Ballet Philippines' 'La Revolucion' is poignant and powerful

'La Revolucion' is poignant and powerful
By Walter Ang
September 25, 2008
Pep.ph
http://www.pep.ph/guide/arts-and-culture/2629/pep-review-la-revolucion-is-poignant-and-powerful

What is most interesting in Ballet Philippines' staging of La Revolucion Filipina is choreographer Agnes Locsin's entrancing dance vocabulary.

Audiences used to classical ballet will not find the usual poses and movements in this showcase of earthy and visceral emotion and strength.

Instead of the usual arms and legs extended to create a 'longer line,' Locsin has her dancers in bent, crooked and contorted choreography and it looks different, yet wonderful. She imbues her dancers with a unique grace and texture.

Some theater fans may remember shades of this kind of choreography from Trumpet's "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" and SK Entertainment's "Rama at Sita," two musicals that featured Locsin's choreography.

This different approach is appropriate in that La Rev traces the struggle of Filipinos such as Apolinario Mabini, Emilio Aguinaldo,and Andres Bonifacio against foreign invasion set to the haunting music of Ryan Cayabyab.

In a way, Locsin's reworking of Western dance techniques into neo-ethnic movement already tells much of the story, because even in the form that she uses, there is already an unspoken revolt against established 'foreign' dance norms.

In the performance we caught, Mabini was performed by Biag Gaongen. He gives a strong performance,a study in quiet, interior power portrayed through intense and elegant dancing.

One striking image that Locsin creates is that of a male dancer (The Oppressor) holding up a female dancer (representing enslaved Filipinos) in a fetal pose, legs askew and arms outstretched in supplication. Using Dennis Marasigan's libretto, this is a sad but powerful image Locsin repeats towards the end of the two-hour narrative, when Mabini 'witnesses the treachery of his fellow men and the cruelty they inflict on their fellow Filipinos.'

In a way, perhaps it is her warning to audience members that they should keep in mind not to let that image happen again.

Set designer Mio Infante uses visual metaphors to reflect violation and intrusion. He places askewed, off-kilter ramp upstage, like a jagged, meddlesome finger pointing menacingly into the otherwise pristine stage. A large half circle, meanwhile, serves as the backdrop with a neon-orange triangle piercing into it.

Katsch Catoy's lively lighting design is able to create completely different looks for the stage, sometimes bathing it full of light and sometimes casting ominous shadows to full effect. One very small quibble though, in one crucial sequence featuring the Philippine flag, his yellow lighting was so strong (or perhaps the fabric was so faded?) that the red and blue stripes on the flag became a strange hue of orange and green.

Nonetheless, La Rev is a poignant piece that helps retell our history as a people and as a nation. It bears retelling, again and again, lest we forget.

Ballet Philippines will stage New Beginnings on October 17 to 19 featuring choreography by Alvin Ailey, Alan Hineline, and Max Luna III. For details, call 551-1003 or 551-0221.

Art Theater Clinique's 'Pinter Plays' is disturbing and exciting

'Pinter Plays'--disturbing and exciting
By Walter Ang
September 22, 2008

The Art Theater Clinique of Far Eastern University (FEU) presents an edgy, disturbing, and, ultimately, exciting production in its staging of "Pinter Plays." In this "devised theater performance," director J. Victor Villareal has selected scenes from three plays written by Harold Pinter, namely, "The Lover," "The Collection," and "The Homecoming," and does the directorial equivalent of hurling them into a blender and macerating them into a strange and intriguing show.

The intimate FEU Arts Studio where the production is staged sets a claustrophobic tone with its low ceilings. The acting area, deliberately placed under a low-hanging beam (even lower than the ceiling), creates a heightened sense of dread. Dribbles and spatters of red paint on the cyclorama panels and stage floor signal anxiety and foreboding.

Wikipedia notes that Pinter's works "often involve strong conflicts among ambivalent characters fighting for verbal and territorial dominance." Villareal takes these themes, mines them for all the sexual subtext they're worth and articulates everything unsaid through physical action.

