25 December 2018

Count only on its leaving

The Internet came bearing gifts — well a gift, to be accurate. And by no means it's by the god of algorithm, or at least I'd like to believe. One of my favorite living poets, Alice Fulton, who is thankfully on Twitter, shared a link to a post on actor Claire Coffee reading her poem, Where Are the Stars Pristine.

A woman I love reads a woman I love. Poetry's looped on my YouTube the entire Christmas morning.



Where Are the Stars Pristine
Alice Fulton

Everyone's spending Christmas Eve adrift
in the corporal skirmish, mixing
up the darks with the lights, fending
with elbows and dirty
looks. Wet wool and down
crowd the air. Where are the stars, pristine
as great ideas? Behind clouds
the heavens saturate
with luminous dust, shuttles wearing halos
of earthdirt, light pollution
from jets fired to keep things
on course. Boys rickrack a ball off
floor and ceiling past the table
tree bubbling with giveaway
ornaments from Burger King and lights
that manage an occasional
lackadaisical flash. Showstoppers: everyone

looks every time and keeps looking
to make sure it happened.
The double frontloaders are going
like abstract TVs. And the program is important:
all about the boggling sullied
lives we'd like to hide.
But this is no place
to do so, where known
and unknown perverts come
to pirate underpants and the innocent
clutch their Cheer and Shout.
The rules are posted: only the toughest
habiliments, the superego
of raiment can take such agitation.
And only the poor are invited to endure
the sneezy powders and clean resentment.

Imagine a museum installation—
200 hypnotic washers stuffed with somersaulting
cloth. Critics could rise to the challenge,
their statements settling like coats
of gold and silver
chain mail over each machine:
"These Speed Queen pieces thrust ahead of art-
for-art's sake to confront us
with a realism of socio-political
magnitude. The vortex-like movement
of pattern, color, and texture infuses
these works with an abundance of unconscious
bliss. The soft forms
circulate with vigor
across the screens. The viewer
is not privy
to the cause of dirt
though one is witness to the dirt's
ablutions. The point is
we are not impeccable."

Everyone would be happy
to know that! And so we're forced to
scoop and pour
a fine white empathy over
the hairy flannels, snaggy nylons,
the glass front that gives
forth this light
industry, the silly tree
and jingles about blue and white
Christmases, chestnuts, sleighbells,
just as snow settles
on every unsequestered thing:

from blistered gum -
ball machines, clumsy bumpers,
crepuscular theaters with sticky floors,
to ramshackle mansions
choked with smiling
china animals where light shakes itself out
from TVs and old women
frail as walking sticks
sweep their stoops at eight a.m.
Just as snow makes the less than impeccable
classical, stroking the merely
drab or passing, quickly or slowly,
so we can count only on its
leaving, teaching
liquidity
to what seems solid.

04 December 2018

Beautifully unintentional: A response to 'Manila Notes'

Manila Notes, the Filipino adaptation of Tokyo Notes, is a celebration of form. In fact playwright and director Oriza Hirata has structured a play with such clarity of purpose that it almost teaches you how to read it.

People come, linger, go, and come back again to a museum lobby sometime in 2034. While set in the future, their conversations remain similar-sounding to ours — confused, mundane, painfully boring. The drama moves in waves of silence and cacophony. Like insatiable eavesdroppers, the audience can only pick up bits of information that feed as they incite curiosity.

Somehow the show reinforces the idea that our instinct for storytelling marks our capacity to care. Every day we pass by strangers. Yet once we stop and listen, we're involved. With a few words or slight gesture, we imagine whole lives worthy of inspection.

Manila Notes, based on Oriza Hirata's Tokyo Notes. Tanghalang Pilipino; translator: Rody Vera; director: Hirata. (The show runs until December 16 at the CCP Little Theater.)

In a way that an amateur pianist can be impatient with "playing" the rests in a musical score, the recurring, often long pauses in Manila Notes can be a challenge to go through. These gaps constitute a museum's reality, sure, though they might also serve as spaces to make sense of what's happening, or savor a rare, delicious piece of dialogue.

When the technical aspects are done to a tee, there comes the matter of affect. Did it stir something in me? If it didn't, then the entire production is as good as meaningless. With this play, the random, innocuous lines are stray bullets that hit the heart. How many times have we been surprised by what someone remembers of what we said?

As in real life, the honest, unexpected catches us off-guard. (There's a beautiful exchange between an art enthusiast and her sister who's indifferent about paintings. The latter says that, if given the chance, she would hang on her wall an artwork she'd never tire of looking at, like a curtain. She drew some laughter from me, as well as questions on how we put value to what we value.)

As opposed to hokey, theatrical acts. Manila Notes is not without a couple of these — scenes that call attention to themselves, priming the viewer for profundity. Perhaps depending on execution, they could either fail or fly. Though the drama has already done a wonderful job at understatement that the decidedly riveting moments tend to fall into mawkish territory.

If you're willing to work with it, Manila Notes is a rewarding silent spectacle to watch. For anyone seeking stories that champion the ordinary, here's your show.

26 November 2018

Part of the weekend

I - In the cove with 2manydjs

2manydjs at Cove Manila. (23 November 2018)

In Part of the Weekend Never Dies, brothers Stephen and David Dewaele explained what Soulwax, Radio Soulwax, and 2manydjs are (all musical productions that involve both of them). The documentary was uploaded to YouTube in September in celebration of its 10th anniversary.

Maybe it's the magic of editing and my own imagination combining to fuel a desire to see them — in any of their mode — live. I thought that if it would happen, it would be in some big festival in Japan or Singapore. But surprise, surprise, they came here as 2manydjs last Friday.

