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.

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