Legends never die: 'Ibalong'
MANILA, Philippines - It ain't over.
After the last show of its premiere run on March 3 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Fernando "Nanding" Josef, Tanghalang Pilipino's artistic director, announced that the play based on Bicol's mythology may soon tour the land of its origin.
This is in large part due to the support of the local government of the city of Legaspi, Bicol's capital.
And this show has proven itself worthy of a tour.
“Ibalong the Musical” is a grand spectacle in story telling, in music, in choreography and, most of all, in costume design. With the esteemed company actors of Tanghalang Pilipino as cast, director Tuxqs Rutaquio wisely enlisted the creative genius of Carol Bello as composer and musical director, Alden Lugnasin as choreographer, and Leeroy New as costume and puppet director. Together, they staged playwright Rody Vera's re-imagining of Bicol's mythology.
With Vera's clever interpretation, Bicol's mythology becomes an ecological parable as seen through the eyes of its villain-cum-anti-hero, the half-serpentine girl Oryol, daughter of Asuwang, leaders of the misshapen monsters that populate the Underworld and arch enemy of Gugurang, ethereal goddess of the Sky World.
It is Oryol and her fellow monsters who earn the audience's sympathy and symbolize the natural order, while it is the human "heroes" of this tale — and there are 3 — who represent hubris, pride, greed, and folly.
First among them is Batlog, who slays the young Oryol's friend Opon, a gigantic boar, in his quest to conquer the land and mine it for gold and other resources. He grows wealthy but squanders it and dies without an heir to his kingdom. The forest grows back and with it the realm of the Underworld.
Next comes Handyong, a young and ambitious lad whose parents were slain by monsters from the Underworld. He aims to tame the land and rid it of all monsters. Despite opposition from Oryol and her monsters, he begins to domesticate the wild and clear the forests, the habitat of the Underworld.
The war drags on between humans and monsters and both Handyong and Oryol come of age. Seeing her side slowly losing and facing extinction, Oryol proposes marriage to Handyong in exchange for convincing her kin to surrender and letting them live. She severs her own gigantic snake tail that forms the lower part of her body to become wholly human.
Handyong's army kills Rabot, a fellow monster Oryol was betrothed to whose very gaze turns mortals into stone, even as Handyong and Oryol marry.
Oryol gives birth to the 3rd hero, her son Makusog. As ambitious as his father was in his youth, Makusog seeks to conquer the heavenly realm of Gugurang just as his father vanquished the domain of Asuwang. Lightning strikes the lad as he climbs to the heavens threatening to breach its gates.
Gugurang tells a grieving Handyong that she will resurrect his son only upon his death. It is only then that Handyong undertakes a true act of heroism and self sacrifice. Oryol then reveals to Makusog that he is half monster, that he can set the balance between man and nature.
“Ibalong” handles with aplomb the challenge of adapting indigenous myths into stories for today's urbanized audiences, of choosing between authenticity and modern appeal. The musicale wisely parallels other myths of the globe, specifically that of Medusa and Icarus, and transforms the narrative into a tale that resonates with today's ecological problems.
Bello, best known as the vocalist of the internationally-renowned world music and neo-ethnic rock group Pinikpikan, sets the musicale's tone with her striking, earthy yet ethereal compositions and performances.
Perfectly complementing the music is the dance and fight choreography by Lugnasin, one of Ballet Philippines's pre-eminent danseurs. His choreography has actors incorporating pole dancing into their movements.
Watch this performance of 'Gising, Gising' from 'Ibalong's' press preview:
But what truly steals the show are acclaimed sculptor New's innovative and striking animated costumes. Dynamic, colorful, and whimsical, they are works of art in their own right. The company actors of Tanghalang Pilipinas deserve kudos for being able to express emotion despite such costumes.
Such artistry in acting costume design, music and dance travels well. We can only hope “Ibalong” performs not only in Bicol but tours nationwide as well. - Rappler.com
(Rome Jorge is the editor in chief of Asian Traveler magazine.)