Saturday, January 14, 2017

Or the night we bathed in laser lights

David Guetta takes a pause from his awe-inspiring, albeit mild seizure-inducing, concert to express his love for sports and music: “These are two of my favorite things because they bring people together,” says the French DJ, whose This one’s for you is the official UEFA Euro 2016 theme.

He’s not exactly right, though. Sports spark bitterness, if not among competitors, among loyal spectators from opposing sides; and music, especially pop music, is rife with rivalries, with fans ready to bite each other’s head off as they prove who’s better than whom, why this or that genre should cease to exist, and which era is superior of them all.

But we know what he means. And that kind of over-thinking and negativity displayed above disappears once you hit the dance floor and lose yourself among the crowd and to whatever song the DJ dishes out.

“I’m happy that we get to start the year together,” Guetta tells the ravers at the Araneta Coliseum last night. He’s quite chatty for a DJ, and you can hear him smiling. In one of his most engaging numbers, he asks that all the lights are turned off. “If you like it dark and sexy like me, make some noise!” he pleads in his unsexy English. But never mind his accent; he’s playing a rhythmic patten that makes the shy gyrate. This stretch of musical foreplay culminates in a drop that’s matched by a crazy spectacle of lights.

For someone who welcomed 2017 locked at home, afraid of firecrackers and stray bullets, Guetta’s Unity Tour in Manila is a belated New Year’s celebration. His remixes and light-works are the noise and luminance I dig.

It is also GIST’s first major event in the calendar. Coming from a long holiday break, and a longer break from covering concerts, I fear that I may have forgotten how to do this. Seeing the pile of huge cases labeled ‘LASER’ as we go inside, however, is enough to excite me. The walk along the dim pathway is a walk towards home.

We’re back to the grind.



It’s naive to think that having a good start means having a good run. But that’s what euphoria does — it gives you some positive energy to carry on, and an easy way to reach that state is through music. So long as artists like Guetta keep visiting, providing reprieve from the daily stress and the saddest state of affairs, then we should be fine.

As chart-toppers Bad, Titanium, and Without you blast in the big dome, I get out of the zone and realize, “This is David world’s-highest-paid-DJ Guetta spinning for us. How lucky are we!” Welcome indeed, 2017. And thank you, David Guetta for being this year’s superb opening act.

—Originally published on GIST

Monday, January 9, 2017

(National) Artist and muse

1.

Reunion—that which excites and agitates me.

Things have changed since we last saw each other that there are stuff I (a) feel uneasy and (b) can't wait to share.

Mich, Alts, Jen, Allan, Me

2.

It had probably been a decade since I went to this house, but as soon as I saw its facade, all the memories, its finer details, came back.

I thought he wouldn't remember me, but I learned he did when he called my name.

And when the pleasantries were over, we sat down at the table, had lunch, warmed up, eased our way to our usual conversations.

Is this the same cat from some ten years ago?

3.

I became Dr Cirilo Bautista's student during his mellowed-down phase. Mellow didn't mean kind, however. He was blunt and all the same had no patience for stupidity.

What I remember most about his classes are the poems on newsprint, and among those poets, Philip Larkin stayed with me until I grew up: 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.'

And, of course, those jokes that were too corny they're funny.

At his age now, he could still crack them. We asked for a peep at his National Artist medal. He said, sure, for a fee.

Well.

4.

All his books are dedicated to Rose.

Once we met her, we never stopped talking about her. The girls love her. 'Find a partner-slash-archivist'—we say, referring to Rose's role in Cirilo's life.

But to me, she'll always be the muse.

I remember another Cirilo joke, no another bluntness. In one class he was recalling how he'd write love poetry for money. His clients: friends who wanted to woo the ladies. He said he'd ask for a photo of their beloved for reference, and added that it was so much easier if the girl was beautiful—'You'll just write what you see', but a quite burden if the girl was ugly.

(National) Artist and muse

5.

It's always a field trip when our group get together. And in the spirit of field trips, we had Doc Bau's new library at home to explore.

Inside the library

6.

Already you write like a master: with genius in language and genius of imagination. No poet in contemporary America or Britain has your magnitude.

Therefore, to salute you is my honor.

—Jose Garcia Villa to Cirilo Bautista

Villa and a very young Bautista

7.

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. So any chance of another meeting with those who have energized me so, I'm there.

