Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seven arts, one Imelda, 12 people who remembered

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9.13.2009

[Note: I had no plans of going to the tribute concert to Imelda Marcos at the CCP last Friday, but was asked by the boss to go and report on the event. Well, here it is, on the front page of today's Inquirer.]

A GRAND TOTAL OF 12 PEOPLE showed up to protest “Seven Arts, One Imelda,” the lavish tribute the Cultural Center of the Philippines staged last Friday for its founding chair, Imelda Marcos, the widow of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

The protesters, chanting “Never again to Martial Law!” were reportedly led by the son of the late National Artist for Theater and Literature Rolando Tinio—an interesting twist, given that Tinio’s Teatro Pilipino was a resident company of the CCP in Imelda’s time, and Tinio himself enjoyed a close relationship with the former First Lady. (See related story on page F2.)

The protesters were kept to the rain-soaked driveway by a police contingent, while an oblivious crowd—perfumed, coiffed, bejeweled and botoxed, many of them familiar faces from the Marcos dispensation—kept the CCP lobby humming in anticipation of the arrival of the woman for what promised to be the evening of her biggest social rehabilitation yet after the little incident that was Edsa 23 years ago.

When Imelda arrived, in a purple and red gown accented with a swarm of rubies on her neck, she glided in as if she’d never left—grand, commanding, a magnet for photographers, quickly attended to by friends, courtiers and fans eager for a handshake, a photo-op or a mere flicker of recognition from her still-beautiful face.

Whether she saw the demonstrators outside, and what she thought of them—nobody dared ask. It was left to the CCP’s new vice president/artistic director, Raul Sunico, to bring the matter up ever so delicately, obliquely, in his welcome remarks.

“We want to give this tribute irrespective of political color,” he said. “Let art and politics be separate.”

Elegant staging
The elegantly staged program that followed largely kept to that promise—no speeches, no overt hagiography, only good-old fashioned musical performances by a phalanx of first-rate Filipino artists, many of them beneficiaries of the Madame’s support during her time, as Sunico himself acknowledged.

Among the performers featured in Act 1, each of whom generously kept his or her appearance to a single number, were pianists Cecile Licad and Sunico, violinists Joseph Esmilla and Coke Bolipata, flutist Antonio Maigue, classical singers Aileen Espinosa Cura, Camille Lopez Molina, Rachelle Gerodias and Jonathan Velasco, accompanied by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Chino Toledo.

Licad dazzled with a complex rendering of Liszt’s “St. Francis de Paula Walking on the Water,” as did Esmilla with his rousing fiddling on De Sarasate’s “Introduction Et Tarantelle, Op. 43.” The singers—especially Lopez-Molina with a magnificent “O don fatale” from Verdi’s “Don Carlo”—provided rich vocal performances.

One was left to wonder, though, whether the choice of song said something more than it did. In the opera, it was sung by a lady-in-waiting who betrays her queen, with lyrics like “O mia Regina, io t’immolai al folle error di questo cor” (“O my Queen, I sacrificed you to the crazed passion of my heart”). Does Imelda know Italian? If she did, what would she have made of the queenly references?

There was evidence that the concert, scripted by Floy Quintos and directed by Alexander Cortez, tried bending over backwards precisely to skirt the charged image of Imelda as a self-styled queen, when the CCP was more like her private salon-cum-music chamber and the artists in her stable at her beck and call for command performances.

Suitably Imeldific
Act 2, for instance, called “Muse and Madness” (“How suitably Imeldific, don’t you think?” said Bongbong Marcos, Imelda’s son, in his introduction, drawing a flutter of nervous laughter from the crowd), presented Imelda not in the high noon of her reign, but as a young girl awakening to “her artistic instincts, inspirations and flights of creativity.”

Nearly 300 performers, composed of 10 choirs plus Ballet Philippines, The Bayanihan Dance Company, solo performers Lisa Macuja, Candice and Carissa Adea and mezzo soprano Clarissa Ocampo (splendid), were conscripted to give life to an abstract, impressionistic suite of songs, dances and images, performed to an original score by Ryan Cayabyab.

Cayabyab’s 28-minute suite was remarkably flexible, accommodating everything from snippets of ragtime to bars that evoked Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” from balletic moments—for Macuja and Adea’s shared moment on stage, classical and modern dance lashed together rivetingly—to soaring choral melodies—Filipino in the case of the children’s choirs, full-throttle Latin for the adult ones. (Just wondering: What were these kids taught about the woman they were honoring?)