I read somewhere that a DJ's job is to play your favorite song even if you haven't heard it before. That night I had the pleasure of discovery and was teased by familiar tunes, which names escaped me. Meanwhile the unexpected arrival of old favorites, and their impeccable timing had its own chilling effect. Let me put it on record: they played Let the Beat Control Your Body and Pump Up the Jam and it made me inexplicably happy.

How I love the lights and the surprise of a song. And I can't write about this without a line on people moving to the beat. For stretches of time my eyes were locked on their bodies.



II - Streaming, dreaming Rita Ora

Saturday my everything hurts. 2 little stretching before 2 hours of dancing. But I didn't forget that the 23rd was the release date of "Phoenix".

I had this impression that Rita Ora and I were the same age. (We're not.) My connection to her music is on a girl-friend level. The pop songs I love, I love because they're catchy. But with Rita, it's like we're talking to each other. As if two 30-something-year-olds are having high-school-girl feelings.

With "Phoenix" I hear more maturity, more sadness. And I'm pleased with how it's produced. The EDM-ish drops and flourishes aren't overly done. Her voice stands out, as it should, because she has a superb one. In fact she's the pop star whom I would dance to all day and also pay good money to watch perform an acoustic set.

So I'm crazy about her bangers. How We Do will always be my jam. Yet I want more ballads. I'm glad that the slower, painful Lonely Together is in the new album. My favorite unreleased track has to be Keep Talking.



May she continue to make these decisions — just wonderful melodies and her voice. Her concert here is slated on my birthday. What a gift.

22 November 2018

A melancholy by any other name

This month a year ago, a musical gate I didn't know existed was smashed open by someone named Erol Alkan. Through his rework of Connan Mockasin's Forever Dolphin Love, I learned what a rework is; while his DJ gigs at BBC 6 made me realize what a DJ should be.

November 9th, he gave fans a pre-Christmas gift: a self-consciously synaesthetic EP containing two songs, one called Spectrum and the other, Silver Echoes. The latter I am mad in love with that I played its preview for what seemed like hours on deejay.de weeks before the release date.



Now, listening to the full track, I recall conductor Benjamin Zander's advice to think of measures as beats — as a way to make a musical piece sing and to trick the ear into hearing a different speed. With Silver Echoes, the tempo is brisk but the mood is relaxed.

Reviewers even spoke of a certain melancholia running through its veins. Something I couldn't hear, try as I might. For me, from the beginning, the song evoked pure joy, in fact a freedom that can either come from wise resignation or child-like innocence.

Or maybe we are calling the same feeling by other names.

We lose ourselves in good music. Yet what I admire most about this track, and Erol's body of work for that matter, is the sense of place. Each moment knows exactly where it wants to go. The beats don't drop but rather push the next ones up, up, up—

17 November 2018

Notes on 'A Doll's House Part 2' and 'Ang Pag-Uusig'

My October was book-ended by two dramas. The first an update on a classic, the second a translation of another classic.

A Doll's House Part 2
Red Turnip Theater

A Doll's House Part 2 by Lucas Hnath. Red Turnip Theater; director: Cris Villonco. (Maybank Performing Arts Theatre, 7 Oct 2018)

In his introduction to Henrik Ibsen: Four Major Plays (Airmont Books, 1966), John Grube notes that "the role of Nora (Helmer) has been a challenge to great actresses" since the first performance of A Doll's House. Not an actor myself, I can only guess why.

After years of being the good wife and loving mother, Nora decides to leave her husband and children. Regardless of her reasons, the act is unimaginable in her milieu. Perhaps even until now, that a misstep in direction or performance might leave an audience perplexed.

What on the surface appears like the biggest display of destructive impulse can — in the hands of Ibsen (and capable actors, for that matter) — be an awakening shared by both character and viewer. The power of A Doll's House swims in this vortex of epiphany. We are on every step of Nora's journey. When she shuts the door to the Helmer household, we are with her: a human being ready to discover herself on the other side.

This deft guide to Nora's mind is absent from Lucas Hnath's A Doll's House Part 2. If in the original Nora is trapped inside her home, in the update she dances in the wider prison of the word 'woman'. And just like before, she has to dodge a huge scandal.

Part 2 also aims to duplicate an epiphany in a fashion similar to its predecessor, through a verbal battle between Nora and husband Trovald, resulting in a shocking change of heart. Here's where it gets tricky. Whether it's a shortcoming of the material or the production, I'm not so sure. Nora is about to get what she wants and for a while we think she may reconcile with Trovald. Then she snaps. Breaks into a tirade, leading to a somewhat physical fight between her and her husband.

What has just happened? From where I'm sitting, I see a cold, irrational woman.

Where the play works is in its contemplation of female independence. Ibsen's Nora realizes that she's not being but playing at being the perfect woman. Hnath's Nora questions tradition, oblivious of the new box she's building: the modern woman. There's also a nice thread about the self in flux, how it may thrive within the walls of matrimony. The kaleidoscopic views on marriage, family, devotion, and the like are a pleasure to listen to, and run seamlessly with our current conversations.

*

Ang Pag-Uusig
Tanghalang Pilipino

Ang Pag-Uusig, based on Arthur Miller's The Crucible. Tanghalang Pilipino; translator: Jerry Respeto; director: Dennis Marasigan. (CCP, 27 Oct 2018)

The beauty of a symbol is that it's built to last. It can speak to anyone willing to listen, at any given time. Ang Pag-Uusig is a symbolic play that works so well on a literal level that you're given solid grounds in order to jump into more complex, nebulous ideas like truth and justice.