Ambiguous indeed
Definitely not for audiences looking for wholesome family fare, Villareal injects the tight one-hour staging with gratuitous amounts of violence and obscenity. To wit, the show begins with four actors engaging in contorted coital poses (fully clothed) as they deliver their lines in an excerpted scene from "The Lover." The actors are actually playing only two characters (so it seems) and there is much ambiguity on who is really who and what is really what.

Villareal doesn't even use a single line from "The Collection," and instead, presents a bewildering choreographed bacchanalia of orgasmic shrieking.

The extraction from "The Homecoming" has the most semblance of a narrative, if you can call it that. A father and his son have a ridiculous argument about a pair of misplaced scissors. The lines seem mundane enough, but actors Arvin Baracena (the father) and Wilbert Castillo (the son) are made to scream, no, wail at each other.

Baracena, in particular, cuts a hefty presence onstage, his stocky frame notwithstanding, with a palpable and seemingly unending fury. Aggressive and predatory, when he drops the fourth wall and wades through front row audience's seats to look for the missing pair of scissors, he evokes discomfort and even fear.

The scene from "The Collection" ends with what can either be interpreted as a depraved, humiliating, submission scene involving the father, his sons and one of his son's wife, or a manipulative reversal-domination of the male brood by the wife.

Clearly, Villareal enjoys creating unease and relishes the indefinite. Pinter's work has also been described as "complex and contradictory." In the gray area between tragedy and farce, with a bit of theater-of-the-absurd thrown in, these two are a match, all right.

Love it or leave it
The cast of brave, young actors exhibit such howling rage, such scalding angst, such torrid abandon that it was impressive to behold. It's as if they threw all doubt out the window and submitted their trust completely to Villareal to guide them through the material.

All that moaning, shouting and moving about is actually easy to dismiss as gimmicky and a weak attempt at shock value, but for some inexplicable reason, in this off-kilter universe that Villareal has created, he somehow strikes a delicate balance and it works. Audiences who caught Villareal's direction of "Masaganang Ekonomiya" in Virgin Labfest 4 will be familiar with this style of in-your-face theater. His directorial conceits were a bit overwrought "Masganang" and did not quite work, but with some self-editing, it soars in "Pinter Plays."

To be fair, this is a production that not all audiences will like. His staging for "Pinter Plays" is the kind that younger or more adventurous audiences are more likely to appreciate. Given that majority of ATC's audiences are college students, the stage grammar Villareal employs evidently speaks to their language. Even in the more violent scenes onstage, they pick up on the dark comedy of it all and laugh the easiest and the hardest.

All bets are off in this insane, self-contained reality as the show ends on a hilarious note. Baracena and Castillo reprise their earlier father-and-son scene, line-per-line and with the same angry intensity, but this time, in complete gayspeak. It's probably Villareal's punchline and he's winking: if you didn't get it, then most likely, the joke's on you.

ATC will be staging "Spoof," a stand-up comedy show from Nov. 27 to 29 with 7pm shows at FEU Plaza. Admission is free! For details, call 735-5621 loc. 236 or visit arttheatreclinique.multiply.com.

Apo Hiking Society: Four decades in the performing arts

Apo Hiking Society: Four decades in the performing arts 
By Walter Ang
September 15, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

The Apo Hiking Society, one of the country's leading music icons, will kick-off a year-long celebration marking their 40th year in the music scene with a pre-anniversary concert titled "Apo of the Philippines" on September 20, 8:00 PM, at the Araneta Coliseum.

The concert will celebrate 39 years of lasting friendship among Danny Javier, Boboy Garrovillo, and Jim Paredes as well as the music that they have shared with Filipinos since their group's inception when they were still in college (which was then known as the Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society).

Paredes is now known more to younger audiences as one of the mentors to a group of singer-hopefuls in the premiere season of reality TV show "Pinoy Dream Academy." Older audiences who grew up with the group will recall that it also hosted several television shows including their own noontime Sunday show "Sa Linggo nAPO Sila" which turned into the daily noontime show "`Sang Linggo nAPO Sila."

