Friday, June 11, 2010

Writing Exercise


We were asked to choose a picture from the the Cartier Bresson exhibit in MoMa. I chose the picture of a boy going down a Parisian street cradling two big bottles of wine on each hand. We were told that the chosen picture is the second scene from a play in our head.

The exercise involves writing a prose outline of the imaginary scene before this scene in the picture. And then to write the last 4 scenes after the scene in the picture to come up with six scenes all in all to complete the play.

This is what I wrote:


Scene 1

This is Juliette’s third summer in Avignon. She has nearly forgotten why she had escaped here. Sometimes, she resents the amnesia.

Her French has improved enough to banter with the grocer after the baguettes and cheese have been tallied up. It’s always about the prices and how her hair is a lovely shade of brown. Shall she accept Pierre’s invitation to go to the Arles to see the house where Van Gogh cut off his ear.

She carries her bags. It is much lighter than she thought it was. There were two large bottles of olive oil. And then she remembers. She quickly looks behind just in time to see the boy behind her by the aisles running with two bottles that look like small dolphin heads.

Juliette walks with a cane and can’t run as fast. Julietta asks the grocer for help. But there’s a long line and this is the only open cashier.

She shouts: Thief! Thief! She can't remember the French word for thief.

The boy has gotten away.

Scene 2

The boy zooms past people and tourists, never looking back, as if his sixth sense made him aware of losing the woman. The woman is lost. And the boy strides less hurriedly. His breath returns to normal. He walks like a prince. He meets two girls on his way who greet him. But he doesn’t care.

Scene 3

The following day, there is a commotion in the large plaza by the way to the old Pope's castle. Juliette is drawn to the scene. She uses her limp to get people to give way. She finds herself at the front of the crowd that has gathered in a circle.

In the middle of the heads and shoulders, a boy in shorts and a dark long sleeved sweater is found face down. A bottle of olive oil broken by his side looking like an ocean’s oil spill by the blood. The other bottle is unbroken in the boy’s embrace, as if like a baby.

Scene 4

At the morgue, Juliette has an argument with the mortician. In her bad French, she tries to explain that she wants to see the child. But the mortician prevents her from doing so because everything is still under investigation.

Scene 5

Juliette is lying down, her feet up in stirrups. A doctor is trying to scrape out something from within her. She feels that this is what she wants. But she also feels that in the middle of the procedure she has changed her mind. But the person scraping her doesn’t seem to understand. She talks and it is garbled. She knows she is speaking French but it sounds different. Her speech is slurred.

Something is coming out between her legs.

It is a someone.

It is slimy and fully formed. It is big and smiling.

It is the boy carrying the two bottles of olive oil.

She wakes up in a sweat. It is a dream.

Scene 6

She is by her phone. She calls long distance. She talks to her husband.

It is an answering machine.

She confesses to the machine what she did to their baby. And why she did it.The husband suddenly answers the phone in the middle of her confession. He asks her where she is.

She is speechless. She speaks in bad French. She pretends to be another woman.

She hangs up.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Plays, Plays, Plays


I went to two play readings of the May-I Lab. One was a children’s play, performed with much enthusiasm and written with charm. It touched on the usual hallmarks of cutesy aphorisms that convince parents that this will be good for their children. Happy End of the World is about cultivating imagination and being proud to be different and all that jazz. Written from a middle class point of view makes the play’s tension a little bit more safe and slack; the lessons learned a bit more shallow, predictable and just a tad unsatisfying. Who said writing for children was easy? But its in the development stage so nothing is written in stone. I'm sure this play will find its way home.

The other play, a re-working of the Hansel and Gretel story, had an interesting premise. Alas, we knew its mettle two minutes into the play. It was all text and no sub-text. This play will begin to show its promise if the writing focused on one story, instead of dissipating the dramatic energy into several sub-plots.