Elsewhere I've said this and it bears repeating. The show made me angry — something I haven't felt before in theater. And rarely do straight plays affect me viscerally. My suspicion is that something is lost in non-translation. There is a disconnect between Filipino actors and English-language materials. Somehow my brain filters what is fed to me and meaning gets stuck on an intellectual plane.

Tanghalang Pilipino's translation lifts this filter, renders a sensibility unique to where I've lived all my life. Often I ignore translated texts, given my capacity to understand the source language, the original version. I've been missing out. Filipino reaches the brain and dives straight into the bones.

20 October 2018

Practice

Picked up a new piano piece to learn. Decided that Chilly Gonzales' Overnight was easy enough for rusty me — C Major, common time, few accidentals, lots of white space. Until I sat down and realized the first two counts I had to play was a triplet with grace notes.


Scanning the rest of the sheet music, I find bars with trickier rhythm (sextuplet in one beat! with not one but two grace notes!). Complexity makes it beautiful, beauty makes me want it more.

I've never recorded myself playing, but perhaps I should. It's akin to editing where, appreciating work through a different lens, errors and flashes of brilliance are revealed. Maybe I got something out of those piano lessons after all. Continuing after a mistake (and I committed many here), staying focused (that alarm in the background meant coffee's done brewing), keeping time and listening.


"A poem is never finished, only abandoned." Or is only ever a rehearsal for the next.

In 2011, when I took most of my formal music lessons, I wrote:
The thing about playing the piano is you only enjoy it when in the process of getting it. By the time you're almost there, merely polishing, you're tired of it, you want to move on to a new piece. Learning that last difficult piece makes you excited about learning a more challenging one. The bitter-sweet thing about all this is you never really get there.
And I still feel the same. And that's okay.

24 September 2018

The moral of this tale

Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale is a haphazard collection of words passing for a children's musical title. Repeat it several times, however, and you'll hear an irresistible lilt with undertones of intrigue. Much like the popular princess name inspired by her mother's favorite salad ingredient.

Beyond the unpalatable, frankly absurd Brothers Grimm original (Surrender your child as payment for stolen vegetables? Come on!) and the often-called sanitized Disney version, there's Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman's theatrical translation of Rapunzel. In this retelling, the tandem has done two things well: (1) Let everyone's hair down and (2) put the music back in musical.

Repertory Philippines stages Rapunzel! Rapunzel! A Very Hairy Fairy Tale by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. The show, directed by Joy Virata, runs until January 27, 2019 at OnStage, Greenbelt, Makati City.

Repertory Philippines stages the Vogt and Friedman musical for their annual Rep's Theater for Young Audiences. I am curious as to what kids might cite as lessons they've learned after watching the show, given that it doesn't overtly teach any. But maybe that's the point. As with all kinds of entertainment — whether high- or low-brow, children's or strictly for adults only, or somewhere in between — the most important question has to be, "Did you enjoy it?"

My personal answer is absolutely.

Vogt and Friedman take us back to form. Their revision includes a character-narrator who reviews the basics of a fairy tale as he narrates his own, and in doing so creates a self-awareness in the play. Long-ago fairy tales as we know are written in historical periods with values that are far from what we uphold now. Rapunzel! acknowledges this without becoming stiflingly logical. Quite the contrary.

The artistic staff includes set designer Oliver Roxas-Green, costume designer Raven Ong, lighting designer John Batalla, and choreographer PJ Rebullida.

The entire production — from set to costume design, to choreography, acting and storyline — is charged with a playfulness that draws you in. They've gone into whimsy overdrive. Here's a world where you can witness a gypsy woman's thoughts dance, and accept that there are gentlemen who prefer hair styling school over knight training and battle evil aunts on the side if need be.

Each character charms. Kudos, I trust, are due to Joy Virata's direction and the cast who have fully inhabited their roles and carried the weight of expectation — not to mention Raven Ong's impossible costumes — being the pros that they are.

Like a thread that holds everything in place (and audiences captive), Rapunzel!'s music has an organic quality that I've been missing in many musicals. The lyrics — witty and crafted with a keenness to poetic sound devices — push the story forward, while melodic lines and themes recur to prompt a sense of continuity. And it's simply catchy.

Cara Barredo and Carla Guevera-Laforteza play the roles of Rapunzel and Lady Zaza, respectively.

Granted, I'm no longer a child. But if this show has fired up my imagination, then perhaps someone younger would see something onstage that's even more magical.

20 September 2018

In desperate need of love

Romuald Louverjon is a name I'm learning to spell. I have to because I will speak of him for years.

My introduction to the vocalist was courtesy of Xavier de Rosnay and Gaspard AugĂ© (known together as Justice), who played The Paradise's In Love with You on radio. The title is the lyrics, which Romuald sings over and over with the sincerity of a teenage boy and the restraint of a gentleman.

Later on I heard the same voice again singing of love with the same sense of urgency. Again it was through the musical duo, but this time as part of a track in their newest album, "Woman". And this time, there's melancholy in the air. The song is called Love SOS. It is beautiful.

August 20th saw the anniversary of my first trip to Japan, more importantly, my first Justice concert. On the 24th, they released the live album of the tour. Now, I'm watching the video of my favorite song from the record.

In a couple of interviews, Xavier and Gaspard talk about their intention to be more powerful, albeit less aggressive as they go on. Listening to their discography, from their earliest works to the latest (especially the live recordings), you will hear that desire being realized. Meanwhile, the Love SOS music video reflects that potent, elegant simplicity of "Woman".

If not for Romuald, the song wouldn't be what it is. Wouldn't even exist. Imagine my delight in unwrapping this behind-the-scenes treat, where I discover that he is a compelling storyteller.

