Jun 25, 2008


The Rural Bank Of Itogon and The Office of the City Mayor, Baguio City

in cooperation with

Open Space Projects present...

TONYO - a performance art piece on the life of Gen. Antonio Luna by Rene Villanueva. Directed and to be performed by KM Altomonte.
June 28, 2008, Saturday, 6:30PM, The Atrium, SM City Baguio.

Admission is free.

Jun 22, 2008

Maligayang Bati, Pepe

I just came from the marathon annual tribute to the National Hero at Luneta Park initiated by the Rizalistas. I was introduced to the group by Kidlat Tahimik who has been helping them out with the logistics of their yearly ritual. Last year, the main event was the human flag – hundreds of people in color-coded clothes forming the Philippine flag. This year, they decided to do almost the same thing, except this time they would be forming the Philippine map. I was asked to choreograph the hundreds of people into position.

I brought local photographer, Jojo Lamaria with me to help me out. At the Luneta the day before at noon, the group has erected a hut in the middle of the grounds that served as the headquarters, next to it they have already outlined the 35 x 55-meter Philippine map with lime dust and marked the different islands with small red, yellow and blue flags. We met with the 12 members of the group who would be helping us as assistant stage managers the next morning, along with Reyna Yolanda, the group’s current leader.

The plan was simple: I divided the whole area into twelve, assigning a segment to each of the assistant stage managers. We were to meet the hundreds of people who would fill up the map’s outline only on the day itself, but at least each of the twelve would only have to focus on a small specific area. Jojo and I left after the meeting to return later that night.

After deciding that being there a full 12 hours before the event won’t do any good, we went back to Luneta just after midnight. I have scheduled a production meeting at 4am with the group for last minute instructions, so we had a few hours to spare to get to know the Rizalistas.

A mass was about to start when we got there, at around 3AM, the Quirino Grandstand were filled with people in white – Reyna Auggusta was at the podium calling on all members to get ready for the mass. Moments later, a Babaylan entered and the mass began. The altar was set against a flag bearing the words, Tres Personas, Solo Dios. Across that on the wall of the altar are portraits of Rizal with different inscriptions at the bottom telling the hero’s various vocations: artist, writer, scientist, businessman, etc. the Babaylan ended the mass by blessing the crowd and performances followed.

One caught my attention: on one side of the stage were three singers: I was moving around a lot so I couldn’t hear every single word but they seemed to be singing the history and the vision of the group. On stage were dancers who moved in subtle movements to the rhythm not unlike that of the moro-moro. The performance lasted for I believe more than ten minutes and I was quite amazed by the ease in which the dancers executed their movements and the singers narrated their story – one wouldn’t fail to notice how much they have internalized the words and the music.

By sun up the group proceeded to the monument for the wreath laying ceremony. Problem: the guards of the Rizal monument refused to let them in for they “didn’t have a permit.” This is the only group, as far as I know, who seriously celebrates the birth of our national hero and honors him on the day of his birth and they wouldn’t let them in. A bureaucracy problem and burueacrat shows up. Bayani Fernando to the rescue, he makes a phone call and the group was finally allowed to honor Rizal.

I had my twelve assistants in position, and though the organizers allotted a couple of hours for us to finish forming the map, leading a group of indigenous peoples from various parts of the country, two ati-atihan groups, a marching band, members of the Rizalistas, into position took only about half an hour. And there it was: the first human map of the Philippines .

Just as the clouds partly covered the morning sun, from behind the grandstand a helicopter appeared and as it flew over the map, flower petals were dropped and the more than one thousand people that fromed the map raised their red, blue and yellow flags in the air in celebration.

The crowd dispersed towards the grandstand for the politicians’ speeches and closing ceremonies, and just as the last few souls left the flag, the clouds slowly moved to reveal the sun, and the rays that shone on the empty map gave me goosebumps, and then this:

A street child stood in the middle of the empty flag, and his eyes seemed to be asking: Now what?

For photos of the event, visit my site at www.altomonte.multiply.com.

Jun 15, 2008

Post Script to Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa

When our group was invited to do an Independence Day performance at the mall up there, the idea of performing for a pedestrian audience was quite a challenge for a group that’s used to performing in a regular theater set-up: proscenium stage, audience quietly seated on the other side of the theater’s proverbial fourth wall. Up there our audience would be constantly moving, faces constantly changing, minds wandering from one commodity to another, one sale price to

another. Our ideas would be competing with the loud speakers blaring out of every shop wanting to grab a customer’s attention.

And I thought: that’s exactly who we should be reaching with the ideas our performance wished to communicate.

Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa is a poem written by Andres Bonifacio, and the title of the show. First, we, Ethan Andrew Ventura and I, selected a few literary works by various National Heroes. After coming up with the final list of poems, we proceeded to set these to music: Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa” and “Ang Katapusang Hibik Ng Pilipinas,” his Tagalog translation of Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios,” Amado V. Hernandez’s “Kung Tuyo Na Ang Luha Mo, Aking Bayan,” Jose Corazon De Jesus’ “Bayan Ko” and “Pakikidigma.” We decided that the best finale would be the “Lupang Hinirang.” It was a quite a struggle getting this one onstage, and in the last 24 hours before curtain time, this is how we got there:

Rehearsals ended early the night before, around 8pm. Ethan and I finished composing and arranging and recording the original music for some of the poems just a couple of hours earlier that afternoon. We decided to just perform the existing music composed for “Pag-ibig Sa Tinubuang Lupa” and “Bayan Ko”, I don’t think we could’ve come up with better compositions than what was already there. After rehearsals, I settled infront of the computer to edit the videos, which I expected to finish in a couple of hours. We’ve decided just days before to complement the performance with a multimedia presentation projected on a screen which served as the stage’s only production design element. The sun was already rising when I started burning the DVD.

It’s been a huge learning experience for us, perhaps way more than it has been for the audience: We struggled through the poems' meanings, the context in which this and that line were written, what was perhaps going through the authors’ minds when they were composing the haunting lines.

And when some of us had to look up the English translation of “Mi Ultimo Adios” to better understand the Tagalog translation of Bonifacio, it dawned on me: I don’t think we ought to celebrate Independence Day, for we are not yet truly free. We are still struggling to have the honor of having an Independence Day. We may have a Filipino president in Malacañang now, but our true identity as a nation is still buried under centuries of slavery and we are still governed by colonial mentality. Most of us have lost the ability to see ourselves through our own eyes, we seem to only comprehend the world around us if we look at things through western eyes, judge everything according to western standards. A lot of us believe that a song sounds good if it sounds foreign, a person is beautiful if he or she looks foreign, a product is good if it’s foreign-made.

We are proud of Jollibee because it’s like McDonald’s, we look up to Lea Salonga because she performs Broadway songs exceptionally, we admire APL because he raps like an African-American, and these days we search for local talents based on American Idol standards.

At five to six we were in a makeshift backstage for one last company call, with all those thoughts in my head. And I thought: this should not be the last performance of this piece, a lot of people need reminding that once upon a time, this country had its very own heroes. And they didn’t wear capes or masks nor did they have superpowers – their power emanated from their hearts, from their sincere love for their country. And because they loved this country so much, they are immortalized and their words will forever haunt us.

Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila? Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa? Aling pag-ibig pa? Wala na nga, wala. – Andres Bonifacio.

(Tales from a hillstation, Cordillera Today, June 15, 2008 issue)