Thursday, March 30, 2017

An afternoon at the beach

I wanted to go to the beach... this was, perhaps, the only opportunity I have to see the beach in the summer. Val and Amani were happy to oblige, and chose to visit Laiya, Batangas. Because I failed to get day-trip reservations, we ended up touring the different resorts, deciding to stop in the resort I liked the most; which, in this case, was Virgin Beach Resort.

What I liked the most about this resort was that it was peaceful and relaxing. It reminded me of Paradise Cove in Hawaii, where I attended a luau; I wasn't impressed by the food so much, but I particularly loved the relaxing feeling of being on the beach. The other resorts were dotted with big groups of people and were very noisy (thanks to the ubiquitous karaoke and videoke machines)... something we're all trying to avoid.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

In the Next Room (2017)

I was in Greenbelt Mall one afternoon, looking for an activity that could double as "cultural education", but not another visit to the museum because there wasn't a new exhibit yet. Then I passed by OnStage, the theatre housed in Greenbelt 1, in which the Repertory Philippines was performing "In the Next Room", a period piece by Sarah Ruhl.

Yeah, why not? I haven't seen a play in a long time. And so as I settled into my seat, I noticed the stage... it was beautifully designed down to the most intricate of details. Signature Rep. I was expecting nothing less from the training ground of some of the Philippines' best theatre talents.

I just didn't take to heart what the second part of the play's title, "The Vibrator Play" meant... because it seems to be anachronistic to the Victorian era (19th century) setting. What was I thinking? This was the Rep, after all... it keeps pushing the boundaries of Philippine theatre audiences.

While the performance was peppered by laughter coming from the audience, in reaction with how "hysteria", tension in womens' loins, in the two repressed women characters via the use of an electric vibrator, a look at the subtexts of the play makes one think about relationships between husbands and wives in high society and their gender roles during that time period; i.e., women were so restrained and were expected to look after the home, as indicated by their corseted and heavy clothing, and men were so restrained by the dictates of society to the point that their relationships as spouses were constricted as well. It was a story about the road to liberation from those shackles for both husband (the doctor) and wife, and perhaps for a third and a fourth supporting character. However, given the time period, it never got to the point of overcoming the seeming lack of education of the women characters, beyond music and arts. 

Just one question though, on a theme that seems to be perpetuated by plays, movies, and other forms of art: Why is liberation from social norms typically equated with how one views the sexual act?

Overall, it was an enjoyable way to cap my Saturday afternoon. And a thought-provoking one too. Filled with intellectual humour, this comedy made me rather pensive as I walked out of the theatre, instead of laugh-out-loud happy.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast (the animated Disney classic) is one of those movies that bring back memories of the good old days... in grade school. Yes, the cartoon was shown in 1991. So when I heard that Disney was making a live-action version of this beloved classic, I put the premiere date in my calendar and waited (im)patiently until the day arrived.

However, due to circumstances that I couldn't avoid (aka statistical analyses and physical exercise), I ended up watching the movie the week after it opened in San Pablo City, Laguna. It was a much-awaited showing, indeed, because the cinema was packed with parents (who relived their first time seeing the cartoon) and their children (who were seeing this version for the first time).

And so the "tale as old as time" began. Emma Watson (who I first saw as Hermione in the Harry Potter series), waltzed into the screen as Belle, the female protagonist. And I can say that she definitely is not Paige O'Hara when it comes to her singing. I guess my expectation was upped because Luke Evans sang really well as Gaston. I was absolutely blown away! Vocally, Emma Watson's Belle was no match to Luke Evans' Gaston. However, her persona does fit the character of Belle, so I thought that it was okay. And then there's Emma Thompson, taking over Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Potts; and I can say that Emma Thompson's performance actually made me forget that I was listening to Mrs. Potts 2.0. Lumière was voiced by Ewan McGregor whose French accent sounded like he once again took on the role of Christian in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge. I'm not sure if I liked it. Ian McKellen, of course, was unrecognisable as Cogsworth; I couldn't find traces of Magneto nor of Gandalf... not even of Leigh Teabing in his performance as the mantel clock; such a chameleon!