But this Sunday, I also saw The Temperamentals. It tells the personal love story of Harry Hays and Rudy Gernreich and tells it as together with Hay's effort at organizing the Matacchine Society, one of the precursors of the gay political movement. Written in a kind of dula-tula (dramatized monologue) style, it captured my imagination with his technique of dramatizing the historical and compressing arguments to a clarified minimum. I particularly appreciated the first scene of Act II when the actors, donning various hats, represented Harry Hay’s torment and support from the women of his life. This would have taken two chapters in a narrative. In the play, it was reduced to a short scene. I also liked that the play was funny and sad at the same time. It gave me an idea of how best to dramatize an advocacy without sounding didactic or heavy handed. I think the secret is finding the personal, human story that threads the movement. The other thing that struck me with the play’s structure is the way major things were left implied rather than overtly stated. The love story between the two men and their breakup was more profoundly stated because it did not play to melodrama. Restraint seems more effective in these cases.

Finally, I’ve noticed that although the pacing is quick and energetic, the blocking is minimal and contained. The show eliminated all extraneous movements. The actors stand and deliver their lines with the barest of movements, usually in the face. This has the effect of maximizing the gestures (like caressing a face or a hand touching) when finally they make it.

But the reiteration I got from the production was the use of musical interludes—the song in Act 1 and the clarinet solos in Act II—which were used to bridge the narrative as well as a tool for exposition made the play soar, specially because the music was integrated into the action of the play. Dramatically, it is a surprise and a lift. And I know that this will influence me in the way I write my plays in the future.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Went to yoga yesterday. I felt great afterwards. Then went to Jacks a 99 cent store and bought something to make spaghetti with. The kitchen filled with the smell of tomatoes, capers, garlic and more garlic. I found a day-old grilled pork chop in the fridge from a take-out. I cut the meat up and put it in the sauce. Here is how it finally looked.

Not bad, no?

Today, I’m excited to wear my new spring suit to the Verdi opera with no intermission. Will I be able to hold it in? Tony, my friend, reminds me not to drink coffee or tea before the show. I'm excited, too, about the music. Will it blow me out of my mind to hear, what my friend says, as music played by one of the best orchestras in the world?

I try to see as many operas as I can, specially when my friend is treating. Also, because opera is expensive: to produce and to see. And there are not a lot of operas being produced where I come from.

So here's to later.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Do You Pangalay?

03 May 10


It is fairly safe to state that a sophisticated standard of performance has been set in the Folkloric Dance World—from Belarus to Bayanihan.

For the modern audience, the presentation of folk dances has evolved from a mere spectator sport to a venue for discourse that has raised anthropological concerns and spawned aesthetic challenges.

Serious folk dance companies have stepped up their game and are interested in discovering authenticity (with a clear intention of presenting the dances in the context of the culture where it forms part), as well as honing dance skills and improving repertory.

With regard to ancient forms, it is common practice for these dance companies to set-up dance schools in order to codify the dance vocabulary and to ensure that skills are handed down in perpetuity. In many communities in the south of the Philippines, training in the Pangalay dance tradition begins as early as 6 years old in the same way that the west has ballet classes for kids. Dance vocabulary is very important in these traditions. The correct and exact positioning of the fingers and thumb, in relation to the hands, the angle of the head in relation to the focus of the eyes, among others, are all important in the same way that the Russians place importance in the naming and proper execution of arms and leg positions in classical ballet.

To me, the works of the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, as well as individual teachers like Ms. Ligaya Amilbangsa are prime examples of how folk dance have been used to serve anthropological research, heritage conservation and dance aesthetics. Their programs feature distillation of researched indigenous dances and presented with clear demarcations of a beginning, rising action, climax and denouement. They feature dancers who have received extensive training, possess above average dancing skills, and who can dance well individually as well as one body or a dance corp.

The performances of these groups enthrall because they feature colorful and authentic attire and skillfull dancing and music making. Moreover, the dances are staged to engage the mind to imagine and empathize with a culture not of one’s own. With no words and not much of a plot, the audience gets captivated in the magical way in which dance communicates through feeling.

The recent show of Pandibulan by the Kinding Sindaw at the La Mama etc. shows a digression from this tradition as it explores folk dance forms as dance drama. As led by Potri Ranka Manis, this dance theatre company, as the program notes reveal, “envisions that through the use of the ancient art forms[,] the virtue and teachings of the ancestors will be able to guide the present and future generations.”