"While it can be read on a personal level, it also refers to a world in desperate need of love. In just a few hours ... I created what would become the vocals of Love SOS," shares the French singer. "The next day in [Justice's] studio I discovered the stressful siren with a heart-touching harmony. A mix that gives the track its double-meaning: the desperate and tender blood or the anger of a political engagement."




What strikes me most in the clip is how much he has influenced Xavier and Gaspard with so little. "Maybe he made, like, five or six songs in ten or fifteen years, but we all found them amazing," says the duo. In a way Justice is like that. When asked about my obsession with the band, I could only think of their three-studio-album output and how it has built a concentrated love in me. They've made, like, 30-something songs in ten years, almost — not gonna lie, I skip a couple of tracks sometimes — all of which I find amazing.

That's my dream. Carve a meaningful totem that can fit in someone's metaphorical pocket. Speaking of which, who else carry in theirs this one of Whitman's (which crosses my mind as I type these last paragraphs)?

Oh Me! Oh Life!
Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

19 September 2018

Bright pop

Pre-SNS, photos were nothing but record-keeping tools for me. Then came Instagram, which I (insta-)enjoyed the moment I signed up. And still do. Digital images continue to serve as pages of a diary. Yet like this public blog, however personal, they are kept with a degree of performance. Too many greys; looks dead.

The platform gets flak for various reasons you already know. I am particularly annoyed by the algorithm-based feed. But my response to the critique regarding FOMO and self-pity connected to the app is: follow strictly what you like. (Also, the universe is too big to miss-out; you are always missing out.)

To be fair, who would want to reminisce about tragedies? Of course we'll mostly post beautiful snaps capturing beautiful times. Bad news are exchanged over the phone or in person. And the moment you decide to be in front of the camera is already a moment dedicated to playing pretend.

I'm not being clever as well when I declare an appreciation for selfies — taking and staring at them. They are the ultimate status update. Your face paints a thousand words.

*

Friday night I found a fountain of youth: Dua Lipa Live in Manila. My friend, Mich, is a fan, and from experience, even if I only enjoy a couple of songs from an artist, I grab the chance to catch their concert because of their capacity to surprise me. So I volunteered to join her and boy what a good decision that was.

When social media does its job, it does it well. Or, okay, fine, it's how we use the medium. Though if not for said medium, another friend and Dua fan won't be able to hear about my upcoming adventure and recommend a song to listen to. Lost in your light. "She's amazing live," friend adds with heart eyes emoji.

I thought she meant grand productions. Because that's how it's been so far with pop stars. Quickly I learned that it was something else. I won't forget the energy in that arena. Maybe I was too far, yet not once did I suffer from the weight of starstruck admirers. Dua Lipa's entire performance was an unrelenting invitation to dance and sing along with her.

Don't watch me; have fun with me.

Outside, after the show, I overheard a young lady. "Seems like it was barely an hour-and-a-half long, but it was so tiring!" Agreed. We felt spent in the best possible way.

*

Needless to say, I have the highlight reel of that little party on my IG. While primarily for my viewing pleasure, please do take a gander.


Before, when I see myself in old photographs, I think, "I wasn't as bad as I thought." Now I am changed, and charmed by myself more and more each day.

29 August 2018

Cockroaches fucking

They always do that. When you arrive home after a long day, wanting nothing but rest. When you enter the shower, thrilled to step out a new, if fresher person. They are there. On the wall, or the floor. Driving you to insanity, proving there's no safety in the sanitary.

My palace pristine

I got out of bed last night to fetch a glass of water. As is my late night habit. I turned on the lights to the kitchenette, my eyes, still adjusting to the brightness, thought they saw a harmless house gecko. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it was a pair of small cockroaches fucking. They were motionless but I knew for sure that they were doing it.

My reflexes would have me reaching for the insecticide, but the motherfuckers were just above my jar of ground coffee and spice rack. Fuck them. Maybe I was in shock far longer than I imagined. You might think that I had forgotten about my thirst, but no, the scenario instead magnified the state of my parched throat, my sleep-deprived brain, my lonely frame standing in the periphery of a meaningless world. To bed I returned.

But awake I remained. The image was stuck in my head. Better that I don't call it fucking as it denotes a human behavior colored by pleasure.

This morning I was on a mission. Deep clean — whatever that meant — the cooking area. There's no moral here. Only an expression of my disgust for the Devil's handiwork. They don't deserve to live. And yet they were there, uninvited, at my favorite spot, procreating. I took so much offense. As I cleared the countertop, I caught a glimpse of a pest. Sprayed the bastard with poison and watched it die. Ensured its death. A few minutes later, another pest came to view, crawling drunkenly. To the trash can they both went.

Now I may not have an airtight proof that those were the same cockroaches that previously petrified me, but deep in my heart I felt like I won. I felt peace. I felt quenched.

23 August 2018

Comfort


Convenience stores are 3AM city stars. I'm inside one in this soft hour waiting for a ride home.

I'm not used to this anymore—

Like the buses. At sixteen all you want is to move away from home. And once the party's over, sometime between dark and dawn, you will find a way back. No fear. Not even drunken drivers or unlit streets can cause panic. You think it and you're there.

Like the all-nighters. Whether at work or play. For all my life I was an owl and hated myself. Now I rise a little earlier than the sun.

—As I'm getting used to other things.

Like saying I'm in bed all day doing nothing. And that I wouldn't budge for anything unworthy of my precious, ever-dwindling resources. This self-employed life. It's not a matter of when I'm free but when I've cash. Also how much I like you.

Like saying I only work 30 hours a week and that's all I need.

