it, I’d imagine an older me typing the day away at work and then coming home to a nice little apartment at night.

Little did I know that I was creating a version of a vision board. You lay out your desired narrative in images, like what scriptwriters and novelists do, and like what said artists do, you build a story that’s so good it deserves to happen.

It’s not that simple, of course. Otherwise I’d be married to Edward Furlong now (or divorced). The point is, maybe this bucket list, vision board, dream journal — whatever you want to call it — is a contract between our present and future selves. It’s a reminder to find ourselves and stay true to who we are.

Or maybe, these pages of desires are gifts from our past selves, who knew that we’d someday need the comic relief.

Collage by Sean Eidder


The pilot episode of the BBC drama, Sherlock, starts with retired soldier Dr. John Watson talking to his therapist about his blank personal blog. “John, you’re a soldier, it’s going to take you a while to adjust to civilian life; and writing a blog about everything that happens to you will honestly help you,” says the latter.

“Nothing happens to me,” replies John.

Then the opening credits play, and there, ladies and gentlemen, we have a quintessential example of dramatic irony. What will follow, as the viewers expect, is a life filled with textbook adventures — meeting interesting people like Sherlock Holmes, solving mysteries, getting into and out of dangerous situations, cheating death.

In real life, however, “My life is boring” is considered real talk.


English has no match for the romance in this string of Tagalog words: “May pagtingin ako sa iyo.” Saying “You’re special” doesn’t even come close. We say, “pagtingin” — I have a way of seeing you. The power, indeed, is in the beholder.

And while certain human beings inspire intrigue more than others, I believe we can train ourselves to see anyone and any thing, including our own existence — however mundane, however familiar — differently and with that readiness to fall in love. And that’s by writing.

Recording the day’s events, recalling the features of an acquaintance, we perceive the tiniest of details, we see more than meets the eye. The picture won’t always be pretty (side-effect of having a sharp vision), but at least it’s never boring.

—Originally published on GIST. Here are fragments from the early drafts.

Notes on journal-writing (excluded fragments)

(I wrote something about journal-writing for this month's issue of GIST. The theme is fantasy—keeping the magic alive. These are some of the fragments I considered putting in the early drafts.)


Keeping a journal, along with exercising and eating healthy, always pops up on our New Year’s Resolutions. We know of its benefits, but we fail to follow through. A common complaint is, “What’s there to write?” And yet, we also say, as a blanket excuse for our failure to do the things we hope to do: “I don’t have time.” If you’re using up all 24 hours of your day, then you must have a pretty exciting life to write about.


“I can only write when I’m sad,” said M, a new writer friend, echoing many a writer wannabe. “Have you tried using your imagination?” I said. He wasn’t pleased.

“Let’s say sadness is a requisite for writing, then you shouldn’t have any problem at all. The world is full of it!” continued I, in my head.

“Inspiration is for amateurs.” —Chuck Close(?) Will check later.


Rereading a journal entry written with an 11-yearl-old’s handwriting, depending on your mood, can either be funny or pathetic. Although count on it to always be enlightening. Materialism gives way to philanthropy; 'wanting to have' turns into 'wanting what you have'; falling stars don’t make dreams come true.

The master said You must write what you see.
But what I see does not move me.
The master answered Change what you see.

—Louise GlĂĽck, Vita Nova

There's eating, there's sex, there's music, there's video games, there's reading. But have you ever experienced the pleasure of thinking? Really thinking? Ideas having form, getting in and out of an actual train of thought, convincing yourself otherwise, landing on a new plane so different from where you lifted off.

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