The Pandibulan features a program of Yakan dances centering on the pangalay dance tradition as found mainly in Basilan, south of the Philippines.

Pangalay (also known as Daling-Daling or Mengalai in Sabah) in is the traditional “fingernail” dance of the Tausūg people of the Sulu Archipelago and Sabah.[1] This dance is the most distinctively Asian of all the Southern Philippine dances because dancers must have dexterity and flexibility of the shoulders, elbows, and wrists[2] – movements that strongly resemble those of “kontaw silat,” a martial art common in the Malay Archipelago. The Pangalay is performed mainly during weddings or other festive events[1]. The male equivalent of the Pangalay is the Pangasik and features more martial movements, while a pangalay that features both a male and female dancer is called Pangiluk.

The original concept of the Pangalay is based on the pre-Islamic Buddhist concept of male and female celestial angels (Sanskrit: Vidhyadhari, Bahasa Sūg: Biddadari) common as characters in other Southeast Asian dances.

Neighboring Samal and Bajau peoples call this type of dance, Umaral or Igal, and they sometimes use bamboo castanets as substitutes for long fingernails.[2]

A modern variant of this dance popular among the peoples of Mindanao, Sulu and Sabah is called Pakiring, and emphasizes movement of the hips (kiring-kiring) more than the traditional dance. It is performed to electro versions of traditional songs and is fast overtaking the traditional Pangalay in popularity at weddings.


According to a renowned researcher-teacher, the pangalay tradition has an extensive dance vocabulary that surpasses even that of classical ballet.

The Pandibulan, as conceptualized, choreographed and directed by Ms. Manis incorporates a few of the pangalay vocabulary into telling the story of a Yakan woman undergoing an interview as a caregiver in the US and is stereotyped by a white employer as being an un-complaining and submissive worker from the Third World. The story flashes back to the Yakan community where the woman is from. We are introduced to the community through a series of dances that cover the universal rituals of marriage, childbirth and death. The program also includes dance iterations of the eclipse folk tale as adapted from Yakan oral tradition and a chanting, the contents of which are not properly explained.

The night I watched, the female dancers, clad in colorful, often iridescent costumes, were a delight to watch. However, their dancing was uneven and may need more polishing specially in the parts that required unison. The male dancers were not up to par. Their dancing lacked tension. Their hand and arm placements were fuzzy and uncontrolled. One dancer failed to pick-up his spear from the ground after a plain somersault in a dance demonstrating skill.

But even if the dramaturgy lacked clarity and cohesiveness, the audience seemed to enjoy the evening. After the show, a horde of fans joined the dancers on stage for souvenir photos.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Welcome to the City


I rested my yoga mat to tie my shoe laces on the street after a yoga class. When I was done, I picked my drink with my left hand and a notebook to the address of my next appointment in another and immediately briskly walked to the subway. And then suddenly, I remembered the mat! I literally ran to the corner where I tied my shoes. Five minutes after I left it, the yoga mat was gone!


Let it go. Let it go.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yoga for Whom?


I went to a reasonably-priced yoga place. It's website says that it was established as an alternative to to the expensive and snooty yoga culture of New York. At least, that's their press release. The yoga is by donation. But I have a system for receiving no less than $10 per class. The rates become even less if one takes the bulk classes of a month to a year.

When I got there, the hot yoga advertised was actually Bikram, a system of yoga that is the current rage where one does a series of asanas in a room heated to about two degrees hotter than the normal body temperature. I didn't bring my trunks and towel, only the mat lent by my sister Dawn. The girl at the counter, who it would turn out was also going to handle the class, was helpful enough. She lent me the trunks, gave me a towel. And the manager promptly rang me $12, including the class ($10+$2towel=$12). Seeing my small bottle of water, he suggested I get a bigger bottle for an extra $2. I declined because my yoga teacher at home reminded us to drink water hours before the class--not during class. The manager insisted I pay up front and not after class (as would have been more convenient because by then I had all my stuff, including my wallter, in the locker). And more pressing, the class was about to begin. That's New York for you. Something I want to imbibe, in a way is how their attitude towards business, always looking out for the bottom dollar sign. The facilities in this center are much better. There is no smelly socks, sweaty feet smell like that place on 8th Avenue. And the heaters can really get hot. There were plenty of NYU student types both men and women and the hall was nearly full. I noticed that in the two yoga classes I went to here, the teacher will not correct postures as much as they would at home. They don't call attention to bad posture. I don't think they even remember the names of the students. I think it's too much of an expectation with the constant change of students. I really don't mind that since in effect, it encourages a more personal focus for the practitioner. One becomes more focused on one's body. The awareness to improve on the pose is more personal, instead of showing off to a teacher to get the encouragement.