Musical journey
Their upcoming concert is not at all a reunion concert or a comeback concert. After all, over the years, the Apo Hiking Society has recorded 26 albums and performed in thousands of live concerts in the Philippines and over 50 cities across the world including the United States, Canada, Singapore, Indonesia, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Japan.

"We actually do an average of 30 shows every year," says Paredes. Despite having immigrated to Australia a few years ago, he still schedules return trips to the Philippines when a certain number of bookings are lined up.

"Apo of the Philippines" is slated to be a musical journey of the group's unforgettable songs such as Pumapatak ang Ulan, Awit ng Barkada, Nakapagtataka, Ewan, Batang-Bata Ka Pa, When I Met You, Anna, Blue Jeans, Panalangin, Bawat Bata, and Saan Na Nga Ba'ng Barkada, among many others.

"I think we have around 60 recognizable songs. Of course, not all of them are popular, but when people hear some of our `less popular' songs, they are still able to identify us as the singers," says Paredes. "Somehow, our songs have a life of their own."

Tribute albums
So much so that two tribute albums have been produced: "Kami nAPO Muna" in 2006 (considered the biggest selling album in the country that year with more than 125,000 copies sold in less than 6 months) and "Kami nAPO Muna Ulit" just last year.

"It is a new world out there!" says Paredes. "Kids connect to our music, maybe not in the way I pictured, but nonetheless, they are connecting. It goes to show that if you stay around long enough, you get hip all over again."

The group has always been able to keep up with new technologies and trends. In 1987, they were one of the first Filipino groups to be recorded on CDs. Paredes, meanwhile, has joined the blogosphere with his online musings at http://haringliwanag.pansitan.net

"Admittedly, I don't think we individually have great voices, but when we sing together, it's like we're three Clark Kents becoming one Superman," says Paredes. While the group has performed before in the Araneta Coliseum, they've actually only been guest acts. This time audiences will finally get to see them headline their own concert and are sure to be treated to the group's signature stage presence, unique banter, wit, and humor.

Paredes attributes the group's success to three reasons: "We enjoy what we're doing. We believe we're doing something greater than us." He then concludes, with a wink, "And we don't have sex with each other. Sex just complicates things."

For details, visit www.apohikingsociety.org or call 426-0103 or 426-5301. Tickets available from Ticketnet at 911-5555.

Also published online:
http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/lifestyle/lifestyle/view/20080915-160667/Four-decades-in-the-performing-arts

Opera for beginners: 'The Magic Flute'

Opera for beginners 
By Walter Ang
September 15, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

This September, Filipinos who've always wanted to try watching an opera but were too intimidated will finally have a chance to get their feet (and ears) wet with a one-hour children's version of the fantasy-opera "The Magic Flute" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

"To be honest, even I get bored sometimes when I listen to opera," says director Kokoy Jimenez. With that in mind, he and Karla Gutierrez, the president of the Philippine Opera Company (POC), developed the concept of staging a "colorful, entertaining, and visually interesting" production using black theater, puppets and animation.

"The Magic Flute" tells of Prince Tamino's quest to find the beautiful Pamina, whose image he has fallen in love with. During his search, Tamino gains a sidekick in Papageno, a bird-catcher, and encounters a myriad of weird and unique characters such as the Queen of the Night
(Pamina's grand but menacing mother), Sarastro (a high priest) and even a talking dragon. The prince will have to overcome ordeals to win his damsel in distress.

Eclectic Jimenez was chosen by the POC to bring this story to life because of his eclectic directorial experience. Aside from having directed the original Filipino musical "Kenkoy Loves Rosing," he directs "all sorts of productions like corporate shows and concerts." The most recent ones he's done were for Mitch Valdez and Gabby Concepcion. He'll also be helming the upcoming Apo Hiking Society concert at the Araneta Coliseum.

Aside from the shortened running time from the original three hours, the opera will be sung in English. "We had sportscaster Sev Sarmento do additional adaptations to the lyrics to make the show fit Pinoy sensibilities and realities," he says. The show includes the addition of a character called Ana, a little girl who is "transported into Prince Tamino's magical world."