Because I can't be bothered with the unexciting anymore. Subtraction's negative sign doesn't sign negativity. Try harder convincing me that happiness is impossible without sacrifices.

02 August 2018

Loved then rejected

Trenton Lee Stewart. The Mysterious Benedict Society. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.
Of the four of them, Sticky was the only one to have a memory of family life. Was it worse for him, Reynie wondered, to have felt loved and then rejected? Or was it worse to have always felt alone? (p 255)
Probably in my freshman or sophomore year in college. We were walking along the campus, me and my classmate, who, if memory serves me right, was a beautiful, stylish Philosophy and Business major. She could be wearing pinstripe pants. She asked, "Let's say you wanted something so bad. And you were only given two choices: to either have it once then never again or never have it at all. Which would you choose?"

I thought the question was preposterous. Of course, obviously, I would rather have tasted and lost that which I desire than not to have tasted it at all. Besides, how would you know if something is truly good if you haven't had any experience of it?

Years later I see her wisdom.

06 July 2018

Notes on 'Binondo – A Tsinoy musical'

The title alone invites skepticism. It registers as an era-defining theatrical production; and while the ambition is evident, Binondo – A Tsinoy Musical hasn't gone past Fil-Chi stereotypes and rehashed romance plots. You've seen it all before, I promise.

We follow the fates of Filipina club singer Lily (Sheila Valderrama-Martinez) and Chinese scholar Ah Tiong (Arman Ferrer), from 1972 Manila Chinatown all the way to 1986 in a deathbed. Fourteen years are condensed into two and a half hours, within which they meet, fall in love and apart, and meet again. And jammed in between these pivotal moments are things that make for a prime time soap opera: quick and frequent set changes, long and sappy dialogues, a lost and found child, hospital reconciliation, and a cultural revolution to boot.

I like my telenovelas. Something about their grandness, their heedless exaggerations remind me that I am a true-blue sentimental woman. That it feels good to hold on to wild ideals. Binondo strays from the typical mawkish fare, however, in its failure to embrace its mawkishness. For a show where there is so much going on, it drags as if nothing is going on, proving that a talented cast plus an abundance of resources can't turn a drab material into gold.

At the opening night of Binondo – A Tsinoy Musical. The show, directed by Joel Lamangan, runs until this weekend at The Theatre at Solaire.

No fireworks or giant disco ball can atone for the lack of verve onstage. What's frustrating is that even Binondo is robbed of its character. Audience members who have little knowledge of the place would be none the wiser after curtain call. We're given a glimpse of its allure in the beginning, at the autumn festival, with logical Ah Tiong disbelieving the gods. Yet the opportunity to play off this intriguing tradition is squandered. Instead it becomes another box to be ticked in the list of cultural clichés to showcase.

Thank heavens we have Ferrer's powerful vocals to keep us awake. But he can only do so much in a musical that seems to forget the term's root word. The score has neither lines nor melodies that cling to memory.

Other bright spots in the show are Douglas Nierras's stunning choreography (some of which I can still vividly re-play in my mind) and the committed dancers who execute it. Sadly, the same can't be said about the lead actors, whose tentative movements add to the already discomforting experience of sitting through a poorly written spectacle.

Maybe Binondo has to rethink what it wants to say. You can sense the desire to make a statement, as if that's an end in itself. Too focused on the bigger picture, the musical neglects the intimate details. All I ask as an audience is one real emotion — a genuine laughter, a sudden courage to try the unknown. I'm not getting any in this production.

15 June 2018

A flicker, or the opposite of an afterthought

Last Sunday I returned the favor and accompanied a friend to a pop concert.

The rainy season had begun. When I woke up from my afternoon nap, it was wet and my notifications ticker was red. Nicole messaged me an hour earlier: "So completely random, but you want to watch Niall Horan's show tonight." That's a direct quote. Notice the punctuation?

Well, the ticket was for free and the venue was near. Only problem was the damnable rain.

But you've got to live a little, don't you.

*

Musicians tour to promote their work. They're the perfect examples of being out there. I enjoy One Direction as a group but feel lukewarm towards the individual members. When they went their separate ways, I'd naturally hear their popular singles and think they were all right.

But that's the magic of live shows. When Katy Perry came here, I was fortunate enough to see her. The result — I discovered Prism and the dance golds in the album (International Smile is my life theme). This time around, I'm introduced to Niall's beautiful folk ballads. Been playing him on loop since.

07 June 2018

Listening recommended

Once I briefly talked about Cabin Pressure and how I thought it was the best thing to happen on radio since— music, maybe. Other than a place to discover new songs and artists, the radio has served no other purpose for me. A few talk shows helped pass the time, but I can't remember being hooked on one.

Anyway, Cabin Pressure became famous for Benedict Cumberbatch, I believe. But those who got into the program because of him would arguably, unanimously agree that BC is neither the single nor the brightest star in the flying machine. All four leads and guest actors have made their characters memorable. And each story — whether as a standalone or an instalment in a cohesive series — is well-conceived and beautifully written.

Speaking of, the real superstar for me is its writer, John Finnemore. Since their last season aired, I followed and tremendously enjoyed his other creation, Souvenir Programme, a sketch show also broadcasted on BBC Radio 4 —the thrill of setting the alarm at a weird hour so as to catch it live, even though it'll be made available in their site for a period of time.

Now I haven't been diligent for a while. In 2015 he premiered another radio program, which is currently, thankfully enjoying a re-run, otherwise I would've remained oblivious about it.

It's called Double Acts and is called so for various reasons, some of which are obvious, some of which I'd maybe figure out in future re-listens. The series is composed of non-connected two-handers, featuring characters who'd reveal two sides of themselves in the span of 30 minutes.

