Sunday, July 7, 2013

Filipinizing Romeo & Juliet in Philippine Theater

Photo from JMTRX Entertainment
By Chester B Cabalza

Blogger's Notes:
Commentary of an Academic (Copyright @ 2013 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).

One Sunday morning while browsing my laptop, sipping a cup of hot coffee, and munching on a piece of J.Co donut, surprisingly I mined an old file on Sintang Dalisay about a Filipino play which I’d seen last year at UP Asian Center. I thought of posting it in my blog to document an important play interpreted today in post-modern Philippine theater stage.

“Glocalizing” Shakespeare’s Greatest Love Story

From the promotional posters to the plot of this new breakthrough play based from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and National Artist for Literature Rolando Tinio’s translation of the play into Filipino, I was stunned at myself on how this theater experience of mine, came as a breath of fresh air.

It was a decade ago the last time I saw a play staged in UP. To be honest, I was still a college student then. 

By the time I read the synopsis of Sintang Dalisay, I knew that it was going to be a localized version of the infamous love story. However, upon entry into the GT Toyota Auditorium Center, a first for me as an alumnus of Asian Center, I thought I witnessed a ‘new world’, as if I was transported to southern Philippines. The play was about to start when I sat at the back of the hall; full-packed as I observed it, and the imam was already chanting. As the play went on, I heard almost all characters carried Islamic names – Rashiddin for Romeo and Jamila for Juliet. The igal dance movements manifested all throughout the play. The colorful costumes were a feast to my eyes and the clear dialogues sounded melodious to my ears especially when the actors expressed their conversations in Filipino.

The global fame of Romeo and Juliet’s plot was swiftly unrecognizable as variable elements of chanting by actors, playing of Islamic sounds by UP Kontra-gapi’s gamelan music, and indigenous dance movements, blended into fusion as the play went on. Then I thought of “glocalization” of the story that made it so much interesting and appealing for many viewers. As an audience myself, I felt that Shakespeare’s story vanished in split seconds but was transformed into a local narrative of Sintang Dalisay.

Deconstructing Badjao’s Dance Movements

Obviously, the igal dance inspired from the Badjao or Sama ethnic group set the play quite unique and entertaining. At first, I thought it was annoying, but since it was consistent from start to end, I began to appreciate it wisely.

The representation of the indigenous people, particularly the Badjao through the igal dance move, awed audiences of the rich culture of maritime peoples in insular Southeast Asia. Badjao or Orang Laut in Bahasa are found in littoral areas and fringes of the Sulu Sea, Celebes, and other parts of the Java Sea.

Based from ethnographic studies, the tradition or style of igal dancing is considered to be one of the most important forms of dance art mainly because it characterizes the postures and gestures that give emphasis on flexion of the fingers, wrists and arms. The dance is slow and leisurely moved evoking the gentle waters found in the inner seas.

As presented in the play, it is only proper that the this kind of choreography was used in a concocted and imagined Muslim setting with a powerful Islamic love story as a backdrop that generally touched the core values and culture of our Muslim brethren in Mindanao. I commend the artistic adaptation of the play that boldly captured the marginalized groups in the Philippines that should be empowered and accepted in our mainstream society. This could also be interpreted as a way of paying respect to our rich Islamic heritage in southern Philippines.

Sense of Community

Although, the denouement of the story was sobbingly tragic; notwithstanding that family feud and suicide were embedded in the adapted story, I still learned some values particularly the sense of community. Communal relationship, aside from the unrequited love of two young lovers, prevailed in the play. The epic of undying love ultimately reunited the community in its literal sense. What moved me most, after browsing some reviews about the play online, aside from winning awards and accolades locally and abroad, the play itself was used as an antidote to the protracted unsolved Ampatuan case. A gruesome family feud that led to one of the most controversial massacres the world had ever witnessed in recent history.    

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