Saturday, August 31, 2013

TP's IBALONG: Environmentalism Ahead of Its Time

September 1, 2013

Last night, my daughter and I were fortunate enough to attend the Gala Night of the re-staging of Tanghalang Pilipino's "Ibalong".  It was first staged as the last production of TP's 26th season, just earlier this year for the month of February 2013.  It was coincidental that last night was the closing of the Ibalong festival in Legaspi City this whole month of August.  

This musical version of the Bicolano epic was supported by Legazpi City since its conceptualization. and it was recently just staged in that city last August 21-22 as part of the festival.  Legazpi City Councilor Alan RaƱola was in attendance last night to receive a certificate of appreciation from TP.  Also in attendance was the daughter of Mr. Merito B. Espinas, the author of  "Ibalong: The Bikol Folk Epic-Fragment" which brought the epic to national consciousness when it was published in 1966.

"Ibalong" was about the elementals that possessed the earth and the incursion and domination of humans into their territory.  The central character is the beauteous Oryol, a half-serpent half-human elemental, who was torn about her loyalty to her kind, and fascinated with the humans as well, as represented by the proud and over-achieving hero Handyong.

The story was told in two acts.  The first act was about an hour and 45 minutes long, while the second act was about an hour.  The production design is very imaginative. The stage was magically transformed into a lush jungle with an innovative curtain where the elemental creatures slither about.   The fantastic, very colorful costumes of these creatures are the main conceit of this production.  

Oryol (former Ms. Saigon Janine Desiderio) was quite a visual achievement with her long green serpentine body controlled by puppeteers dressed in black.  The other remarkable costume was that of the giant wild pig Opon (Red Nuestro), whose big mouth was controlled by the actor's hands while he was "talking".  The fighting dance sequences between man and elementals were amazingly and meaningfully choreographed.  There were even two high poles at both ends of the stage used to very good effect.

A problem last night was the sound.  Frankly, I did not understand anything that was being said or sung in the first fifteen minutes or so.  Oryol was the lead character but either her mic is weak or misplaced so that the sound was intelligible.  When Janine Desiderio was singing her opening monologue, her notes were powerful and resonant, but I do not know exactly what she was telling us.  This would happen many times during the first act and it was truly disappointing just try to connect events in our heads by deduction.  That is why the first act felt so long.

Luckily, the second act was much better in terms of pacing and story-telling, giving the play a powerful and memorable ending.  All the actors, Janine Desiderio (as Oryol), Remus Villanueva (as Handyong), Cheeno Macaraig (as Makusog) and May Bayot (as the goddess Gugurang), all shone in their singing and acting in this second half.  

The last song solo by Trixie Esteban as Daragang Magayon was beautifully haunting.  This young lady, whom I just saw in "Sandosenang Sapatos" last month, really has a promising future ahead of her.  She also played young Oryol (with her own little serpent tail) at the beginning of the play, and she can deliver her lines more crisply and clearly than the adult performers.

Overall, the story is a very timely message of caring for our environment.   This message seemed so much ahead of its time since it was written well well before thinking green and respecting the Earth was in vogue. It also reminds man to temper his greed and power-madness.  Man and Nature needs to respect each other in order to live in full harmony with each other.  This important message is delivered loud and clear.

It was so astute for the people of Legazpi City to share this local epic mythology with the rest of the country in the form of musical theater.  It was indeed fascinating to know of these characters.  I have never heard of another serpent being in other local Filipino myths until I saw Oryol last night.  And she was no frightful creature, mind you.  When she was a serpent, Oryol knew fully well how to use her feminine charms as well as her fighting skills to protect her kind.

Kudos to Rody Vera for his adapted libretto, Tucxqs Rutaquio for his efficient direction and wondrous set design, Leeroy New for his inventive costumes and puppet designs, Alden Lugnasin for dynamic choreography, and the rest of the Tanghalang Pilipino cast and crew!

This re-staging of "Ibalong" runs Fridays (8 pm), Saturdays (3 pm and 8 pm) and Sundays (3 pm) up to September 15. 2013 at the Little Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.  Tickets are available at the CCP Box Office and Ticketworld outlets at P800 for adults and P400 for students.

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