"These devices are our efforts to bring opera closer and more accessible to the Filipino audience," he says. "Children are the hardest audience to please. Either they like it or they don't." The show is in good hands. After all, Jimenez is the man behind the country's longest running children's educational television program, "Batibot."

Proven So good, in fact, that this run at the Cultural Center of the Philippines is already the third for the production. "We first staged this in Pampanga years ago. We had no idea it would be this well-received. We had our second run in 2006 also at the CCP," he says.

This latest incarnation has incorporated some changes that have developed since the original run. The "Yellow Submarine"-inspired animation has worked well enough with audiences that when female singers were not available to portray the Queen of the Night for the show's second run, an animated version of the character was developed and is now a permanent element of the show.

"It's a really great way to expose children to opera so that they grow up not being afraid of it. But this show is not just for children, it's a show even adults can enjoy," he says. As an added treat, adults who grew up watching "Batibot" will get a chance to see one of the show's mainstays, Bodjie "Kuya Bodjie" Pascua, sing opera as he tackles the role of Papageno.

"I really appreciate the creative risks that the POC takes. They have a lot of ideas that are brave and they tap different directors who are not necessarily opera directors to infuse new blood into opera. The purists may not like it, but if it will help bring in new audiences for opera, then it's very exciting," he says.

Appreciation Founded in 1999, the POC is committed to developing opera appreciation among Filipinos by performing in malls, churches, community centers, government agencies, private corporate organizations, parks, and schools throughout the country.

POC's 2008 season will round out in October with two productions. To coincide with the 150th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini's birth, his opera La Boheme (on which the musical "Rent" is loosely based) will be staged at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. This staging, to be directed by Floy Quintos, will update the material originally set in 1830 to the 21st century, following the stories of a circle of young artists' struggle against poverty and their quest for integrity. Helen Quach will be conducting the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

There will also be a restaging of Terrence McNally's Tony Award-winning play "Master Class" at the Carlos P. Romulo Theater, RCBC Plaza in Makati City. Cherie Gil will portray the legendary opera diva Maria Callas with Michael Williams directing.

Magic Flute runs from Sept. 19 to 27 at the CCP Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino. For details, call Philippine Opera Company (892-8786), TicketWorld (891-9999) or CCP Box Office (832-1125 loc. 1801-1806). Log on to www.philippineoperacompany.com

Also published online:
http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/lifestyle/lifestyle/view/20080915-160666/Opera-for-beginners

Philippines, Japan and Korea stages a 'Tosca,' Asian style

Tosca, Asian style 
By Walter Ang
Sept. 1, 2008
Pep.ph (http://www. pep. ph/guide/2498/TOSCA,-Asian-style)

The Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) recently staged a two-day run of "Asian Tosca," an experimental reworking of the opera classic by Giacomo Puccini.

Puccini's opera is based on a drama by Victorien Sarou and tells the tale of the jealous Floria Tosca and her boyfriend Mario during Napoleon's invasion of Rome. The Chief of Police Scarpia uses Tosca to gain information on the whereabouts of the escaped political prisoner Angelotti, whom Mario has helped.

This production, however, transplants the action to Asia. A collaboration with the Black Tent Theater (BTT) of Japan and the Nottle Theater of Korea, the Manila run of "Asian Tosca" is the current incarnation of a series of revisions and adaptations that have been made by the different theater groups involved.

The first "installment" of this multi-group touring production was created in 2006 by Nottle Theater and BTT. Last year, Peta and the Practice Theater of Singapore joined forces with BTT to further adapt the storyline, infusing their own understanding of each other's cultures and histories.

The attempt at creating a version of Tosca with an Asian perspective and staged in an experimental way was an exciting and creative experience for the audience. There is a mixed cast of Filipino, Korean and Japanese actors and the exposition of Tosca's main plot is told, more or less, in Nihongo, Korean, Tagalog and English dialogue with snippets of arias from the Italian opera.