(National) Artist and (maybe someone's) muse

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Constant

Whenever someone asks where my cubicle is, I always say, 'Iyong walang dekorasyon, iyong walang personality'.

I never mark my territory when it comes to the office—and I've worked in several offices. It's all temporary. My first job was short-lived: one, two months? In my first sort of stable job, I've transferred departments and climbed ranks, and there I started to learn to not be too attached to the desk.

This time, leaving is easier. Because it feels like an actual chapter from a book: full. I've had fun, learned a lot, and given much of myself. And because this leaving—unlike the previous ones—is not an escape but a natural ending.

This is not to say I don't believe in any form of long-term commitment (this blog is one proof that I do).

My current home, I'm very protective of. I groom it as I would myself. By that I mean I obsessively declutter. My favorite practice is throwing away things. In the corner of my mind, however, I know that this isn't my last mortal resting place. (So many plans.) But I think I'll stay here for quite a while.

The constants? Why art and friends, of course—and myself (sanity). I won't know how to behave without books, without fiction and poetry. I'm glad that I am capable of building and maintaining friendships. I wish I won't go insane or die anytime soon because I'm really loving me and my life.

If we've been friends for years, congratulations to us. We've surely changed but that we manage to still respect, admire and seek each other's company is something to celebrate. Happy new year to you!

If we've become friends in 2016, congratulations to us, but more precisely to me. I rarely connect with someone, so I must've been lucky that we've crossed paths. Happy new year to you!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Humor lost in musical adaption

Bring theater to the crowd and not the other way around. That was the goal of 9 Works Theatrical and Globe when they presented Green Day’s American Idiot at the Globe Iconic Store in June. The punk rock band’s hits indeed captured the attention of passers-by, while the unroofed amphitheater allowed them a peep at the show. This December, the two companies are teaming up again to bring A Christmas Carol to everyone, non-ticket holders included.

The two musicals are appealing in very distinct ways. The former has pop songs going for it. However thin its plot may be, American Idiot can hold an audience with its music alone. A Christmas Carol, on the other hand, is based on one of the most enduring change-of-heart tales by Charles Dickens.

We’re familiar with the story: Ebenezer Scrooge, an old-aged miserly man, who abhors Christmas — and somehow life as it is — is visited by three spirits, each showing him his past, present, and future. Witnessing the errors of his ways and their consequences, Scrooge wakes on Christmas morning, happy and ready to redeem himself.

That sounded simple, even quite cheesy. But the undeniable charm of the Dickens’ novella lies in its narrator’s wry and disarming voice. Listen to him describe how dead Marley (Scrooge’s business partner) is:
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
And Scrooge’s reaction upon meeting Marley’s ghost:
His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.
Without an immediate use for narrators, it’s always interesting to see how A Christmas Carol is told in other medium. Film has visual flexibility, and the camera can zoom in on a character to show their hidden emotions. For a stage musical, one may expect clever use of props, detailed costume and make-up and, of course, a memorable score.

What is gained in 9 Works Theatrical’s production of Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens, and Mike Ockrent’s musical adaptation of A Christmas Carol is intimacy. Globe Iconic Store is relatively small, and the stage is extended in the middle, with additional smaller stages in the corners. The audience, only a couple of feet away from the action, are privy to Scrooge’s nightmares — as if they’re dreaming them with him. They are so close to the actors that they’d be able to see a loose thread if there were any. From our vantage point, the designers and make-up artists have done an impeccable job.


Marley’s entrance, where he’s later joined by an ensemble of ghosts, is particularly spooky and awe-inspiring; and it sets the tone of the show: there will be overzealous singing, dancing, and running around the amphitheater from a huge cast. Incidentally, this brand of energy is both the strength and weakness of the performance.

The production numbers are dramatic, yet they fail to bring out the drama within Scrooge. Despite its two-hour run (excluding a 15-minute intermission), the musical feels frantic and clipped that the touching moments tend to drown in the spectacle. It doesn’t help that the noises within (drone of industrial fans, whiz of fog machines) and outside the venue compete with the performers exchanging dialogues.

Scrooge’s transformation from “Bah! Humbug!” to “Hallo!” (which the audience already anticipates) is hardly felt. Other than the reason stated above, the problem is due to a dearth of humor. That ingredient that makes Ebenezer Scrooge, Ebenezer Scrooge and not just another grumpy old man; that makes a very unlikeable character, liked; and that makes what could’ve been a corny and didactic resolution, heart-warming is sorely missing onstage.

