Ballet Manila stages "Dracula"

The horror! The horror! I now enjoy ballet 
By Walter Ang
June 29, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The first time I saw a ballet was when I was in high school. A classmate of mine had gone to see a production of "Swan Lake" and was gushing about how good it was. The rest of our group felt left out and slightly jealous of our friend's escapade. She had actually seen a full-length ballet; it was culture, it was art! The whole event was tinged with glamour and we wanted to have our piece of the action.

So, filled with youthful zest, we caught the matinee the following weekend and saw men and women in tights dancing on tiptoe. That was when we found out we didn't have anything to be jealous of. Ten minutes into the first act and we were squirming in our seats, ready to go home. Plainly said, we were bored.

We didn't have enough background in dance to appreciate the nuances of the dancing. We never had art appreciation classes. We were plainly too young and too unsophisticated to appreciate the finer points of this art form.

We sat through the entire two hours, except that half of the time, we were making mental notes either not to freak out or to keep awake. The afternoon was not wasted however, as we were rewarded with Lisa Macuja playing Odette. Even to the uneducated, untrained eye, she really did look like a swan. When she performed the 36 pirouettes in quick succession required of the role, we watched in awe as people in the audience started shouting "Bravo!" even before the turns were completely done.

Flash forward to a couple of years later. I was browsing through the newspapers and my eye caught an ad for a ballet production. The title: "Dracula." I was intrigued.

I wanted to give myself a chance to try ballet again after the first encounter. Maybe I had grown up a little and could now take in another afternoon of this art form. The first thing that attracted me to this particular production was the subject matter. The word ballet conjures up images of swans and nutcrackers and petite women dancing the role of Peter Pan. A ballet that would tackle the gothic world of the undead? This I had to see.

The one fact that made me decide I could definitely give ballet another try was that "Dracula" would only be 50 minutes long. I couldn't believe it when I read it in the papers! A full-length production running two hours would seem daunting to a generation raised on the fast-paced editing of MTV and channel surfing. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter everyday. But 50 minutes? I was sure I could manage that. I had seen the Francis Ford Coppola film. I had tried reading the book (which I hurled across the room after a couple of pages). So now I was going to catch the ballet.

We tried to get to the GSIS Theater early so we could check out the paintings and other exhibits in the museum before settling down for the show. Unfortunately, all my friends and I met up at the theater just within minutes of the door closing on us, otherwise it would've been fun to take a look at the artworks the museum had to offer. We composed ourselves as we sat down and anticipated what was to come. The show opened with a front act, a light piece, "Velvet Wings," choreographed by David Campos Cantero. I was telling my companions how I liked the last part where the dancers held butterflies as they danced, until my friend pointed out the notes in the program said the whole piece was about the dancers being the butterflies themselves. Oh. Okay.

Lisa Macuja wouldn't be dancing this time due to her pregnancy, but it was her company, Ballet Manila, that gave birth to the Asian premiere of "Dracula." The artistic director of the Nashville Ballet, Paul Vasterling, choreographed this production. He created his version of "Dracula" in 1999 and it performed to sold-out audiences. The curtains opened to a bare stage with a backdrop that seemed plain black at first, but eventually filled with shadows and colors as the ballet progressed. Later on, the center would reveal a glorious lighted cross to vanquish the dark Count. The ballet was meant to be an abstract of the dark tale's major events.

The characters from the novel had been reduced and the story had been streamlined to move the action forward. Female characters like Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra were obviously retained, but Vasterling combined Professor Van Helsing, along with the other male characters, into Jonathan Harker. So instead of a milquetoast Harker, in this version he actually had a hand in defeating The Count.

We were older, sure, but were we capable of appreciating the nuances of dance this time around? We actually had a lot of fun and our fear of becoming bored dissipated quickly. I will leave a more technical review of the dancing to better qualified connoisseurs and critics of the art form. Some scenes I liked were when the other dancers would grab Dracula and make it look like he was gliding along the stage. With just a little imagination, he would be flying on his own at times.

My friends and I really enjoyed the scene where the Count seduced Lucy. She started out dancing gracefully and lightly, but after Dracula bit her neck, she became an earthy, unrestrained, unbound dancing entity. We particularly liked the device Vasterling used to signify Dracula's bite. The Count would drape a scarlet scarf across his victims' necks to symbolize blood.

Spend an afternoon immersing yourself in ballet, glide over to watch "Dracula." The 50-minute time frame works. The whole thing was over before I knew it. Even after Dracula was finally defeated in a loud explosion, I found myself waiting for more and had to be reminded that the show was over.

"Dracula" shows on June 30, July 1 and 2 at the GSIS Theater. Call 512-5031, 512-5032, 525-1584 

Theatre Etiquette Tips

Theatre Etiquette For Boors 
By Walter Ang
June 15, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

As soon as the schoolyear opens, most theater companies start their seasons for the year. After taking a break from doing shows to hold workshops during the summer months, theater companies will go into full blast as they resume staging productions that run the gamut from Greek classics to Broadway musicals.

One of the biggest captive audiences most theater companies have are students who are required to watch at least one show for school. This is why most seasons are scheduled in tandem with school calendars. Exposing the youth to culture and arts is a noble enterprise, however, woe to the unlucky and unsuspecting theatergoer who has to endure hours of sitting with noisy, fidgety, unappreciative kids.

Bringing busloads of teenagers into a darkened theater will give you the usual scenes: boys asleep, girls giggling and chattering away, cell phones going off during the most importune times, whole groups wanting to go to the bathroom at the same time. All of that, and the play hasn't even started yet!