Naive representation
Of course, this wouldn’t be Imelda without the ternos. They came out first draped on mannequins wheeled around by dancers, followed by amazonian models wearing some of the most stunning, and also the most outlandish, versions ever made of the iconic costume—a few of them you couldn’t imagine Imelda herself wearing. The ersatz fashion show featured gowns by Pitoy Moreno, Inno Sotto, Noli Hans, Finina Tugade, Joey Samson, Paul Cabral, Steve de Leon, Tippi Ocampo and the late Joe Salazar.

The musical suite ended with Imelda remaining a dreamy young girl—at best a naive representation that clashed with the picture and legacy of the baroque woman now being feted.

That girl, after all, would grow up to become one of the country’s—the world’s—most powerful women, hoarding riches that enabled her to become a much-flattered patron of the arts. In an age, lest we forget, when royal patronage had gone the way of the Medicis, in a nominal republic desperately poor even then, where any arts endowments should have come, if not from private funds, then at least from a public purse well accounted for. And, certainly, not for one’s bloated sense of self-glorification or the deodorizing of a corrupt regime.

In the end, the concert, fetchingly mounted and performed as it was, would have to return to that fundamental question: For whom is all this art? For whom, in fact, is this institution that claims to be the cultural center of the entire Philippines? (The concert was a strictly by-invitation-only affair.)

Jeremy Barns, in his effusive write-up on Imelda and her CCP vision in the concert program, wrote what must qualify as the understatement of the century—Edsa, the first People Power Revolution, the most significant contemporary event in the nation’s history, buried in layers of pained elision: “Of course, different things moved in different directions, and as time passed, the vision of achieving greatness, which later was reformulated into that of a New Society, lost the support of the people. The country went into crisis. Ultimately, the government of Ferdinand Marcos came to a sudden end, and he and Mrs. Marcos exited the stage on which they had long held forth.”

He got one phrase right: “held forth”—as in reigned, like Their Imperial Majesties, summoning subject, factotum and artist alike to their presence with a wave of a hand. Unacknowledged in the jubilant celebration of Filipino artistry that was “Seven Arts, One Imelda” was that dark, chafing fact.

For a truer picture of the context and history from which all these art and art-making were forged, one must go back to those wet, forlorn voices outside. In the proper scheme of things, the equation should stand: Seven arts, one Imelda—and 12 people who remembered.

[Photo: Lyn Rillon/Philippine Daily Inquirer]


beektur said...

thank you for not mincing words and sticking facts to this fictional, delusional affair. as for the people involved in having this shameful sham -- ccp, sunico, cayabyab, quintos, cortes, licad, macuja, etc: i am saluting you all with two fingers, one from each hand, both middle.

Anonymous said...

nakakatawa naman ang CCP, noong una sila ang galit na galit sa katiwalian ng national artist award... tapos ngayon IMELDA AND THE SEVEN ARTS... bakit wala sa protesta si Juana Change? di ba politika din ito? nasaan siya?

Anonymous said...

well, mas malala ang sitwasyon ngayon... at least noong time ni imelda, grabe ang oppression, which prompted the arts to be very vigilant (and produced many good artists)... eh ngayon, oppressive na nga, we have singit national artists pa. with regard to alex cortez, i think malapit talaga kay madam siya. iba ang view nila sa nangyari noon...

luigi nacario said...

nakakangalit ng damdamin kung iisipin ang mga ginawang katiwalian noong panahon ng mga marcos... pero bilang artista sa teatro nagpapasalamat ako ng lubos na nagkaroon ng centro ng pang kultura na naghahayag nang pagkakilanlan sa mga maliliit at tanyag ng mangdudula. bilang probinsyano, noong 80's maging hanggang ngayon tinitingala ko ang aking tito na si nonoy froilan bilang sikat na mangsasayaw sa ccp at ang tatay ko bilang myembro ng samarinian dancers na every year noon nagpeperform sila sa folk arts theater. naging mangsasayaw ako sa maikling panahon, naging mangdudula sa tp-ccp at ngayon nagdidirehe ng mga musikal na dulang pambata kapalit sa tinapos kong propisyon bilang lisensyadong engineer. nagpupuyos man ako sa galit sa ginang na ala monay ang hairdo, hindi ko maipangkakaila na ang impluwensiya nya sa larangan ng arts ay nakaukit sa aking hinuha. ang aking palagay ay... kung alang ginang gaga, alang ccp at sigurado akong alang 'ako' na gago sa paningin ng mga hindi alagad ng sining at critico ng ali.
sa aking payak na kaalaman sa sining, pinasasalamatan ko ang CCP sa paggabay sa kagaya kong sa pagti-teatro ang ikinabubuhay. sana sa lahat ng nasa gobyerno gayahin nalang ang effort ni Meldy para sa ikauunlad ng sining pilipino. pero WAG gawing maunlad ang sarili dahil sa pangungurakot... mabuhay ang mga artistang pilipino!