To add to the unusual and unique flavor, the show begins with five Toscas (four Japanese and one Filipina). Later on, there are two Marios and two Scarpias. Actors interchange with each other from scene to scene, shifting from Japanese to Filipino and from young to old versions of the same character.

It is interesting that directors Soxie Topacio and Kirtani Natsuko decided not to use any supertitles (the theater equivalent of subtitles, where text is projected above the stage) for the first few scenes. This may have been a deliberate decision to further immerse the audience in the confusion that Tosca experiences.

The first half features mostly a Noh re-imagining of the story, where the "ghosts" of the different Toscas seem trapped in an endless curse to continually live through the events that lead to Scarpia's murder, Mario's execution and Tosca's suicide. In a nod to the Filipino's love of a good punchline, the second half upends the serious tone and flips it around to slapstick comedy.

Featuring Nor Domingo as Mario and Bernah Bernardo as Tosca, both are now ghosts in a netherworld where they realize what has happened to them. Angelotti is now a member of the Hukbalahap, the anti-Japanese resistance group in World War II and Scarpia (played by Raffy Tejada) is an officer of the Japanese army.

Corny one-liners lead to a Benny Hill-type chase scene when the ghost of Scarpia finds them and the three of them start blaming Angelotti (played by Willy Casero) for their deaths. While funny and entertaining, the scene's point does not really lead to anything until Tosca addresses the audience with the other four Toscas with a final message.

One of the more striking components of the production is its use of the leitmotif of the image of a running Tosca. Sometimes shown as a moving neon laser light display (calling to mind the works of Toshimitsu Takagi, found at www.takagism.net) and sometimes as actors running in "slow motion," this leitmotif provides a crafty way to weave a common thread through the multilingual, multicultural, multidimensional and multireality sequence of events and serves as the anchor for the show's poignant ending. It is this constant running that Tosca points out as her higher calling: to do so for those who are unable.

Peta will stage the children's plays Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang and Batang Rizal from Sept. 19 to Oct 12, Fridays to Sundays at PETA Theater Center. For details, call 410-0821 or 725-6244 or email petampro@yahoo.com.

Gossip Boy makes trouble: Tanghalang Ateneo stages Shakespeare's 'Otelo"

Gossip Boy makes trouble 
By Walter Ang
September 1, 2008
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Buencamino and Maramara
In an age when everyone knows what everyone else is doing, it's easy to dismiss rumors since we hear so much of it all the time.

At the same time, TV shows like "Gossip Girl" shows us how easily technology like cellphones and the internet can help "substantiate" a piece of "news" with photo or video proof, image manipulation or video editing notwithstanding

In Tanghalang Ateneo's staging of Shakespeare's "Othello," audiences see how far hearsay can go when word-of-mouth and actual, tangible evidence are the only two things one has to go by.

In this Filipino translation by Rogelio Sicat and Luna Sicat-Cleto ("Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia"), director Ricky Abad and assistant director B.J. Crisostomo partners our tragic hero with his antagonist in a guitar-toting gossip-orchestrating Iago.

Iago despises Otelo, a foreign military general living in Venice, for bypassing him as a lieutenant and for marrying Desdemona. He plots to make Otelo believe that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio (the man Iago was bypassed for). But unlike Gossip Girl who (to be fair) only reports what is actually fed to her, Iago creates the lies that will bring on the downfall of the other characters.

Perhaps as a statement to our technology-aided gossip-obsessed world (or perhaps an acknowledgement that the premise may feel dated if set in contemporary times), Abad stages the play in its original 17th century setting.

While it is always fun and exciting to watch the Bard's works transplanted into different time periods (and even worlds), it's refreshing to see that Shakespeare can still work even if you don't wring him through a time machine.

Tight 
Save for the directors' conceit of having Iago carry around a guitar, Abad and Crisostomo stick to a gimmick-free, no-nonsense and tight telling of the story, which serves the story well given its premise.

After all, watching a man end up going crazy and killing his wife just because he believes in the gossip of his so-called friend and takes a planted handkerchief as enough proof can elicit either horror and disbelief or, if not staged well, guffaws.

