Thursday, February 17, 2011

The body understands what the brain cannot

BY SAM L. MARCELO, Senior Reporter
BusinessWorld weekender
Original Article can be found HERE

Understanding is not a prerequisite for appreciation. Despite the confusion caused by its nosebleed-inducing language, Orosman at Zafira is a gem of a production that is at its best when no one is talking. The script, already a toned-down version of the archaic speech used by Francisco Balagtas in his original komedya, is beautiful to listen to but a pain to figure out. It was a pleasure to hear capable speakers bouncing euphonious Filipino words off their tongues and to feel the language’s inherent rhyme and rhythm. At the same time, it was frustrating to be chasing after the meanings of phrases such as "himalang digit," a lovely but opaque idiomatic expression for "soulmate."

JAY GONZAGA as Orosman and Sarah Delphine Buencamino as Zafira
JAY GONZAGA as Orosman and Sarah Delphine Buencamino as Zafira
Perhaps the failing is mine: I will confess that my grasp of Filipino is elementary. Even with the presence of Zelima (Tao Aves who chants and sings as well as her mother Grace Nono), a narrator who fills in the gaps of the story for the audience, it was still possible to misconstrue relationships. The man I thought to be Zelima’s lover, for example, turned out to be her father (embarrassing).

Director and choreographer Dexter M. Santos, aware of the challenges presented by the text, is generous with nonverbal cues.

In the prologue, three tribes -- differentiated by their dress, movements and musical signatures -- are introduced one by one to the audience: the whirling, skipping, kicking Marruecos; the arm-waving, jumping Tedenst; and the acrobatic Duquella, the most identifiable because of their Mohawks and heavy eyeliner.

By the end of the introduction, everyone is on stage and the variations among tribes become more apparent as they move to different parts of the live accompaniment. The body understands Carol Bello’s music and responds to it instinctively: you will be dancing in your seat.

Costume, choreography and music are indispensable guides, especially when keeping track of shifting alliances, betrayals and character transformations. When Gulnara (Jean Judith Javier) and Zafira (Sarah Delphine Buencamino) turn into warrior queens, they attack their choreography with amplified aggression. The treachery of Aldervesin (Red Concepcion), meanwhile, runs as deep as his wardrobe.

The accessories department could have done a little more with Tedenst brothers Abdalap and Orosman, played by Roeder CamaƱag and Jay Gonzaga who are of similar height, build and hairstyle. It was only towards the middle of the musical that I realized a telling detail: Mr. Gonzaga has better abs and by his abs you shall recognize him.

Big choreographic numbers and epic battles are interspersed among quieter scenes, the best of which is a mournful three-part a capela performed by Zelima, Gulnara and Zafira.

The musical loses traction when the audience is left alone with the text, bereft of propulsive drumbeats and dance. The victim of these lapses into pure dialog is usually Abdalap, who had a couple of pivotal yet awkward exits set up by incomprehensible exchanges.

The director is smart enough to pull out his secret weapon whenever the play needs a pick-me-up: the Duquella, a warrior tribe whose bombastic entrances shock the life back into the production.

Zelim (Acey Bryle Aguilar), Duquella leader, is a man of few words but his physicality more than makes up for it. He is forever bouncing on the balls of his feet, yelling and spoiling for a fight; he does not look, he glares; and when he does have lines, he does not say them as much as spit them out. One wishes that Balagtas had written Orosman, Zafira at Zelim instead of just
Orosman at Zafira.

Mr. Santos has said that his goal for this production is pedagogical -- that is, he wants to reintroduce the
komedya to a younger audience. While the program does contain a synopsis it would have been a better teaching tool if it contained, say, a stanza of the original text side by side with its updated version. Also, why not upload the Orosman at Zafira script so that viewers interested in going back to the words can do so?

As it stands, the stars in the production are Mr. Santos’s choreography and Ms. Bello’s music. Ask me about the plot and I’ll be able to give you the CliffsNotes version. I didn’t understand
Orosman at Zafira but I loved it. 

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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