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Archive for the ‘Theatre’

A Possessed Chorus: A review of Tanghalang Pilipino’s Ang Pag-uusig (The Crucible) by Deo Giga

October 20, 2017 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Theatre No Comments →

Sinapiang Koro (A Possessed Chorus)
by Deo Giga

Sa mga huling sandali ng pelikulang The Crucible, maaalalang may pagka-sentimentál ang tagpo sa pagitan nina John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis) at ang may-bahay nitong si Elizabeth Proctor (Joan Allen). O lubhang sentimentál nga naman; tila layunin lamang ng pelikula na magpaiyak. Natatandaan kong puspos ng luha at hinagpis at pagpapaalam ang mga saglit na iyon—ngunit hindi sa paraang malamhing o nakasusuya o walang-kabuluhang sentimiyento lamang. Humantong sa ganoon ang pelikula mula sa sali-salimuot at makahulugang mga tagpo. Hindi ito tearjerker lamang. At lalong hindi ito pantasyang tulad ng The Craft na tungkol sa kulam at salamangka. Naalala ko rin kung gaano ako napoot at mabilis na humusga sa tinawag ko noong kakitiran ng pag-iisip ng mga “kontrabida.”

Kasalukuyang itinatanghal sa CCP “Ang Pag-uusig,” isang pagsasalin ng dulang The Crucible ni Arthur Miller sa Tagalog. Nilayon ni Miller na magpatungkol ang dula sa mga kalagayang pulitikal noon, lalo na ang McCarthyism (ang pagpaparatang ng kaliluhan sa bansa na walang sapat na katibayan).

Ayon mismo sa kanya, malimit matanghal ang dula sa Latin America, “just before a dictatorship is about to take over—as a warning—and just after one has been overthrown, as a reminder (bago magsimula ang isang napipintong diktadurya—bilang babala—at pagkatapos maigupo ito, bilang paalala).”

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Ballet Philippines’ Master Pieces: Dancing to find ourselves

June 28, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Theatre No Comments →

Master Pieces

When Master Pieces—a sort of greatest hits compilation of works by Ballet Philippines—began, I settled in my seat for two hours of dutiful art appreciation. “Dutiful” in this sense can mean

A. Good for you, the way leafy green and yellow vegetables are good for you.

B. The responsibility of every cultured citizen.

C. Showing support for Filipino artists, who are acclaimed in other countries but are unrecognized at home.

D. All of the above.

The first piece, Farandole, set to music by Georges Bizet, confirmed my expectations. It was a showcase of grace and technical prowess, impressive, but largely indistinguishable from a performance by a good ballet company anywhere in the world. Which is probably where the dancers will end up, given the limited opportunities for professional ballet dancers in the Philippines. (Well, maybe not in Britain, where the result of the Brexit referendum backs up my suspicion that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. Couldn’t the Queen do something, along the lines of, “We are taking back this country because you clearly don’t know what to do with it”? Excuse the digression.)

As far as I could tell the most Filipino thing about the opening piece, apart from the dancers’ nationality, was the set design: None. The dancers performed valiantly on a stage that announced the lack of a budget for set design. Granted, there was nothing to distract us from the beauty of human movement. The fact that Dance MNL the Philippine Dance Festival exists at all is the brave organizers’ declaration of faith in art over general indifference.

When the piece ended, I joined in the polite applause. “Polite applause” being

A. A tribute to the talent and discipline of the dancers.

B. A way of showing the other viewers that we are not philistines, or asleep.

C. “That’s nice, what else have you got?”

D. All of the above.

The next piece, Halik, choreographed by Paul Morales, was an excerpt from the ballet Crisostomo Ibarra. I did not know this at the time because I didn’t buy the programme. However, I could tell from the very expressive performers that it was an emotionally charged scene between two lovers saying goodbye. There was a sadness about the piece, a sense of wistfulness and regret. Maybe the evening was not going to be as dutiful as I thought.

It wasn’t. My sense of duty rapidly changed into relief that I was there to witness something that reached for greatness.

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You need to listen to the cast recording of Hamilton now.

May 13, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Music, Theatre No Comments →

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WHAT A COMFORT it is after an intense and contentious election to hear a musical that makes you want to give standing ovations to the idea of nationhood. The hairs on my arms rose, there were icy sparks down my backbone, and an irresistible force propelled me out of my seat to applaud this work. And I was all alone in my room.

Good luck getting tickets to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, which apart from earning a MacArthur genius grant for its author has won a Pulitzer, a Grammy, Obie, and Drama Desk Awards, and is poised to win a truckload of Tonys. Hamilton has united two often opposing camps, the critics and the audience, with its rousing hip-hop treatment of American history. Until you manage to book your tickets, you’ll have to content yourself with listening to the original Broadway cast recording.

The subject of the play is Alexander Hamilton, the founding father who established the American financial system and is best known today as the face on the ten dollar bill. As a line from the show says: He doesn’t get enough credit for all the credit that he gave (them). I know little about American history, but I know who Hamilton is because I read a Justice League comic book in which he and his adversary Aaron Burr traveled through time and met Superman and company.

Continue reading The Binge, my column at BusinessWorld.

Listen to the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton at Spotify.

Culture Shock and Awe: A diary of National Arts Month

February 27, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Art, Movies, Music, Theatre No Comments →

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A scene from the Met Opera’s Bluebeard’s Castle

ON SUNDAY we ran into Grace at the ballet at the Cultural Center, and on Wednesday we saw her again at the opening of the Art Fair. “Uyy, culture!” she said, and there has been an unusual number of arts and culture events in February. I know, because otherwise I would’ve seen Deadpool five times (You snobs don’t know what you’re missing. My favorite line: “Of course looks matter! Ever heard David Beckham speak?”). For a few weeks it felt like Manila was a Culture Capital, fairly teeming with plays, screenings of classic Filipino movies, art expositions, even opera.

Then I learned that February is National Arts Month, which means that when it ends we go back to being, as Noel puts it, culture lower-case.

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Shakespeare’s Globe’s Hamlet: Depth takes a holiday

August 28, 2015 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Theatre No Comments →


A public service announcement from Benedict Cumberbatch, now playing Hamlet at the Barbican in London.

In truth, writing about Hamlet intimidates me. I’m afraid that Professor Wilhelmina Ramas, who taught Shakespeare at UP, will train her death stare on me and say, “No. No. Nonononono.” I had to armor myself by re-reading Shakespeare’s fan club president, Harold Bloom, who goes into such raptures over the play that I ended up even more daunted.

The Shakespeare’s Globe theatre touring production of Hamlet is designed to remove the intimidation factor and make the play audience-friendly and accessible. This it does, with great efficiency. The company composed of 12 actors and four stage managers is in the midst of a 150-country tour; the Philippines is its 125th stop. There is no set, just a curtain strung between two poles and several trunks that get moved around a lot—the stage design choreography would score high marks in a time-motion study. Actors in modified modern dress take on several roles and swap assignments for each presentation, probably to prevent them going mad from repeatedly performing a play about a guy who is either faking madness or really is mad.

Read our review of the Globe theatre’s touring production of Hamlet at BusinessWorld.