National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal takes his cue straight out of Iago's lines such as "with as little a web as this will I ensnare as great a fly as Cassio" and "make the net that shall enmesh them all," by plying the floor and wall panels with intersecting lines to form a portentous lattice where our players will become entangled.

Interestingly, this design seems to be a hold-over (albeit a variation) from the set design of World Theater Project's 1996 staging of "Othello" that Abad co-directed with Anton Juan.

The concept of Iago's instrument-prop and the web-set are enhanced by sound designer Reamur David's crafty use of guitar sounds as ominous punctuations to the characters' lines. Audiences see just how deep Iago's machinations run when he plucks the "lines" on stage, as if they were guitar strings, as he plots against everyone else.

The set changes and different scenes are enhanced by the lighting design of Jonjon Villareal, who occasionally saturates the entire stage in a foreboding blood-red color. Bernal's costumes are gorgeous, detailed and well-constructed, fitting the actors well.

Believable 
Almost all roles are played by alternating actors. In the performance we caught, Nonie Buencamino (alternating with Teroy Guzman) played Otelo and Irma Adlawan-Marasigan (alternating with Missy Maramara) played Desdemona. Both veteran actors fill the stage with their strong presence and consistency.

But the play is usually a showcase for the actor playing Iago as he is onstage almost the entire first act. In this case, Ron Capinding (alternating with Rody Vera) pulls off the role convincingly, filling the character with a constant agitation and disturbing menace.

Student actors Rachel Quong as Iago's wife Emilia and Exzell Macomb (alternating with Jaru Hermano) as Roderigo deserve praise for performing on the same level as the veteran actors. Macomb is funny as the quirky, whiny and forever-excitable Roderigo, the lovelorn milquetoast who bewails losing Desdemona to Otelo and becomes Iago's willing accomplice and unwitting victim.

The entire cast has a wonderful "sense of performance," giving an oratorical, almost melodic, delivery to the Filipino lines that does not, thankfully, deteriorate into melodramatic ham.

The final scene is a picturesque rendering as Otelo falls beside his wife, his long robes draped fully across the bed like an Aubrey Beardsley illustration, very much the defeated posturing peacock.

"Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia" runs until Sept. 6 at the Rizal Mini-Theater, Ateneo de Manila University. For details, call 0916-521-5154.

Also published online:
http://showbizandstyle.inquirer.net/lifestyle/lifestyle/view/20080831-157921/Gossip-Boy-makes-trouble

Joanna Ampil joins Stages' 'West Side Story'

We hear you, Joanna 
By Walter Ang
September 2008 issue
Metro Magazine

If Joanna Ampil had a corporate job, she reckons she'd be a workaholic. But because she is an accomplished musical theater actress who's been based in London's West End for the past sixteen years, she describes herself as a "rehearsal-holic."

"I don't want to waste time," she says. "I really look forward to rehearsing, I love it." After flying to Manila, she went straight to rehearsals the following day for her homecoming musical in the Philippines: Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim's "West Side Story" produced by Stages, a theater company headed by Audie Gemora.

Joanna comes full circle by being able to finally work with Audie, the actor who inspired her to pursue a life on stage. She had seen him perform in a musical when she was younger. "I remember the way he was dancing. He was so free. That was a turning point for me, I wanted to get into theater," she says. There was no looking back for Joanna after she auditioned for the London production of "Miss Saigon" in 1993.

She had only turned eighteen when she started her run in the lead role of Kim for the famed Cameron Mackintosh-produced musical. After that came an impressive list of roles. She was Mimi in "Rent." She was handpicked by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber to play Mary Magdalene in "Jesus Christ Superstar." She was Eponine in "Les Miserables." She actually graduated from the Eponine role to the Fantine role before Lea Salonga did.

Down-to-earth With credentials like that, you would think Joanna would be every bit a prima dona. The petite and charming actress is quick to dispel this notion. "I don't want my fellow cast members to be intimidated just because I've performed in London nor because I'm playing a lead role in this musical. I make sure I talk to everyone, after all, I'm just like everybody else," she says.