Double Acts and Cabin Pressure writer, John Finnemore. (Photo via BBC Radio 4 website)

Finnemore has to be one of the best storytellers out there and I'm glad that he chooses this lovely medium. I think in an interview (pardon my lack of citation, you're welcome to correct me at your leisure), he said that he likes the radio because it's cheap. He doesn't need to pay for an aircraft or a studio to set a story inside a plane. As someone on the receiving end, I get to take pleasure in his work for free, and at my convenience.

Double Acts tugs at my heartstrings while making me grin. After finishing Season 1 I'd say that Hot Desk ranks high in the charm department. We find a security guard and a receptionist sharing the same office desk — and not. The former clocks in at 1900 and clocks out at 0700, while the latter takes the inverse shift.  Meaning they have but a few seconds twice a day to interact. They are flirting — and not. Chapters in their story are squeezed in between hi-s and byes, and tension builds and builds with every encounter, through different inflections of the same old greetings and the little stupid things the one tries to do for the other.

I thought Hot Desk would be my favorite episode but English for Pony-Lovers hits closer to home. Here a young Englishwoman named Lorna gives an older German lady named Elke an English lesson. What's special about their meeting is how attuned they are to each other — the way a teacher and a student are in a meaningful class — even though their motives aren't exactly as noble as those we may associate with learning.

Like Lorna, I also earn a living by teaching English to foreigners; and like Elke, I also study another language. Guess I've just made matters uninteresting by fussing about myself, so allow me to fuss about actor Beth Mullen instead: She is hilarious as a lost teenager losing her shit while pretending to be an adult. The woman had me in stitches in a climactic monologue, or tantrum of sorts.

In English for Pony-Lovers, Finnemore gets to practice, no showcase his knack for wordplay. Except the games aren't only for laughs; they're woven into the narrative. Among his shows, all thoughtful about plot and character, Double Acts might have the highest regard for affect.

As I mentioned two paragraphs ago, I've been studying another language. French to be precise. If you're disciplined, you'll be able to construct your first long sentence soon enough. Yet I'm still anticipating for myself that moment that Elke had — when she was able to triumphantly exclaim, "I made my first joke in English!" Because then I had gone beyond the practical use of language.

To make someone feel something through words is intoxicating. That's what Finnemore does so well and I wish I had his superpower.

04 June 2018

Moving on

"I love Flavia but I hate how I've gotten different editions of the titles each time!" says friend and former editor Chris. My own collection agrees.

The eighth instalment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series felt like a transitional volume more than anything. Neither did it have the structural ambition nor the urgency of the past books, especially when it came to discovering whodunnit. And once you had, the revelation wasn't as rewarding.

Rather, author Alan Bradley seemed to focus on shaking up Flavia's life. As if he wanted the young sleuth to graduate from the usual squabble with her sisters, and the narrative to move past the cold, claustrophobic de Luce household. (We can say the new direction started in Book 7th, when the setting went from Buckshaw to Miss Bodycote's Boarding School in Canada.)

But oh how Bradley toyed with my emotions in this one! I saw the big ending coming, but like any good narration, the effect was heart-breaking and unforgettable all the same. If it's an indication, Flavia will be in her teens, and she'll be visited by stranger feelings.

Some highlighted bits:
I have always found there to be a certain sadness about mirrors, since they double the space in a house which needs to be filled with love.

*

What was he really like?

A walking mirror: a piece of cold glass that reflects all that it sees without ever giving of itself.

07 May 2018

Days left

I had the unfortunate chance of sitting through a career goal seminar of sorts for Literature Majors sometime in March. For a panel composed of professionals who had been exposed to great literary works during their undergrad years, you would expect to hear something original from them. Instead they maintained the shaky connection between humaneness and the humanities. As if one needs to earn a Liberal Arts degree to unlock the virtue of empathy. As if becoming an artist means becoming a paragon of goodness.

Now I've just set myself up to say something original. This isn't, but here it goes. What I've learned from studying Literature is death. Christmas season is such a wonderful reminder that we are all fellow passengers to the grave. The power of storytelling is the power to postpone a beheading for a thousand and one nights. Chronicle of a death foretold. Death of a salesman. The death of Ivan Ilyich. As I lay dying. God is dead. The author is dead. Oedipus: complex and dead. Juliet is pseudo-dead, but will die, and so will her beloved Romeo, before the story ends. Richard Cory puts a bullet in his head. We jazz June. We die soon.

Even my most vivid memory of poet and past professor, Marjorie Evasco is her asking us in class to put Death on our shoulder. Like a bird perched on its home.

Maybe my world-class equanimity has been shaped by those poetry, fiction, and theory classes. There are two ways to live life: As though nothing is a disaster, and as though everything is.

The art of losing isn't hard to master. Lose life every day.

*

Last Friday I got a missed call followed by a direct message from two friends. Our professor for god knows how many terms, Cirilo Bautista was at the Heart Center. "It's critical. He maybe has two days na lang." I neither felt panic nor — to be completely honest — sadness. I knew it was coming, not in that general sense that we'll all die someday, but that someone already has a foot across the line. A knowledge and feeling that I realize I have documented here as well:
In all honesty, when my classmates-turned-friends mentioned that there's a lunch invitation by Doc Bau, I was eager to join because I thought time was running out for him. 'The neighborhood knows me, and why wouldn't they, the ambulance always comes for me,' he said.

The same goes for me. After I publish this I might be hit by lightning or a speeding bus.
He has two days left. The math was rather accurate. On May 6, Sunday, Dr Bautista was reported dead.

