28 September 2017

To give way to new books and do good to mankind

I've long given up any pretenses of reading all the books I wanted to read in my lifetime, so I'm not sure why I hold on to books I have fallen out of love with, or have the slightest interest in.

Actually I know why: laziness, selfishness, and my choice of decoration. If I had a huge home, I'd keep every decaying tome, every awful novel until I die. Staring at shelves crammed with things I no longer recognize, however, pushed me to finally clean up.

What I thought would only take an hour took an entire afternoon. Reorganizing and decluttering my humble library gave me a massive headache. But here's the fruit of the labor. I'm giving away these books for free.

When the messages start pouring in (and there are a lot), my heart floats. People are excited. And hearing them talk about how much they love a specific book or author — seeing their value through another's eyes — kind of makes me not want to let go of them anymore. That's how selfish I can be!

Some are surprised that I'm getting rid of them (though I thought this is a common practice). Aside from the reasons stated above, I'd tell them, jokingly, "This is my small contribution to the betterment of mankind."

As I create a list of which title goes to whom, the joke becomes truth. I've made someone look forward to something. Proved to myself I'm not poor. I think I'll do this again.

21 September 2017

An erring lace

One night in 2015 maybe, I was walking with a friend towards a club. I couldn't remember how the conversation went there, but I declared, "I look my best now."

As I write this I think, No. I look my best now;

And think of perfection. My every day has been a deliberate (though not always successful) step towards that. In 2014 I got my own space. When friends would invite themselves in, I'd quip, I want it to be Instagrammable first, give me time. I want my home to reflect who I am, therefore I want it to be perfect.

Although I know there's no such thing and if I ever reached it, What else?

Then I came across this Robert Herrick poem published in Love poems, a collection of poetry read on BBC Radio 4's Poetry please:
Delight in disorder
Robert Herrick

A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness.
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthralls the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribbons to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoestring, in whose tie
I see a wild civility;
Do more bewitch me than when art
Is too precise in every part.

Earlier this month we lost John Ashbery.

John Ashbery. Where shall I wander. New York: Ecco Paperback, 2006.

My favorite poem of his is also one of my favorite poems of all time: Some trees. But going through my copy of Where shall I wander, I find a fitting excerpt about death. Us in another's eyes. That it is not our memory but their memory of us that counts. From Novelty love trot:
In the end it matters little what things we enjoy.
We list them, and barely have we begun
when the listener's attention has turned to something else.
"Did you see that? The way that guy cut him off?"
Darlings, we'll all be known for some detail,
some nick in the chiseled brow, but it won't weigh much
in the scale's careening pan. What others think
of us is the only thing that matters,
to us and to them...
This also reminds me of my other favorite poem of all time, which is about dressing well. It doesn't touch on perfection, but instead on making a lasting impression.

19 September 2017

Techno bliss

Earworms this month are courtesy of a young duo and the widely acknowledged godfathers of electronic music.

The new: At night by Oliver

I haven't heard of Oliver until last week. On August 24, the LA-based DJs released Full Circle, a solid debut album.

It's always the rhythm that wins me. Though largely a song-driven effort, the album's melodic lines (especially those with vocals) are never over-complicated or overpowering; while the sumptuous rhythms are given the extension they deserve — no rushing to the chorus or "the drop". These for me are the very things that make electronic music distinctly enjoyable, habitable.

The tracks also don't follow a single structure, so you'll be pleased with the diversity. Three songs I find extra special are Go with it, Heterotopia, and At night. Am excited for this band. They must be fun to see live.


The old timeless: Music non stop – 2009 remastered version by Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk's "Computer World" has been sitting in my music library for, like, ever. Yesterday I decided to watch a video of their concert, Minimum – Maximum and Woah! The sound was so clean, the production was the total opposite of rave parties. Its laser-like focus on what it wants to do is impressive. Great concerts envelope you with music and energy till you dissolve in the moment, but Kraftwerk's live show seems to prefer injecting the whole thingamabob into your vein till you're aware that you exist.

Next thing I know, I was going through their entire discography on Spotify. And am still not finished.

I usually have no patience with studio albums with 6++-minute-long tracks, yet with Kraftwerk, I didn't notice the time at all. Except for the 22-minute Autobahn. Anyway, this Music non stop remix is currently playing non-stop at home, making me dance like a happy bunny (may the simile make sense).

14 September 2017

Dance is now

Sometimes I think about dance. Not that thing we poor souls do at the club, but that which is conceived by a choreographer and realized by a dancer. How the art form seems to evade preservation and discovery.

Stumbling upon a great modern ballet piece is not as easy as stumbling upon, say, a great novel by an obscure author or great music from a band in the ‘70s. Sure there are licensed recordings of performances available in stores — limited as they may be — and there’s YouTube and other video-streaming services to scour (if you want something recorded by naughty, rule-bending audiences), but my impression is that dance doesn’t bother as much with reproduction and distribution the way other popular art forms do.

Paul Ocampo and Chien-Ying Wang perform Equanimity in Ballet Philippines' A Gala Celebration.