But what I did mind was that the rest of the class seem to lack discipline. A lot of the people fidgeted in between the poses. The black guy at my side kept drinking water. The girl to my front kept doing extraneous movements-- brushing sweat out of her eyes, moving her legs in places that required stillness. One can respond with the distraction with an extra dose of concentration. Nonetheless, I felt that the teacher should have brought the matter to the attention of the class. No moving between poses.

Before the class, my surrounding classmates sensed that it was my first time to join them. I smiled at the black guy beside me but he simply ignored me. The others around were busy arranging their mats.

When we reached the balancing series (one leg up, the other straight like a resting heron), the black guy was huffing. He couldn't stay in the arrow pose. By the time we got to triangle, 1/4 of the class--including the black guy was puffing. By triangle pose, the dividing line had been drawn. A few of the class lay down (not sit, but lay down on the floor. How odd!) The black guy stopped, braced himself against the wall and began gulping water. Me? I was gloriously in triangle pose with three inhales to spare. And I credit that for staying still, breathing and not drinking water in class. And I'm merely saying that to affirm the good practice habits I learned at home.

The class ended I passed through the counter for the exit. N, the fat manager who probably never did a breathing exercise in his life was counting the daily take. He was happy. He was so happy, in fact, that he told me to get any drink from the ref "on the house". And he was tireless at telling people who came by the counter that they were offering discounts to their monthly unlimited classes in a friendly but definitely business-like kind of way. Meanwhile, the pile of NYU types was thickening at the entrance as the next class was about to begin. All seemed eager to experience stretching inside a heated room no matter the quality of their poses and the ability of the guru to lead.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Situating the Center


In visits past, this city was a daunting place of strange subway connections. My first, of a set, of realizations was that going to the opposite track did not necessarily mean returning to where one has been. Include in the list my awe at the nature of the supermarket here. I walk in any which one and the variety of goods available is astounding. But choice is illusion if one doesn't really have the means. This city--any rich city-- is cruel that way to those who only have a pocketful of coins. There are free things to try. But like the free tastings in a grocery, the sample does not satisfy. It merely wakes a slumbering curiosity and nags at the desire to acquire. In this sense, I feel that I'm a little boy in a candy store with only a dollar to spend.

They say that healthy deprivation brings out the creativity in us. No wonder, this city has the most number of artists per square inch. There must be some outlet for all these unresolved cravings. For every frustration borne of desire, there is an equal invention of a source of pleasure.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


If you were given a chance to live in the center of all cities for six months, on a budget, without an income, with the sole purpose of "absorbing" and "creating", would you do it? I have been blessed to live a dream.

It is a sabbatical. A time to rest. To breathe anew. To breath new. A beginning of sorts.

This city is in early Spring.

The picture is a view from my window. After Easter, I've noticed more light in the sky when I wake up at 6 a.m. Although it is still cold, there is less imperative to use the heater. Yesterday, there was sun and I took a bike ride with Bill through parts of the big park. Amidst the population and the high rise buildings, the city is known for this valley of green that has one side of it running along a river. Underneath the city is a system of railways that ferry a thousand commuters everyday to offices, to art, to community, secret trysts. It cannot be any other city. It can only be this city.

My camera in hand, my laptop over my shoulder. It will be six months on a safari. The landscape, the food, the new tribes, strange rituals, the wildlife. Am I ready for it?

Hell, yeah! I've been preparing for it my whole life.