*

Cirilo Bautista was the first editor to ever publish my poetry. As I recall this, I must add that he also published works from fellow creative writing students and other writers whose creative output failed to excite me. But that didn't diminish my joy when I heard the news. He texted me personally and I jumped up and down and might have let out a big squee.

He edited three words. And me reading how he had read my work was magic. I share the nostalgia with his former students, the jokes and the anecdotes. But I would say that I deeply connected with him in that early attempt at poetry. And good luck with time trying to erase that from my memory.

Naturally I revisited the said poem. You won't see this coming — it's about evanescence. I remember being so proud of these lines: The falling of the lone leaf / in a gyre is Grief's calligraphy / on air.

No grief today. Just the most comforting thought that words are messy and true happiness is a silence. That silence — that peace — is death.

Class picture. 2004, I think.

23 April 2018

Kindness

I'd been re-reading Don Paterson in the past weeks for a paper I was writing. I love him so much. He and Alice Fulton are my favorite living poets — edit: the only living poets I whole-heartedly admire. The poem below, the first time I read it, I literally gasped. It's been a long while since I've had that reaction to a text. I wish we could all know this kindness he speaks of.
Correctives

The shudder in my son's left hand
he cures with one touch from his right,
two fingertips laid feather-light
to still his pen. He understands

the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand's kindness to the other.

Source: Paterson, Don. Selected Poems (Kindle Locations 1603-1608). Faber & Faber. Kindle Edition.

13 April 2018

Notes on 'Arsenic and old lace' and the insane

Contemporary fictionists will tell you that there are no heroes and villains, only men and women doing what they think is right (subconsciously motivated by a traumatic experience during their formative years, which they, now in their supposedly mature, conscious state, will re-enact and manoeuvre into their desired end — your friendly psychoanalyst might add).

Take elderly sisters Abby and Martha Brewster, who live together with their mentally challenged nephew, Teddy in a huge Brooklyn house. Inspiration hit them when not long ago, a Mr Midgely knocked on their door, asking for a place to stay. The man — old and without a family to call his own — found a refuge and incidentally his final resting place in the Brewster household, where he died of a heart attack. Teddy (convinced that he is President Teddy Roosevelt) concluded that Mr Midgely fell victim to Yellow Fever and immediately dug a grave for him in the lot.

Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Joy Virata and Jay Valencia-Glorioso, respectively.

"He sat dead in that chair looking so peaceful... [Martha and I] made up our minds then and there that if we could help other lonely men to that same peace — we would!" recalls Abby wistfully. With too many empty rooms and a cellar to boot, not to mention some skills in chemistry, Abby and Martha took it upon themselves to take these poor men out of their misery by giving them lodging, poison, and a burial complete with prayer services.

All this, of course, comes as a shock to their other nephew, Mortimer, who discovers a cadaver by the window seat the day he visits his aunts: "You can't do things like that... it's not only against the law. It's wrong!" he pleads, enraged and flustered. "Mortimer, we don't try to stop you from doing things you like to do. I don't see why you should interfere with us," Abby snaps back.

*

Repertory Philippines calls Arsenic and old lace by Joseph Kesselring a "legacy play", having been produced thrice in the theater company’s lifetime. The latest run (happening until the 29th at Onstage, Makati) is directed by Jamie Wilson and features Joy Virata (Abby Brewster), Jay Valencia-Glorioso (Martha Brewster) Nelsito Gomez (Mortimer Brewster), Jeremy Domingo (Teddy Brewster), and Apollo Abraham (Jonathan Brewster).

It's easy to see its charm. The comedy has an un-clever quality about it. In contrast to modern shows, where the writing is too aware of its ingenuity, winking at the audience every chance it gets, Arsenic unfolds slowly to develop the plot as it extends a comic situation, thus allowing the audience to marinate in absurdity.

Gomez is solid as Mortimer, who is at the center of the mayhem. Within a night, he proposes to his girlfriend, calls off the engagement, protects his aunts from being caught by authorities, and fights for his life, threatened to be taken away by his criminal brother, Jonathan (played with great command by Abraham).

Repertory Philippines re-stages Arsenic and old lace by Joseph Kesselring.

On the flip-side, spectators used to biting humor, quick-fire exchanges, and a sinister, cynical tone might find the play wanting. But it's not what it lacks story-wise that Rep's current staging of Arsenic suffers from. It's the disconnect among actors, from their roles and from each other. They can't quite bring us fully into their make-believe world. For a fairly large cast, they manage to make the stage feel cold.

The playwright's well-orchestrated narrative (in three acts) registers as flat because of the tentative acting and because the direction is glad to settle with "cute and fun". Mortimer's questionable dedication to his family after learning he's not a Brewster after all, for example, has been lost in the interpretation.

"Insanity runs in the family. It practically gallops," he tells his fiancĂ©, Elaine, afraid that maybe it's not yet time to get married. But who's really insane — the ones who terminate another's pain, the one who's born out-of-touch with reality, the one who does bad and knows it, or the one who's happy to disown the people who have raised and loved him whenever it's convenient?

21 March 2018

Two books

Alison Hawthorne Deming. Zoologies. Minnesota: Milkweed Editions, 2014.

I received two books for my birthday (yay!): Zoologies by Alison Hawthorne Deming (above) and For the tempus-fugivites by Christopher Norris (below). The former was given to me by a vegan friend, so I couldn't help but ask him, "Are you trying to convert me?" The latter was given to me by my professor, and I was kind of flattered when he said it was something he could only give to a few people, since theory is hardly accessible, more so when argued in verse.