The movie itself had no surprises that could throw the fans off. Yes, there were additional songs and the much hyped added dimension to LeFou, but there was nothing that made people think that this was an attempt to bring additional insights into the character. Belle was shown teaching a young girl how to read, quite empowering; but she developed a "washing machine" drawn by a donkey so she could sit down and read her book. That didn't come across too well; if I weren't listening, I'd think she's created the washing machine so she has time to laze around. Tsk. Gaston and LeFou were still two-dimensional; it was difficult to tolerate Gaston's narcissism... how could LeFou stand it? how could the women continue to fawn over the guy?!? Anyway, people writing "spoilers" for the live-action movie would be hard-pressed to do so because the 2017 movie is very loyal to the 1991 cartoon... even to the big reveal of the prince.

Honestly, I was a bit let down. I think I got so used to the prince's grizzly appearance that when he became human, it was meh

But still, it's such a feel-good movie. Already looking forward the the more modern take on Mulan.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Boards UP

The first time I entered an establishment where I had to pay for lunch but can play all board games that I want was in Ludo Café in Makati. I went there after French class with my classmates. Little did I know that this concept was about to pick up a storm in Los Baños in the form of Boards UP.

Krishna, Jojie, Erin, and I tried it out one cold evening in which we needed to relax and eating dinner just didn't fit the ticket. While waiting for our meals, we picked (of all games) UNO Stacko. I thought that it was a good idea because there were no plates; the pieces weren't in any danger, at that point, of plopping into our food.

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As the evening progressed, we also played Cards Against Humanity (never tried it before; totally hilarious!) and Machi Koro, coincidentally a game I was playing with Ate Maddie, JP, and Daddy during my vacation in the Calaveras area. Because we had so much fun, we kind of lost track of time and ended a bit later than we normally do when we eat out.

Nevertheless, Boards UP is a place I am interested of visiting again. Perhaps in a few months.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces

After my Saturday French class, I trooped to the Ayala Museum to visit the exhibit called "Optimism is Ridiculous: The Altarpieces" by Thai painter Natee Utarit.  

I was kind of concerned because the artwork might be highly politicised or highly critical, given the title... nothing wrong with that but my purpose was to relax while looking at the artwork. I didn't want a political interpretation dictated to me; I want to see the collection for itself and see it for its visual properties.

As I walked around the exhibit, poring through the paintings, I noticed that these were really big pieces, most could fit behind the altar in churches! And they were all thought-provoking. For instance...

The piece below says that churches, the traditional home of optimism and faith, have become home of cynicism, resistance and pessimism. Interesting, it's an idea that I have noticed in the dioramas. That is, the Filipino resistance movement and the first government officials used to meet in churches, like the Barasoain Church

My favourite piece in the exhibit is the one on unending corridors. It reminds me a lot of the corridors in the University of Queensland, albeit the corridors at uni were a bit more on the pink side. Aside from that, I don't see how optimism can be ridiculous with this painting. Unless of course, we talk about the endlessness of the corridor. It's as if we'll never reach the goal. And at the end, it's all might be in vain, because the corridor is dark.

What better way to illustrate that it's ridiculous to be positive than a painting representing Adam and Eve as skeletons? It is as macabre as they come! I'm not sure which one is Adam and which one is Eve. All I know is that one of them is holding the other one's heart. And as they wait for the coming of the One who was going to redeem from the original sin, the humans start thinking that if God did not exist, it is necessary to invent Him. Does that mean that Adam and Eve are waiting in vain?

After my brief tour of the exhibit, I felt that it's one of the more thought-provoking sets of paintings that I have seen. I didn't leave with a sense of peace or catharsis. Instead, I was kind of disturbed by the theme's seemingly existential view of life.

Oh well... I need to find a new, happier, exhibit to watch...

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

An evening of chamber music at the National Arts Centre

Learning that there was a free concert at the top arts high school in the country, I dropped what I was doing and went to the National Arts Centre with Cindy and Rexie. I have to say that the high school students were able to stand their ground as they performed with seasoned artists from different orchestras all over the world. I was so happy for these students... and I am sure that their parents are so proud of them too.

Many of the songs that the students performed, either solo or with a group, sounded very complicated. Looking at the concert playlist, I could only recognise musicians Handel, Brahms, Mozart, and Bizet... Take note that I am not much of a classical music fan, listening mostly to Beethoven and Mozart (particularly the Requiem).

Anyway, despite my relative ignorance with this field of music, I still enjoyed listening to the different pieces. One of the most memorable one, for me at least, was the "Kinder Suite Op 142" by Schytte. That's because the musicians were all in pyjamas and they were using regular objects as musical instruments. I also particularly enjoyed the Carmen Fantasy by Bizet.