In the book’s preface, Dickens wrote that he has endeavored to “raise the Ghost of an Idea” and hopes that it haunts his readers’ houses pleasantly. Safe to say that he got his wish. Since its publication in 1843, A Christmas Carol has lived on that we’re still talking about and reinterpreting it. The musical adaptation will surely arouse curiosity and may send shivers of joy to any spectator, though it’s doubtful that it’ll leave a lasting impression.

—Originally published on GIST

Friday, December 9, 2016

Too sweet

1.

There’s a scene in Annie where the orphan, Annie, billionaire Oliver Warbucks, and President Franklin Roosevelt and his cabinet sing Tomorrow at the White House; after which the powerful figures are revived with hope — something sorely missing before the young girl enters the room.

It’s difficult to be sold on that particular scene. Not because such serious characters have burst into song (hey, it’s a musical); but because they’ve gleefully burst into song, suddenly convinced that everything will be fine as the sun comes out tomorrow.

2.
Annie (with book by Thomas Meehan, music by Charles Strouse, and lyrics by Martin Charnin) is set in The Great Depression and revolves around a child’s unwavering search for her parents. One Christmas season, Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks scouts for an orphan to spend the holidays with, and Annie — who has been living in an orphanage under the supervision of the always-shouting drunkard Miss Hannigan — is chosen by the billionaire’s secretary, Grace Farrell. The two have been what each other needed: a parental figure for Annie, and a source of familial affection for the hard-working and hardened Warbucks.

The latter does everything to help the former, including offering a hefty sum of money to the couple who can prove that they are the parents of the child. As expected, impostors come in droves, and a pair that almost succeed in fooling everyone are Lily St. Regis and Rooster Hannigan, who is the brother of Miss Hannigan. The trio connive to pull off the ruse and agree to split the reward three-way.

With the aid of the FBI and President Roosevelt, no less, Daddy Warbucks and Annie learn that her real parents have died a long time ago. After the Hannigan siblings and St. Regis are caught, Daddy Warbucks proceeds to adopt Annie and celebrates Christmas with her.

3.

The musical is currently staged by Full House Theater Company and Resorts World Manila under the direction of Michael Stuart Williams. Isabeli Araneta-Elizalde and Krystal Brimmer alternate for the role of Annie, and joining them are Michael De Mesa as Daddy Warbucks and Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo as Miss Hannigan.


The cast play their roles with gusto — which can only do so much to humanize the underdeveloped characters, who sometimes make un-believable decisions. It’s puzzling, for example, how the busy and stressed out Warbucks (he snubs phone calls from heads of state) warms up to Annie the instant they meet. Or why Farrell is so taken by the little girl.

The production could’ve either gone melodramatic or comical in tone but instead it sits comfortably in the middle, that an emotion is barely stirred when a scene seems to call for it. A reason that Warbucks’ big realization about love trumping social influence and material possession isn’t as moving as it ought to be.

4.
One of the more poignant, emotionally charged moments in the musical is courtesy of Lauchengco-Yulo. Her solo number, Little Girls reveals Miss Hannigan’s heart, and in the end you root for her: “I’m an ordinary woman / with feelings / I’d like a man to nibble on my ear / But I’ll admit, no man has bit / so how come I’m the mother of the year?”

Lauchengco-Yulo makes an adorable Miss Hannigan — perhaps too adorable for the story’s own good. She’s not the strict, cruel antagonist some may expect her to be. It even appears like the children run circles around her. She earns your sympathy that when she’s implicated in fraud, you’ll wish they won’t put her in jail.

5.

Annie is like a fairy that sprinkles magic dust of optimism wherever she goes. When her parents’ death is confirmed, she confesses, “I’ve always known they’re gone,” explaining that if they’re indeed alive and care about her, they’d be looking for her, too. She’s not completely naive, after all; but her disposition — and the entire show, for that matter — is too optimistic to be true.

The candy-coated message of hope may not be palatable, but the tale’s revival is rather timely. The year has witnessed extremely divisive socio-political events around the globe, and Annie serves as a reminder that at least we still have the luxury of creating something to look forward to — and that a two-hour escape at the theater doesn’t hurt.

—Originally published on GIST

Tuesday, November 29, 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 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 using the imagination wisely. 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

Sunday, November 27, 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.)