TheBachelorGirl said...

Bravo to you, Gibbs, for containing yourself and commanding your personal passions...

John Locke said...

You wrote:

" of the country’s—the world’s—most powerful women, hoarding riches that enabled her to become a much-flattered patron of the arts."

You are one of the writing fools who think they know what they write about because of the "power of the pen," so to speak.

I know you're not talking about shoes but for the sake of argument let's do basic mathematics. Three thousand (3,000) shoes over a period of 21 years in power, not counting the times she was the wife of a senator and congressman, gives Imelda an average of about twelve (12) a month.

That's less than Oprah, Britney Spears, and Mariah Carey wears today. Most importantly, Imelda had to attend to daily social gatherings, often more than one, of birthday, funerals, diplomatic visits, courtesy calls, private and public functions, not to mention the fact that she is FOUNDING CHAIR of the CCP.

Going back to your statement, I hope you don't mind if we parse it, "...hoarding riches that enabled her to become a much-flattered patron of the arts."

What would you have preferred, that she do it on the cheap? During that time the Marcoses practiced a form of ignorance, just like what the corrupt Pinoy government officials do today. All of them did not know how to create wealth in a way where it was beneficial for all. It is only now, that we are beginning to fully understand those mistakes, from the perspective of behavioral economics. So Imelda had to do what she had to do to create the cultural and medical (Quezon City area) legacies of her husband.

Going to Cory and GMA, after 23 years of EDSA "all the kings horses and all the kings men (still) couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again." Simply said, ano nagawa ng kaka-dada at kaka-satsat ng mga pinunong pulpol (with the exception of Ramos) mula ng napaalis si Imelda?

Train system na nga lang from Quezon City to Pampanga di na magawa ni GMA, CCP, Folk Arts, Lung Center, Children's Hospital, etc. pa?

These are the day you wished you listened to your college professor who lectured on behavioral economics and comparative politics, right?

So the next time you write some MALE BOVINE FECES for your bosses in PDI, make sure it stands up to academic scrutiny and critical thinking, because years from now your writing will be part of history and the archives. And it will show that you do not know logic and rationality in your research and writing.

Live up to excellence, don't expect the readers to match your mediocrity.

Charles Gutanga Mynna (NOT!)

Anonymous said...

People forget so easily. The shoes were a symbol of the excess, a metaphor for greed. Comparing Imelda (a third world wife of a dictator) with fist world women who earned their riches by virtue of their natural talent and hard work is asinine. As for CCP, Folk Arts, Lung Center, Children's Hospital, don’t we expect those from our government anyway? The plunder and corruption during the Marcos years is what doomed this country for more than twenty years. We still feel the effects of it even today. We could have advanced our democracy and economy by now if not for the Marcos years. And how can we forget of the people who were killed and those who simply disappeared because they didn’t agree with the regime. Read. Know your history.

beektur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yvarra Ocagseo said...

John Locke - what a preposterous comment! Shame, shame, shame. Since you live in the Big Apple, presumably fleeing from the mock and mud of your barrio, it would not be impossible seeing you salivating as GMA enjoyed, without remorse, a 20K dollar dinner in New York. Thanks for your intellectual masturbation. "Raise all things to a higher level" in your blog description - utterly NOT!

Anonymous said...