Dove right away into Norris's world of verse-essays. He offered a lucid introduction to his project and also reminded me that poetry is not just lyric poetry.

Christopher Norris. For the tempus-fugitives. Manila: De La Salle University Publishing House, 2017.

Some underlined bits from the preface:
As hardly needs saying there has to be a constant interplay or tension between meter and natural speech-rhythms such that the two never perfectly coincide but set up an asynchronous counterpoint that again helps to stimulate ear and mind. (p viii)

*
[Norris paraphrasing Giorgio Agamben] Poetry just is, or is most essentially, language of the kind where syntax and meter fail to coincide. (p ix)

*

[This time referencing to William Empson] The language of poetry is continuous with — and not in some prescriptive way cut off from — the language of our various non-poetic speech-acts and thought-processes. (p xvi)
At the mental gymnasium.

14 March 2018

Woman Worldwide indeed

Happy birthday still to me! Collected my 'Woman' sand t-shirt today.

I was so ready to order this shirt the moment I found it on Club 75 last year and to my great dismay, the online store wouldn't ship to the Philippines (wrote them a heartfelt letter questioning this unfortunateness).

See, I'm charmed by the understated design, the neutral color and the heavy word printed across the chest. It doesn't scream fangirl; instead it can be construed as a feminist performative — kidding, we're not going there. Thank heavens Justice has decided to sell their merch in their own website, but the better news is that they realize that they have fans even this side of the world.

Am really happy with the purchase and with Sandbag UK, the merchandise company handling the band's e-commerce campaign. They deliver fast and respond to queries with a personal touch. Five stars, two thumbs up.

A post shared by JUSTICE (@etjusticepourtous) on

Although, also — I was a little sad and a little relieved that the exclusive Justice x Levi's limited edition trucker jacket had sold out 24 hours since its release. Sad because I wanted it so bad, relieved because the universe helped me save money. But of course, when they re-stock, and they said they will, I have a feeling that I'd hit 'check out' in no time.

11 March 2018

Heart's desire


My 35th birthday falls on a Saturday falls on a school day. I didn't want to simply attend my classes then go home — as much as I wanted to sleep after cramming an essay — so I invited Mich and Alts to dinner right after.

By some strange chance, or simply my skills in finding connections where there should be none, we briefly talked about Lacan's "Desire is the the desire of the Other" in Theory class. Now that I think about it, the discussion was born out of a question I raised. A proper signpost for what was about to happen:

On the car ride going to the restaurant, Althea asked me what my birthday wish was. The answer was delayed until we had dessert, where the ladies brought me a chocolate cake with a candle that doesn't blow out.

I know what I want, but when you're an adult, a wish is a promise. A declaration of desire is a pledge. I wish for cash; I must put in some work. I wish for love; I must forgive. I must forego pride. I must wake up early and finish what I started.


The answer is still delayed.

14 February 2018

Staging the skies

Lauren Gunderson is a rather demanding playwright. To put it another way, her imagination demands an equally creative team of artists to translate her decades-spanning, locations-shifting story — that centers on astronomer, Henrietta Leavitt — from the page onto the stage.

Silent sky moves between 1900 to 1920, and back and forth the Harvard Observatory, Wisconsin, Cambridge, an ocean liner on the Atlantic, and a star field. Bridging the gaps in time and space are Gunderson's cinematic directions: "Margaret fades away;" "Peter and the Harvard Observatory are swept away from her as the Leavitt home takes its place;" "The room falls away as they run off;" "Time is passing as the sky fills up in swatches." A curious heroine and compelling script aside, how the set will transition from scene to scene is something to look forward to in any staging of this drama.

Joy Virata takes on the mantle of re-building Silent sky's dream-like world as she directs Repertory Philippines' production of the play. The show, which runs from March 2 to 25 at Onstage, Greenbelt, features Cathy Azanza-Dy as Henrietta Leavitt, with Caisa Borromeo, Naths Everett, Shiela Francisco, and Topper Fabregas completing the small cast.

Joy Virata (middle) directs Repertory Philippines' Silent sky by Lauren Gunderson. In photo with her are (from left) Naths Everett, Cathy Azanza, Shiela Francisco, and Caisa Borromeo.

"It's about a woman doing [what she's passionate about] despite the fact that no one's giving her a chance. When I read it, [I liked the] cleverness of the lines. And my mind could already see the way it could be staged to make it interesting," shares Virata. "I though it was artistically beautiful."

Like Leavitt, Virata has to stretch herself to bring the vision to fruition. "You're working 'without a set,'" she explains. "It is a challenge to figure out how to do it so that the audience understands what's going on."

Set designer Joey Mendoza further pushes the artistic limits, according to her: "I had the script early last year. I sent it to Joey and asked him if he would be interested in doing it. He loved it so much that he did the design [for Silent sky] even before he did Hair's (Rep's 2017 year-ender). He doesn't want anything moved out or in." As such, the stage is almost bare, while transitions will rely heavily on lighting and sound.

"Of course the lights will be very important. We have a very good light designer — John Batalla. I asked him about the possibilities and he was also excited. And Jethro Joaquin is doing the music, and it will signify the change of time," she continues. "When it comes to casting, you can tell that I really need good actors — experienced actors for this play. And as you can tell, I have them."

At the open rehearsals of Rep's Silent sky. Topper Fabregas plays the lone male character in the female-dominated drama.

Leavitt is credited for discovering a means to measure the distance between the stars, and consequently to measure the universe. Without her, we would know of no other galaxies than our own. It's going to be quite a journey — a slice of Leavitt's life, filtered through Gunderson's Silent sky, interpreted by Virata and Rep, and received by hopefully an equally thoughtful audience.

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