From where I am, there’s no better person to ask whether or not this is an actual problem of the industry than National Artist for Dance, Alice Reyes. “It’s not a problem, it’s a fact. It’s something we have to live with,” a fired up Reyes told me during an open rehearsal of Ballet Philippines — the company she co-founded in 1969.

“You have to experience it now. Tomorrow, it’s different. That’s what George Balanchine said, ‘Dance is the art of now,’” she continued. “That’s why the dancer’s and choreographer’s careers are so short.”

How choreography is passed on or saved for posterity is another mystery to me. “It’s hard. That’s why you have coaches. For instance, we have to get somebody to come in who dances the role and coach the new artist dancing it (to arrive at the right interpretation),” shared Reyes. “There’s an oral history attached to the dance… Kung video lang, kung mali ang na-video, yung mali ang magagawa.” Dance notation is also out of the question. “There are still some who are doing it, but it’s so hard. Masyadong mabilis and takbo,” she added.

National Artist for Dance and Ballet Philippines co-founder and artistic director Alice Reyes

For their 48th season, Ballet Philippines runs under the banner, “Quintessence” and welcomes back Reyes as artistic director. “I’m using this season to start our progress towards the 50th. My idea is to tell the story of Ballet Philippines, which has such an incredibly rich repertoire. We can maybe release 10 seasons without doing any imported works,” said the visionary.

The new season kicked off in August with A Gala Celebration, showcasing the companies’ choreographic range and its dancers’ ability to execute any movement. The next production, called Exemplar, is slated for October. Featured here are the classics that came out during the company’s first decade, including Reyes’s Amada.

Ballet Philippines is giving us the chance to catch internationally acclaimed but long-unseen works. And they’re relying not only on traditional but social media to spread the word. Reyes very well knows that ballet isn’t accessible. Still, one of her goals is to drive more people to the shows by cutting down ticket prices — a tall order, considering that live dance and orchestra are expensive to produce. “That’s why dance always needs patrons. Patrons of the art,” Reyes laughed. “That’s THE problem.”

So here’s an invitation. Take a chance on ballet. Experience it now. Because tomorrow, it’s different. Or worse, gone.

07 September 2017

Notes on ‘Blackbird’

David Harrower’s Blackbird takes us right smack in the middle of harsh reality: the office pantry. Suspended fluorescent tubes illuminate a small room, which centerpiece is a long plastic table. Cardboard boxes everywhere. No porcelain, only paper cups. In one corner, trash has managed to spill from a tall bin. All these add up to a hyperreal set that is eerie yet captivating.

Enter a young woman and an older man, dressed like everybody else in the audience — in boring ready-to-wear, maybe soiled by earlier fits of clumsiness or by fresh transgressions. The difference is that our mess are hidden in theater dark, while theirs are exposed by light.

Una and Ray engaged in a sexual affair when the former was 12 and the latter was 40. The relationship lasted for three months and its end meant jail time for the gentleman. Fifteen years later, Una stumbles upon a photo of a smiling Ray in a magazine, compelling her to track him down. Now they meet again as Una finds Ray in his workplace, living a new life complete with a new name.

Bart Guingona and Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante are Ray and Una in The Necessary Theatre's production of Blackbird by David Harrower.

Once the initial outburst subsides, you sense a tender pull between them. And it’s not impulsiveness but rather self-control that causes the pair to entertain any residual desire that they might have for each other: the longer they are stuck together, the greater the possibility to see eye to eye and kindle an old fire. An unlocked pantry has never felt so dangerous.

Blackbird’s plotting can sometimes deceive you into thinking that you know where things are heading — partly a result of the playwright’s ability to draw believable characters. Harrower didn’t leave room for the audience to question either protagonist’s motivations. And when you think that you’ve predicted their actions, the play makes an unexpected turn. These twists are never for shock value, and the ambiguities are never forced.

The Necessary Theatre stages this Olivier-winning two-hander, its short run closing out on Sunday (the 10th) at the Carlos P Romulo Auditorium in Makati. The production, directed by Topper Fabregas, features Mikkie Bradshaw-Volante as Una and Bart Guingona as Ray.

Fabregas’ direction is thoughtful, allowing the audience to empathize with both Una and Ray — with both their past and present selves. The play’s overall tone is compassionate as well. It succeeds in refusing to be moralistic without condoning unlawful behavior.

If there’s something missing, it’s somewhere in the acting department. I struggle to connect with the leads on a visceral level. In a crucial, kilometric monologue, for example, Bradshaw falls a little flat. I hang on to her every word because she’s revealing Una’s backstory, though I wish that it’s also because of an emotional grip.

The beauty of Blackbird lies not in its complexity but in its capacity to unload a myriad of complex thoughts and feelings through simple, almost straightforward storytelling. It is smart as it is vulnerable. This production of the play, however, seems to focus on getting its tone right, and somehow overlooks the drama. TNT may have captured Blackbird’s mind; I’m not sure if it has fully captured its troubled heart.

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