Tuesday, January 18, 2011

mb.com.ph: Balagtas via MTV

Dulaang UP brings a contemporary twist to this Philippine classic...

January 8, 2011, 12:01pm
(Original article can be found HERE)

MANILA, Philippines — For a lot of young people, the works of Francisco Balagtas Baltazar, the King of Tagalog Poets, are simply not that accessible. With their archaic language and medieval settings, Baltazar’s works are often read by young Filipinos merely to fulfill an academic requirement.

Dulaang UP, the University of the Philippines’ official performing group for theater, hopes to change all that with the 2011 staging of one of Baltazar’s best-written works, “Orosman at Zafira,” at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater.

A komedya written by the famous poet back in 1860, “Orosman at Zafira” tells the story of the struggle between three kingdoms: Marueccos, Tedenst, and Duquela. In the midst of the conflict between the three kingdoms, two individuals find love and discover its encompassing power.

While Dulaang UP had previously staged this production to critical and commercial success in 2008 and 2010, this is the first time that the company is mounting it outside of the UP’s famed Leon Ma. Guerrero Theater. This new staging, done in cooperation with Bit by Bit Development Company, is an effort to bring the production and its source material to even more audiences.

“Balagtas is a genius, and it’s sad that we’re not taught enough of it in school because you read the old Tagalog and it’s so hard to understand. The best way to understand Balgatas or Baltazar is to experience it this way,” remarks Atty. Darwin Mariano, the producer behind this staging of “Orosman at Zafira.”

Beyond U.P
Mariano first thought of bringing “Orosman at Zafira” to a bigger stage and audience when he watched the 2008 Dulaang UP production. The experience, according to him, was life changing.

“I’ve been a theater fan for decades and in my whole life, there have only been three productions that made my hair stand on end,” he recalls. “The first one was Rent, when it was staged in Manila in 1999. The second one was Wicked when it was just being staged on Broadway. The third one was Orosman at Zafira.”

But even as he longed to take the play to a bigger venue back in 2008, Mariano says that it just wasn’t meant to be.

“In 2008, the economy wasn’t as good as it is now. It’s very expensive to mount a live event, especially a performance as big as ‘Orosman,’” he says. “But at the back of my mind I knew that at some point in the next two years I would produce it.”

The go signal finally came for Mariano in 2010, when Dulaang UP restaged “Orosman at Zafira.” He was so intent to take the production to the next level that he even resorted to extreme measures.

“I had some savings and what I actually did was mortgage my house in order to produce this play,” he reveals.

However, transferring his belief in the production to other possible investors would prove to be yet another challenge to overcome.

“It’s easy for the commercial theater companies because every time a new Broadway musical is being staged here, mas madali for them to sell it to show buyers and sponsors,” he says. “I felt like we had to work double time and even harder to be able to demonstrate na Filipino material can be just as powerful than many of the theater material that you can see currently in the world.”

Eternal themes
Dexter Santos, director and choreographer for all three productions of “Orosman and Zafira”, says that the play’s main strength lies in the eternal themes that Baltazar handles so deftly in his work, as well as the spin that the poet put on the conventions of a komedya.

“Komedyas usually show wars between the Moors and the Christians. What makes ‘Orosman at Zafira’ different from other komedyas is that it doesn’t deal with the wars between the Moors and the Christians, but the enmity between three different tribes. The issues that  Baltazar deals with are recurring: Thirst for power and the passion for love,” he explains.

Santos also says that the production company also decided that the play’s scoring would have a decidedly contemporary feel, so as to not lose the attention of younger audience members who may find Balagtas a little too deep for their liking.

“We also have a responsibility as artists to cater to our audience. We decided to reinvent and reintroduce the works of Francisco Baltazar by working with choreography and movement inspired by different rituals and tribes present in our country,” he says. “Hit na hit sa young audience ‘yung formula ng Broadway. Ginawa namin, we edited it and used world music on our score. What if ‘yung mga kulintang, lagyan natin ng electric guitar, i-amplify natin, gawin natin parang isang rock concert.”

This new staging, with its bigger venue and possibly bigger audience, opens up even more opportunities for innovation, according to Santos.

“We always believe that Orosman at Zafira is a work in progress. Now that we’ve been given a legitimate theater, mas mabibigyan namin ng ibang klaseng flow ‘yung buong production,” he says. “Iba ‘yung experience, mas wide ‘yung makikita nila, mas makikita ‘yung choreography and we want it to remain sensate.”

Both Mariano and Santos are confident that this staging of “Orosman at Zafira”, with its contemporary scoring and choreography, will make the works of the “King of Tagalog Poets” even more relevant to the youth today.

“This production gives us every right to be proud to be Filipinos, becausenot only are we theater fans, we write, we produce, we design, we compose, the best material in the world. It just has to be staged properly,” Mariano declares.

“For an MTV generation who wants MTV editing, this is the show for them because we are pushing for something that is a sensate experience.

All of your senses will actually be awakened,” Santos ends. “We have a responsibility to Baltazar to reintroduce him and the theatrical form of komedya. The audience will know about Philippine culture in a way that is not academic or didactic.”

Catch OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA on its LAST Saturday run
February 26 / 3PM / SAT @ MOA CenterStage

Ticket Price: Php350

Contact Onay @ 0918.536.2116 to reserve tickets

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