Monday, March 21, 2016

Strip, tease

When the day is long and the night is mine alone, I fantasize about performing a striptease for a guy I fancy. He can be a friend’s friend, an almost lover, or the boy on TV. I dream up yellow lights and faint music. I picture awe, wonder and hunger in his face. I also imagine a different self: me but not quite like me — someone limber, leaner, with flawless, poreless skin.

Any person who claims to have zero body image problems is lying. Youth is no guarantee of perfection and adulthood does not come with a kinder attitude towards oneself. Self-help articles, another’s affirmation, and the acceptance of people who matter can take away this doubt (and to an extreme, disgust) we harbor against our bodies. And sometimes watching others move so comfortably in their skin, doing what you wouldn’t expect them to, allows you to look at yourself with more loving eyes. Such is the case with burlesque.

Last February, DopeLoco brought Manila its first neo burlesque show, Eyes Wide Shut. For those who haven’t seen burlesque in their lives or have no idea what it is, producer Shaun Hines assures us that Eyes Wide Shut is the real deal — at least a version of it: “Burlesque comes in different forms as far as the way that the story is told. Sometimes it’s very comedic, sometimes it’s satirical, sometimes it’s more theatrical,” he says. It’s nothing like the “burles” we grew up with (nudity for nudity’s sake). Shaun further explains, “Burlesque is artful striptease that’s done for a woman to take control of her own sexuality, take pride in her body and who she is, put her talent to great use, and to tell a story.”

We hear this all the time. Owning who you are — warts, cellulites, jiggly arms and all. But oftentimes they’re said by people we don’t recognize: those whose faces grace the covers of magazines and all we could think of is, “Easy for you to say.” In Eyes Wide Shut, the men and women don’t say but rather dance the message. Truth is, the most shocking part of the show for me was when women whom we’d peg as either “too thin,” “too heavy,” or “too ordinary-looking” to do anything remotely sexy come out as the most seductive individuals in the room, unmasking their faces and uncovering themselves in front of strangers. As Shaun says, they’re in control of their bodies — and, I must add, the audience.

A warning to those awaiting nudity: It’s not that kind of show. “It’s really just meant to be a tasteful and artful exploration of sexuality in storytelling,” says Shaun. The performers strip off their garments, one piece at a time, and just when you think (or hope) that the performance will culminate with the dancers removing every last item of their clothing, they instead offer a complex dance routine, a surprise trick, or a twist in the story.

What Eyes Wide Shut taught me is that burlesque is one event where the body can be at its most eloquent and dignified. It’s a pleasure to watch a dance, to follow a story, to witness drama, and to be teased. Burlesque is a fusion of all these, the body at its center.

“I feel like this city is ready for it despite popular belief,” shares Shaun, referring to the show’s reception on its first night. “We had an amazing audience here for a first-time burlesque show.” The third and final Eyes Wide Shut performance will be on April 2 at The Gallery at A Space, Makati City (tickets here). If you’re interested but are not quite sure on how to behave during the performance, Shaun has a few reminders:

1) The main thing is to have respect. Again this isn’t a strip club.

2) It’s very much okay to throw money. A lot of these peformers, they don’t make a lot of money and they spend a lot on wardrobe. It is encouraged for the audience to tip.

3) You’re supposed to cheer, to howl, to encourage them. But always in a respectful manner.

4) And the number one rule is to not touch them. It’s not that type of place. It’s not that type of event.

Shaun envisions a beginning of a community. “Manila Burlesque is something that the performers really want for other people to get involved in one way or another,” he shares, adding that Burlesque 101 workshops are in the works. To know more about them, visit facebook.com/ManilaBurlesque. “We’ll start doing announcements there and anyone that’s interested, please reach out and just keep in mind that this is about owning who you are, being comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have to be a model.”

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A striptease playlist:



—Originally published on GIST

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The sound, the vision, The 1975

From black-and-white to blue neon and pink
When artists discuss their creative process, the poets their poetics, you have to restrain yourself from listening if only to avoid disappointment; because more often than not, the theory ends up more elegant than the practice. A reason that when The 1975 announced the release date of “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” months ago and interviews with the band about it surfaced here and there, I felt an equal amount of thrill and fear: Finally! But. Will the build-up — which began with a dramatic sequence of social media posts suggesting a breakup, followed by a stream of song titles and lyrics teasers alongside hints of a new color palette — be more beautiful than the album itself?

The Manchester-based fourpiece composed of Matty Healy (vocals, guitar), George Daniel (drums), Adam Hann (guitar), and Ross MacDonald (bass) has delivered something attractive in their self-titled debut album, “The 1975”: music that’s “very now” in a sense that it consciously defies definition (either that or I don’t have the vocabulary for it yet). For their sophomore outing, Healy shares that the record is “a distillation” of everything they’ve done before. And again it will have no regard for any arc or cohesiveness whatsoever. “My generation consumes music in this completely non-linear way and we reflect that, we create how we consume,” he adds. “Why create one type of music when nobody consumes one type of music?” The band is also going for a live experience unlike anything they’ve done before, with sets and visuals that pass for art installations. Will the band’s vision come to fruition?