When Metro interviewed her, she was worried about, of all things, having onion-breath after a meal and schemed around with her manager Girlie Rodis on where she could sneak off to brush her teeth, giggling and all. Unassuming and earnest, it's easy to see why Joanna is so endearing and why she really is, as she claims, just like the rest of us.

But of course, definitely unlike the rest of us, she's got a great set of pipes. It is surprising to know, therefore, that Joanna's never had any formal training in singing. "I have a maternal aunt who made me listen to songs on the radio and explain the lyrics to me," she says. "So you could say she was my first singing teacher."

Joanna's parents realized their little girl loved to sing and supported her all the way. "I used to do shows in our living room," Joanna says. "My teachers in school were also very encouraging. I joined school shows and local contests."

Life leads the way Now, local audiences will finally have a chance to see why Joanna has been attracting rave reviews halfway across the world. Joanna admits that Kim was really her dream role and all the roles that came after where really bonuses. However, when she found out about the Manila staging of West Side Story, she made plans to become part of it just so she could play the lead role of Maria.

She's using rehearsal time to thresh out her characterization for her role. "Maria falls in love and her whole world starts revolving around that man. It's a challenge to get into that mode because I'm a very independent woman. I won't just drop everything for a man," Joanna says. "I focus on what I want to do in life and I work hard for it."

Her independence also plays out in the way she schedules for the future. "I'm such a gypsy. I don't like being tied down. I like being everywhere," she says. So peripatetic is her outlook in life that, save for a trip to visit her family in US this Christmas after 16 years of not being with them during the holidays, she still has no plans for after the run of the show. "I never, ever plan my life. I never even knew I would be able to perform in Manila. I just found out about the show through the internet," she says. "This way, everything's a surprise. This way, life's an adventure."

Nonoy Froilan is Still on Pointe

Still on Pointe 
By Walter Ang
September to November 2008 issue
Metro Him Magazine

From Nonoy Froilan Facebook page
Back in the late 60s, Rafael "Nonoy" Froilan joined the University of the East Dance Troupe as a folk dancer. He also studied ballet and jazz dance, eventually joining one of the country's premiere dance companies, Ballet Philippines.

Tall, lithe and talented, he soon became the company's principal danseur. Career highlights include partnering with Dame Margot Fontaine in a performance for then President Ferdinand Marcos and having a show created specifically for him by choreographer Norman Walker. "It was called `Song of a Wayfarer' and it was staged in Germany. That was the only time in my life where I received 24 curtain calls," Nonoy beams.

Despite retiring in 1993 from twenty years of dance, he has never really left the clutches of Terpsichore. He still teaches dance in several ballet schools, conducts master classes for Ballet Philippines, and is a consultant for the Philippine High School for the Arts.

He is also now known as the go-to man for video documentation of dance performances. "I've always been interested in video. Early in my dance career, I once used my Christmas bonus to buy a Super 8 video camera I had been eyeing," he says. He lugged along his camera to a performance tour in Europe and promptly become the company's resident videographer. "It was all intuitive. I learned as I went along and by reading books."

Nonoy's come a long way from buying film that could only hold three minutes of footage. He's fully booked as far as next year to provide coverage for dance performances. A staunch proponent of archiving, digitizing and preserving footage of past dance performances, his current projects include plans of bringing dance to television.

"I want to produce a show where excerpts of performances are interspersed with interviews with dancers," he says. "When you watch the Arirang channel on cable TV, they show cultural dances of Korea. In the US, you have PBS that broadcasts entire ballet performances and other classics. We should have that kind of show here, too."

Aside from working behind the camera, he recently acted in Paul Morales' independent film "Concerto." Unbeknownst to many, Nonoy used to work as a dancer for Peque Gallaga's variety show "Changes." His on-cam performing genes have recently blossomed in daughter Mica, one of the newest additions to the pool of VJs for music channel Myx.

When he's not in Manila, Nonoy can be found in his hometown of Calbiga, Samar, working with the mayor on setting up an arts council as well as advocating renewable energy sources. "We're working on developing mini-hydroelectric generators for this area. Aside from the arts, I'm very concerned with environmental issues," he notes.

