Friday, September 25, 2009

Magnificent performances

Published last September 14, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding this year. The milestone year is being celebrated through a festival of spectacular shows and breathtaking performances.

There are still quite a number of shows in the offing, for example, Cecille Licad is performing in a two-part concert later this week, but the highlights of the 40th anniversary festival were staged last week:

The 40th anniversary gala held Sept. 8 and the tribute to the CCP founding chair former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos held Sept. 11, birthday of the former dictator. And anyone looking for metaphors for the state of the arts in the country would have found it at the CCP in the two shows staged last week.

I know it’s not fair to make comparisons, particularly since the two shows were supposed to be distinct from each other, but I had this gnawing feeling that of the two shows, the tribute to the Imeldific would turn out to be the more colorful show. I chose not to go to the tribute to Imelda so I never did get to see for myself what the buzz was all about. CCP officials have tried to downplay the social significance of mounting a tribute for the former First Lady by asking people to dissociate culture and arts from politics. But it really is sad to note that more than 20 years since the Marcoses fell from grace, Imelda still reigns supreme in the arts scene and she still remains the de facto icon for culture and arts in this country.

The protest staged by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the tribute itself, and images of the bejeweled madam got prominent treatment in various media (front page material in some newspapers) but there was hardly any mention of the 40th anniversary gala or of the CCP’s milestone. And, that, pretty much sums up media projection of culture and arts in this country.

There was a lot of caterwauling recently from among our living national artists and from the big names in the local culture and arts scene over the way Malacañang bastardized the selection process for national artists. We can recall that many people dramatically rallied behind the way the powers-that-be desecrated the role of the CCP in the selection process for national artists. Guess how many national artists were present at the CCP 40th anniversary gala? Only one: National Artist for sculpture Napoleon Abueva. It might be relevant to mention here too that half the seats of the Main Theater were empty during the gala. Where, oh where were the people who, just a few weeks ago, were shedding tears for and on behalf of the CCP and arts?

I am not saying that being present in an event celebrating a milestone is more important than taking part in a protest, although I grant that the latter offers more opportunities for media exposure. Surely we realize that the CCP and our artists also need people to watch performances not just rally for them. And while we are at it, we must also note that the President of the Republic sent a “mere” undersecretary of the Foreign Affairs Department as her official representative to the event.

But the show must go on. The cliché about how life begins at 40 found new expression in the theme of the CCP’s 40th year anniversary: Life begins anew.

The challenges that face the CCP are quite daunting. Let’s not anymore go into the structural problems of lack of resources and the convoluted state of our political bureaucracy. To my mind, the most important challenge that continues to face the CCP is the general impression that the kind of art the CCP champions is elitist in nature, and so detached from the social mainstream. This is a lot of nonsense of course because in its purest essence, art is universal. But recent events have even fortified the unfair dichotomy, no thanks to the efforts of Carlo Caparas and his supporters who have gleefully latched on to this non-issue as a way of justifying Caparas’s selection as national artist.

The CCP therefore needs to reinvent itself and strengthen its efforts in showcasing the very diverse and wide breadth of our artistry as a people while at the same time continuing to nourish the quest for excellence. And the anniversary gala was a great showcase of just exactly how the CCP should blaze new paths for Philippine arts and culture.

It’s a shame that not many people were there at the anniversary gala or that that kind of show could not be made available to many Filipinos. The anniversary gala featured more than 300 performers—some very established names, some relatively new and promising ones, even some celebrities (matinee idol Piolo Pascual was one of the performers) representing various performing art forms.

The first part of the gala featured the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Oscar Yatco performing the first and fifth movements of Gustav Mahler’s The Resurrection. Performing with the PPO were four world-renowned Philippine choral groups including the Madrigal Singers and soloists Camille Lopez Molina and Jai Sabas Aracama. I must admit that I initially found the choice of symphony a bit disappointing (I expected a grander symphony) but I understand that the symphony provided a profound link to CCP’s history—it was the first symphony presented by the PPO in their very first concert after their reorganization in 1982. But watching Maestro Yatco wielding the baton is always a heartwarming sight and Molina and Aracama was astounding beyond words.

The second and third parts of the gala however, were pure joy—a veritable feast of the senses, a glorious celebration of the arts. Taking center stage were various performing groups in a grand display of creativity and passion and performing excellence. It would be difficult to even try to describe the kind of synergy witnessed onstage as various dance groups—classical dancers from Ballet Philippines, folk dancers from the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, street dancers, gymnasts, ballroom dancers, even cheerleaders—wove together performances that reflected the sheer beauty of our culture. What was even more astounding was the way classical music and pop hits including Eddie Peregrina’s Memories Of Our Dreams and that ditty Boom Tarat Tarat were successfully blended seamlessly into a collage that simply took breaths away.

The same level of creativity and artistry was also showcased in the fusion duets that featured classical singers and pop artists masterfully bridging the great divide between opera pieces such as Nessun Dorma and kundiman classics such as Nasaan Ka Irog, between Un Bel Di, Vedremo from M. Butterfly and Imelda Papin’s Bakit (Kung Liligaya Ka Sa Piling Ng Iba). Danny Tan, arranger, and Ryan Cayabyab, conductor, and all the performers truly deserved the standing ovation the audience gave them at the end of the gala.

As I am clearly running out of space, let me just end by saluting the CCP on its 40th year and exclaiming to all and sundry —ang galing talaga ng Pinoy artist! Bravo, CCP! Bravo Philippine artists!

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