Digression: The way I see it, we’re at a point where we do not just buy (pay money for and be convinced of) a record, but everything that’s attached to it: the music video, the artist’s backstory (a.k.a. personal life), the live performances, even the fandom and their conversations. Each of these elements influence each other as well as our appreciation of them. Sometimes I find myself enjoying a song I wouldn’t listen to on the radio when I hear it in a concert, what with a grand stage production, not to mention the crowd’s contagious energy. What I’m saying is, while they make for great entertainment, at the end of the day, I’ll still pay for music that I can be stranded on an island with.

When you look at The 1975 fans — so-called screaming teeny boppers indistinguishable from One Direction supporters — you’d think you’re in the wrong crowd, but that’s to insult the 15-year-olds out there and your once 15-year-old self, who knew exactly what tasteful music was. When you look at the band, they are rockstars in form — magnetic frontman, mysterious guitarist, leather jackets, nonchalance. They’ve got all the trappings of celebrity and artistic air but the good news is if you take all these away, lock yourself in a room and turn the lights off, they have the sound to keep your attention.

As previously expressed, songs in “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it” are diverse. One moment you expect to hear gospel (The Ballad of Me and My Brain), the next moment you’re arrested by a trap-infused tune (Loving Someone), and in another moment it’s like a tragic romance film score is playing (Please Be Naked). Then there are the familiar The 1975 melodic sing-alongs (She’s American — reminiscent of Settle Down and This Must Be My Dream — a personal favorite).

Yet its strength is not in its diversity, but rather in its technical merits. As in the first album and past EPs, we have a kaleidoscope of songs that are simply well-written and arranged that you can play them on repeat and as a bonus fit into various playlists (from “sexy time” and “heartbreak” to “party” and “workout”).

If The 1975 ever felt pressure working on the “difficult second album,” I shared a degree of it. As a fan I wanted the band to succeed and evade a sophomore slump. So far I’m a satisfied customer looking forward to get out of my room and watch them perform with the entire fandom. For now it’s back to listening to the 17-track album and reading up the reviews and more interviews. You’ve got to love musicians who can and willingly articulate their thought process. There are only a few of them.

—Originally published on GIST.PH

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Almost, Maine and the business of subverting cliches

Judging by the title and poster — a cartoony rendition of a snowbound world with nothing but an empty bench, a few pine trees, and the words “almost” and “maine,” separated by a comma, written in child’s cursive (the i dotted with a heart) — Repertory Philippines’ Almost, Maine seems like a story that disguises depth with light-hearted humor. It almost is.

A man and a woman sit side by side on the familiar bench and discuss distance. Girl thinks they are, at that moment, closest to each other, while guy argues the exact opposite. Nothing else is presented to the audience that merits any further reading of the situation. It is as literal as it can get. And we’re interested.

What follows are eight vignettes about people in and out of love in the town of Almost, Maine. As a Valentine offering, Repertory Philippines brings the John Cariani play to Manila with actors Reb Atadero, Natalie Everett, Caisa Borromeo and Jamie Wilson taking on multiple roles under the direction of Bart Guingona (The Normal Heart).

“This is the first time I’m channeling my rom-com side,” says Guingona. “I’ve been known to do really complex, dark stuff, so when I read it, I went, ‘Whoa!’” Which is not to say that Almost, Maine is lacking in complexity and darkness — or perhaps Guingona together with the actors and creative team have already drawn out the play’s more thought-provoking facets.

This Hurts, for example, is a poignant exploration of love and pain through a handicapped man and his neighbor (though I’m curious about how you will like its ending). While Where it Went, where we learn how lovers drift apart, provides a cathartic shock of recognition with its sheer realism and relatability. “I decided that the play would be about loneliness and people overcoming it,” the director adds.



The entire narrative hinges on clichés and English idioms: a broken heart, which pieces jangle inside a paper bag, is fixed by a repairman; best friends falling for each other collapse repetitively on the ground; a shoe actually drops from the sky as a couple reaches an agreement. Given this, scenes can either spark philosophical musings where it works or leave a saccharine aftertaste where it doesn’t.

“That for me was a challenge, to try to not to make it cheesy, but at the same time bring out the cleverness of that whole conceit. That you’re getting a cliché being enacted literally. It gives elements of magic realism,” shares Guingona.

Some vignettes may also suffer from predictability, if not coming off as contrived. In Her Heart, an old love is named Wes, and a new love is named East. In Sad and Glad, a misspelled tattoo is suddenly given new meaning — too serendipitous (not to be true but) to be tasteful. Yet the obsession with turning a trope on its head is infectious. You’re compelled to guess what happens next and if it’s a complete surprise, the feeling is completely rewarding.

Almost, Maine tries to be a lot of things — whimsical, smart, profound, touching — and in doing so falls short in becoming sublime in any of them. It deserves to be seen, however, for its structure and ambition, most of all for this production’s talented cast, crew, and director, who have done their best to subvert clichés, love being the tritest of them all.

—Originally published on GIST