Lester Pimentel-Ong teaches The Art of Fighting

The art of fighting 
By Walter Ang
September-November 2008 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Imagine a job where all you do all day is asking people to fight with each other. No, it's not being the manager of a boxing ring. Actually, it's a little more complicated than that. Aside from telling them to knock fists with each other, you also have to teach them how to do it while making sure they don't hurt themselves. Oh yes, you'll also need to make them fly on occasion.

All this is what Lester Pimentel-Ong, a freelance TV/movie fight director, does. Having started as a fight coordinator in "a small movie called `Ex-con' years ago," his latest choreography was featured in the recently concluded TV show "Palos," which starred Cesar Montano and Jake Cuenca.

Lester got his mettle as a practitioner of wushu, which, he explains, is actually the generic term for martial arts. "It's what we all used to call kung-fu," he says. His father Ong Chiao Hing, himself a practitioner, exposed Leter to the discipline. Lester started training at eight and by the time he started high school, he was already being groomed to be a national athlete.

"It was fun when I was younger because it felt like playing. I got a chance to copy what action stars Jet Li and Jackie Chan did in the movies," he recalls. "The training became a little more serious by the time I was a teenager, we had to train three hours every day."

Lester even spent a whole summer in Beijing, China to train with Chinese coaches. "You're not allowed to complain. You get the feeling that the Chinese coaches own you and all your waking hours are allotted for training," he said a bit grimly, then laughs. "It's just like in all those Chinese martial arts movies where they show children training!"

Lester brought home a gold medal from the 1995 Third World Wushu Championships held in Baltimore, USA. He capped off his competitive career with a gold medal from the 2005 23rd SEA Games held in Manila.

Meantime, he got his philosophy degree at De La Salle University-Manila and, after that, he attended a course in Wushu and Chinese Martial Arts Specialization Training at the Beijing Sports University.

During his trips abroad, Lester discovered that the athletes he used to compete with had already started the transition from athletics to choreographing fights in showbusiness. They encouraged him to make a similar shift.

"Joining my former co-competitors in their productions, I started out as part of the crew in Chinese movies that were shot in Singapore and China," he says. Since local productions usually hired fight directors, he was able to slowly break into the domestic movie industry.

His ability to speak Tagalog and English gave him the edge. "Producers in Manila used to have to hire a group of ten to 15 people from Hong Kong or China to execute fight sequences," he says. "But they would also need to hire translators. With me, the language barrier disappears. I can read the scripts and I can talk to them freely for better collaboration. In the end, when they work with me, they still get international quality stunts."

Lester's work has been featured in action, fantasy, and even romantic comedies. One of his funniest works was a tennis match scene for the movie "Ang Cute ng Ina Mo," which starred Ai-ai De Las Alas, where the players are contorted and bounced around every which way.

"I'm not a natural comedian," says Lester. That's why he applies the same rigorous preparations he has learned from his background in athletics to his work. "I make sure to research first and collaborate with the actors themselves to see what kind of movements will be funny and yet safe for the actors to do." He always keeps in mind that, unlike the action stars of Chinese movies who are usually "martial artists-turned-actors," most actors he deals with do not necessarily have the training to portray action characters or execute martial arts moves.

No matter the limitations, whether in lack of training for local actors or budget constraints, Lester is optimistic for the local movie industry to break through in the realm of action choreography. "We can certainly do it. We have the talent," he says. One day, he hopes to direct "epic stunt sequences with a thousand extras, like the scenes in 'Braveheart' or 'Lord of the Rings,'" just like his idol Yuen Woo Ping, the action director for movies like "The Matrix."

Lester also stays busy as the Chair of the Wushu Federation of the Philippine's Development Committee. He's also in the food business with his wife Rosette with whom he has two sons.

"I enjoy doing action choreography since it uses traditional forms from Chinese opera that have been transformed into filmmaking conventions," he concludes. "It's a chance for me to share a bit of Chinese culture with the Filipino audience."