Thursday, February 17, 2011

Orosman at Zafira: A contemporary take on a Filipino classic

Interview conducted by Patricia Vega, Asia Society Philippines
Original Article can be found HERE

MANILA, January 26, 2010 -- Manila's theater season opens with a contemporary adaptation of a Filipino classic - the Francisco Balagtas' komedya, Orosman at Zafira. Dulaang UP, in partnership with Bit by Bit Development Company, is re-staging its hit production February  4 - 26 (Fridays and Saturdays) at the SM Mall of Asia Centerstage Theater. Considered as one of the best-written literary pieces by the "King of Tagalog Poetry," "Orosman at Zafira" tells the story of man's lust for power while highlighting the strength of the women characters and how they challenge prevailing social norms and restrictions. This contemporary adaptation of Baltazar's text celebrates the uniqueness of Philippine culture through original music and dance.
The production first ran in February 2008 and was re-staged in August 2010 to sold-out, standing-room-only performances at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, UP-Diliman. The contemporary adaptation directed and choreographed by Dexter M. Santos, with original music by Carol Bello, garnered nominations for both Best Musical Production and Best Stage Director at the 21st Aliw Awards. 
Philippines 21 Fellow Darwin Mariano (Class of 2009) serves as executive producer of Orozman and Zafira, and spoke to Asia Society-Philippines about the production.
ASPF: First up, what's your background in theater? What made you decide to produce Orosman and Zafira?
DM: I have no formal background in theater but I've been a theater fan for decades. I've always believed that theater, like all art, inspires people. It equally inspires them to do all sorts of crazy things.  
I started out as a show-buyer - I (with a few friends) would buy entire ticket blocks of plays and musicals I liked from theater companies at a discount. I made money by selling them at the printed ticket value. Theater companies liked the scheme because shows were sold even before opening night and "blockbuyers" (like me) assumed the risks associated with ticket-selling.
This project began in 2008 when I first saw Dulaang UP’s OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA, directed and choreographed by Dexter Santos and with original music by Carol Bello. I knew at that time that I wanted to produce a commercial run of the show. And while I felt that the timing was off, I left the Guerrero theater convinced that the show deserved, literally and figuratively, a bigger stage.
So when Dulaang UP re-staged it in 2010 – shortly after a successful national election and a wave of optimism sweeping the country – I knew the timing was right. I also had more experience and a wider network by then - all of which would prove necessary and useful to the show's success.
So why did I produce the show?
My family comes from the same town as Francisco Baltazar, known more widely by his pen name Francisco Balagtas. From its old name Bigaa, it has since then been renamed Balagtas, Bulacan in his honor. But that is not why I am producing this show. 
The Philippines is home to the best theater talent in the world – actors, directors, writers, composers, designers and choreographers. Yet, most of the commercial productions staged by the small, professional theatrical scene in the country are foreign. But that is not why I am producing this show.
I’ve been a theater fan for decades. The first play I watched when I was a young college student at UP Diliman was a play also by Dulaang UP and remember being very impressed at the quality of the production. But that is not why I am producing this show.
I am producing this show because OROSMAN AT ZAFIRA is groundbreaking for its passion, poetry, music, and dance. I am producing this show because not enough of us realize the genius of Francisco Baltazar and the values of good citizenship, discipline and faith that underlie his works. I am producing this show because it showcases Filipino theater talent at its finest. And also because I’m crazy. 
 ASPF: Orosman and Zafira started out as a university-based production. Why stage it in SM Mall of Asia, and what changes can we expect in this production?  
DM: The two previous runs of the show were all in UP Diliman. While they were all sold-out, I felt that the Quezon City and northern Metro Manila theater market had more access to it. To ensure strong attendance, I wanted to move it south so that those who found Diliman too far away could get a chance to see it.
I didn't think it was possible given how mesmerizing the show already is, but Dexter Santos, our director-choreographer and the rest of the Dulaang UP team, have introduced many improvements to the show. Without giving too much away, we now have more songs, new dances and better special effects! 
ASPF: Orosman and Zafira is adapted from one of the works of Francisco Balagtas. Can you tell us a bit about the process of adapting the work to theater?
DM: I wasn't really involved in the work of adapting Balagtas' old archaic Tagalog poem into the musical people are now raving about. But what I did find remarkable about the material was how modern Balagtas was for his time. Thought to have been lost and only re-discovered in 1974, Orosman at Zafira was one of the "komedyas" written for the Teatro de Tondo between year 1857-1860, while Balagtas was in prison. However, this play strays from standard "komedya" beliefs: there is no Moro-Christian conflict, and heroes as well as villains are such because of character rather than religion.
The dramaturgs from Dulaang UP edited the original text, changed Baltazar’s original Turkish kingdoms to Filipino tribes, and created a narrator to help audiences along. While the music of a traditional komedya was performed by a brass band, Bello’s neo-ethnic music was rendered by a live orchestra using indigenous instruments such as djembe drums, kulintang (gongchime) and kubing (Jew’s harp), together with electric guitars and keyboards. Santos replaced the traditional marches with movement vocabularies inspired by the country’s regional dances. He marked the narrative with three impressive battle scenes that showcased a heady amalgamation of fight stances and dance. The cast charged, pounced and attacked as they twisted,glided and leapt.
ASPF: Orosman and Zafira is one of many productions opening in the first quarter of the year. What makes this production different from the others?
DM: It's awfully difficult to describe a production like Orosman at Zafira. I've seen many plays and musicals both here and abroad - but have not seen anything like it before. I would have to agree with the reviews. Gibbs Cadiz describes it as "a unique, arrestingly homegrown and blazing theater experience that is as far away from Broadway as could be." Exie Abola says, "'musical' may not be the most accurate word to describe it, but whatever it is, it is mesmerizing theater." 

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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