Tips
Some of us has experienced at least one horror story while watching a stage production. These inconsiderate individuals should at least try to realize that they aren't the only ones who are in the theater. A little common courtesy can go a long way. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what courtesy means anymore. Teachers really should try to brief their students with a few etiquette tips before they head off to the theater. In the meantime, here's a few reminders for the most common offenses:

1. Turn off those cell phones.
If you own a pager, or a cell phone, or a radio unit, or all three, turn them off. First of all, the various lights, beeps and other strange sounds emitted by these devices will distract not only fellow audience members, but especially the performers. Leave the light and sound effects to the professionals.

Second, a unit that's switched to either vibrate or mute mode will still send out signals that will interfere with sound systems. We already know how telephones and computer monitors are affected whenever a nearby cellphone is receiving an incoming text message. Now imagine the same annoying interference amplified for all to hear, drowning out the lines of the actors onstage.

Third, owning a cellphone is no longer a status symbol. Even fruit vendors in Divisoria have them. So if you think you prove how cool you are by letting everyone hear your ringing tone of the latest AprilBoy ditty, you're just showing everyone how crass you are.

Fourth, don't even think of taking or making a call during the play! This may be a concept that is alien to many of you, but this is considered rude. If you've forgotten what rude means, you'd better go back to preschool to take a refresher course.

2. Don't talk.
This reminder is for people who like to give a blow- by-blow account of what's happening onstage to their companions. If you want a career as a commentator, don't practice while the play's going on. And don't we just all hate the whiny, know-it-all who does nothing but complain and claim how he or she could do so much better?

We've got good news for people who aren't enjoying the show like the rest of us. There are moments during the play called black-outs. Most of us think black-outs are for scene or costume changes, but the truth of the matter is, they're really for those of you want to leave the show! Black outs are specially put in for you by the playwrights. Don't you think that's so gracious of them?

3. Don't heckle.
For a whole generation raised on explicit, graphic scenes of sex and violence on television, I do not understand why some audiences shriek and swoon whenever there's a kissing scene onstage. Are you experiencing kilig? Or are you just worried that the kissing actors might harbor some horrible diseases that they could contaminate each other with? If you think you're being cute, think again.

There are a whole lot more things to keep in mind. Yes, watching a live production is not like watching the latest Latin American television soap opera at home. You cannot scream at the villain, you cannot put your stinky feet up, you cannot talk on your phone, etc. Having reactions to what's happening onstage is perfectly fine. Laugh if you must, cry if you must, but always remember, you're not the only one in the theater so remember to behave.

Delicious Ongpin On My Mind

Delicious Ongpin On My Mind 
By Walter Ang
June 1, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Onyx black gulaman thrown in a blender with crushed ice. The whir of the machine announcing to the world how the two ingredients were mixing and blending. The resulting draught was poured into a tall plastic container and served promptly. Instant gratification on a hot, humid day.

We were in Chinatown, in an eatery just a stone's throw away from the historic San Lorenzo Ruiz Basilica, more popularly know as Binondo Church. We came over to end our busy week with a short break from the summer heat. Our objective was to get our black gulaman shake fix and just hang out.

We sat ourselves in a booth by the window and inspected the motley crew of characters passing by. Shirtless, sweaty men carrying loads of boxes down the street. Old ladies, white hair in neat buns behind their heads, with grandchildren in tow. Celphone-toting, braces- wearing teenagers armed with plastic bags filled with textbooks. It's almost June and students and parents are scrambling to get things ready for school opening.

Parked across the street was a cordon of heavy-duty firetrucks painted in bright purple. Everyone loves a firetruck. It must be some sort of ethereal connection with our childhood as we played with toy versions and saw Sesame Street features on these large metal vehicles. Painted across these large firetrucks are big letters spelling out, "Ube Pumper." How's that for a name?

Hole-in-the-wall
Smack in one of the intersections of busy Ongpin Street, with its green walls and white ceiling fans, is Chuan Kee Chinese Fastfood / Cafe Mezzanine. This place has been around forever. Prior to its renovation several years ago, it was one of those typical, seedy Chinese eating joints with layers of grease covering every available surface. Some people will argue that hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants wouldn't be worth going to if it weren't seedy. It's what gives it character. This little deli isn't seedy anymore, but it still retains an otherworldly charm. Now it's sparklingly clean, well-lit, and has friendly servers with large nameplates. Not unlike a hamburger fastfood restaurant.

While you won't find any burgers in here, what it does have will leave you watering at the mouth. The place offers meals for as low as P40. Customers view the choices from large neon placards hanging across the counter. A little gauche, but what do you expect? No one seems to mind though, as the fast turnover of tables will attest.

One dish this deli is known for is their Soup No. 5. A subject of countless jokes among high school students in Chinese schools in the area. For a ridiculously high price, you can get a tiny bowl of soup that has bulls', eherm, male parts in it. This is, of course, supposedly a potent broth that can boost male virility.

We skipped that entry and ordered for ourselves some kiampong, literally, salty rice. Warm, brown, and glutinous; served in little plastic bowls. We picked out a sidedish of kikiam to go with our rice. Not those puny little ones that fishball vendors sell, mind you. We got a humongous piece that had to be sliced up. We were attended to by servers who all wore clean uniforms and had ready smiles on hand.

One of the best things I love about the place is that, as you enter, there is a sensor that calls out in an robotic, almost female voice, "Hello. Please come in." It's absolutely hilarious. I crack up every time I hear it. It even has another message for outgoing customers, "Thank you. Come back again." I'm sure we will.