Following John Locke’s idea – I guess it is perfectly okay for a dictator and his wife to kill the dissenters, terminate the democratic rights of the people, take ownership of the media, appoint their relatives and cronies in all facets of society and empty the nation's treasury and transfer the loot to their bank accounts in foreign countries, so long as they throw a few bones (I mean buildings) to the masses. Brilliant logic………………,NOT. Oh yeah, we should thank the dictator and his wife for actually spending the PEOPLE's money on the people. Imagine that.

beektur said...

john locke - behavioral economics? comparative politics? WTF!!! academic buzzwords from someone's PhD papers. don't hide behind big words. only idiots who do not know what they are talking about do that; you know -- "if you can't convince them, confuse them." the essence of truth is always simple and can be expressed in simple terms. don't confuse big words with big ideas, dummy. know your history! better yet, know your neighbor. or the street vendor in any corner. in him/her you will see imelda's takong. and just because most presidents after imelda turned out to be just as corrupt does not turn her into a saint. and ramos? please! look closely at global city and find out how much money he made from the development of that area. know yourself!

and since you seem to be fascinated by imelda's shoes (inserting them in an argument where they are not needed), why not take a pair of them and insert them in your body part where the sun hardly shines. cheers!

Anonymous said...

It is obvious na ayaw mo talaga sanang pumunta doon. People and your boss would have probably understand kung nagdecline ka magsulat about it kung hindi mo naman objectively matitingnan iyong event as it is. Sana di ka na talaga tumuloy kung di naman magiging objective iyong article mo. I am no marcos lover, but i find this article, inappropriate.

gibbs cadiz said...

ANONYMOUS, i'll bother to answer your point because a crucial distinction has to be made. i wasn't sent to the concert to deliver a straight news report. i was asked to write my OPINION of the concert, because that happens to be what i do--review plays, musicals, stage performances--and what is a review but an opinion, to quote ebert. now, if you wish that i had confined myself strictly to the show proper--the lighting, the staging, the blocking, the performances, etc.--without comment at all on the CONTEXT surrounding this concert, i'd recognize that as your own viewpoint and respect it. however, that is not how i saw things. the concert was met by protests, had generated noise; it demanded an explanation as to WHY it was being held in the first place. providing that background was important; interpreting what the concert SAID, not only what it presented on stage, was just as important. i have no interest in writing a hollow, dainty review that would've treated this concert as just one of those forgettable, insignificant events, because it was not. the objectivity you're asking for--it's there in the fact that i made sure to get my facts right. otherwise, with all those facts and context and history, OPINION IS ABOUT TAKING SIDES.

Anonymous said...

the main problem is, prior to going there, you have been influenced already in a major way on what was going on outside.

gibbs cadiz said...

sure, and thank god for that. you'd rather you lived in a vacuum? :)

Anonymous said...

bravo for your article gibbs cadiz.
like many i have been angered by these turn of events the past week's:
the dropping of composer ramon santos from the national artist awards list;
this ccp event with all those musician colleagues who willingly performed.
well at least the supreme court temporarily put on hold the national artist awards.
i do hope more people would voice out against this embarassing commemoration.
in the meantime: to the ccp/ mr.sunico: please stop decreeing "let art and politics be separate"- to think and act this way is not only naive but also utterly irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

at the end of the day, you review plays, PRODUCTIONS. Sana, lumabas na lang ang writeup mo sa opinions section. Wala akong problema sa opinion na isinulat mo, hindi lang iyong section mo ang proper venue for it.

gibbs cadiz said...

did you actually check the paper? the story appeared on the front page because it was the editors' judgment that the story behind the concert was big enough to be front-page material--as the protests had been in the last couple of days. however, my story was clearly labeled REVIEW, with a logo saying so prominently displayed right within the front-page part of the story. you can go check the sunday paper again, lower right-hand side. yes, opinion pieces, editorials, etc. do get published on the front page from time to time. or di ka lang familiar with newspapers nowadays? please, magbasa muna bago mag-comment.

and now you're moving your goalposts, saying wala ka problem sa opinion ko, but only the proper venue for it, when it was very clear what you said earlier--you were questioning the OBJECTIVITY of the story, which goes right to the heart of my opinion. so which is which?

gibbs cadiz said...

by the way: "hindi lang iyong section mo ang proper venue for it." who said so? a virtual mini-army of editors looked at the piece and decided to put it where it eventually ended. i suppose you know something they don't?

Dennis N. Marasigan said...


bravo for your writing, and bravo for responding in like manner to john locke.


iamnotanonymous said...

Wow, Anonymous forgot to read the newspaper the day they put you on the front page. Wahaahaha what an embarassment.

Quentin X said...

This is national embarassment. Thwety-three years ago, the Filipino people showed the world how to collectively kick out an overstaying despot. Today, they showed the world how to collectively eat shit.

beektur said...

Gibbs - di ka nag-iisa :)

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