The future is bright for these young ones. I am sure that I will encounter them again... as they perform for a bigger audience on a bigger stage.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Swan Lake

A classic piece of ballet.
A big finale for a fiery season of Ballet Philippines, that started with Firebirds and Other Ballets.
Too bad I was only available to watch the performances on the season's opening and on its closing.

Swan Lake. One of the first ballets I have seen at the CCP. I think I first saw it as a pre-schooler; my memory is quite hazy about those days but I clearly remember that I liked the music back then.So it was quite a treat when I learned that Swan Lake was going to be performed by Ballet Philippines as this season's ender.

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And the nice thing was that the CCP was adorned with photos and memorabilia from the several times it had performed Swan Lake. Based on these mementos, I can hazard to guess that I saw this ballet for the first time in 1985. 

The ballet was superbly performed by the dancers. The difference though was that this time, I could actually understand the plot; back in 1985, I was awed by the novelty of the theatre, the music, and the lights. Also, computer effects have been incorporated in this year's performance, though never distracting from it. 

Now looking forward to the next season of Ballet Philippines!!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Last Full Show

There are pieces of art that celebrate the beauty of the human body. There's David and Venus de Milo representing sculpture, for instance; or the Creation of Adam, representing paintings. 

And then there are those art pieces that show us the body as it is, with all its flabs and its excretions.  It is far from perfect but is nevertheless a sight to behold. That's what Danilo Dalena was showing in an exhibition of his works at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines. I popped in on its last day of showing; which is why there was a lot of visitors and there was a party going on right outside the gallery. 

Some of the works gave me a glimpse into what the Manila Jai Alai building looked like inside back in the day. It's an architectural gem in Manila, hailing from the Art Deco period. However, Manila is evolving and is more than willing to let go of the past (along with its architectural richness) in favour of a modern but less culturally and artfully impressive future (think glass buildings and that eyesore of a photo bomber visible behind the Rizal Monument in Luneta). Hence, the Jai Alai building has ceased to exist years ago, to the lament of artists, historians, and culture buffs.

Some of the artwork looked into what happened once the lights dimmed in Manila's movie houses. Nothing much, apparently; just a lot of older men (but still in the working class) paying the ticket price for an opportunity to stay in the dark and... sleep. I imagine that these were the same men who were betting quite heavily at the jai alai match in the nearby building or at the horse races happening at the Sta Ana Hippodrome. These men were exhausted, naturally, and found refuge in the relative peace and solitude of  the cinema.

Some of the paintings took a peek inside the master's bedroom, presenting in a tableau what spouses were doing before they fell asleep... which included the mundane tasks of reading and doing crossword puzzles, trying to lull themselves to sleep. 

But what is a provocative artist without dabbling into controversial topics like religion, body image, and sex, right? 

Last Full Show featured two paintings which featured two sides of the religious coin: the first painting featured the Filipinised Jesus Christ (dark-skinned), dressed as a priest, being revered by a long queue of people; the second painting, depicting the same scene from a different angle, showing that the people in the queue were actually waiting for their turn to pee because the priest was relieving himself. And then there's the powerful painting about the parade of the Black Nazarene during his feast day. Dalena was able to capture the chaos of millions of people who willingly get crushed just to touch the miraculous image. A critique on people's inconsistent religiosity was displayed in a painting about a cabinet in which the saints were trapped. 

Over the course of the exhibit, Dalena was quite unforgiving, sometimes bordering on the absurd, in portraying the common man and woman as obese (and oftentimes) elderly people walking around naked or partially clothed, with their bodily excess in full view of the audience. It contrasts with the impressions of poverty that are attached with the grimy scenes his characters seem to thrive in... poor people are often portrayed as people who don't have enough to eat and are too skinny for their own good. Yet Dalena chose to paint many of these characters as obese.

And then, there are pieces of art work that dabbled into sexual themes. He had a series of art focused on what happened in beer-houses, in which seedy men drank their alcohol while watching scantily clad women gyrate to sultry music. Again, perhaps he was portraying this form of entertainment as an escape from the realities of poverty and of troubled family life for the traditional household head, men. Maybe it's no different from the men who slept inside the cinema after (I presume) betting on jai alai matches. 

What was the artist's or the curator's objective in selecting these pieces? I'm not sure what the story is, aside from showcasing what is typically hidden in the dark corners of portraits and tableaus. 

The exhibit was definitely though-provoking. However, its themes were too dark and dated for my taste.