Applause for 3 shining Pinays, boo for traffic nightmare

The Inbox

By Elizabeth Lolarga,VERA Files

Photos by Ocs Alvarez

The brief transcendent experience of witnessing "The Dying Swan," featuring ballerina Lisa Macuja, cellist Wilfredo Pasamba, especially flown in from the United States for this number, and pianist Cecile Licad--all three marking a historic first in the Philippines with live music played to this dance interpretation of Saint-Saens piece from Le Carnaval des Animaux--nearly redeemed Saturday's traffic nightmare.

That is, if you got there on time for what was billed a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. For many who didn't get the CCP traffic advisory warning of heavy traffic due to a fireworks show at a nearby mall, they caught the last 10-30 minutes of a two-hour program without intermission. Some were let in as the performers acknowledged their curtain calls.

"The Legends and the Classics," originally scheduled for one night on March 17 at CCP, was extended to another evening due to public demand. Although the house was full on the second evening, the first night, although sold out at the box office, had noticeably empty seats due to a sizeable audience caught in a traffic snarl.

One of  those who barely made it to the concert was Alma  Miclat of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation. She bewailed:"We looked forward to the program, even invested a not so little amount from our budget for better seats because we thought it could only happen once. Or when is the next time? It was a big letdown to see less than half of the program. It felt like highway robbery!"

Writer Mila D. Aguilar said the advisory did not indicate that the traffic was that bad, adding, "I would have left at 4 p.m., not six. I had to stay the course at EDSA for a whole four hours. Alone! At 63! By faith I was saved by God's mercy and God's mercy alone!" Still recovering from what became a Saturday nightmare, she declared that the sacrifice and seat assigned her weren't worth "the risk to life and limb."

There were suggestions of possible refund, a limited edition DVD of "The Legends and the Classics" aimed at this aggrieved audience, perhaps a cable screening in the coming months.

Anjie Ureta, Ballet Manila (BM) media consultant, said, "The traffic has been bad over the last few weekends. Even without the advisory, it was to be expected. It was just worse that Saturday. We have not discussed any of the options recommended. Perhaps when the dust settles, we can consider these with refreshed bodies, minds and vision. This is a show we would like to share with the people. We need to carefully discern what would be the best vehicle, what it would entail."

Ureta said the producers, BM and Manila Broadcasting Company, are considering offers to bring the concert abroad, "not necessarily a tour which entails several shows. We don't want to raise expectations. This is still a remote possibility because of their (the main performers') schedules."

The program drew out the best in Licad, Macuja and Salonga, the last holding the shorter end of the stick, despite her crowd-pleasing Broadway, Disney and Legrand medleys. The Filhamonika Orchestra's accompaniment under her brother Gerard's baton was a tad overpowering on Salonga's first night. Hopefully, adjustments were made on the second. From the farthest row, the slight strain she was going through was palpable.

The program was a beginner's guide to melding and appreciating the classics and the contemporary, short of calling it a revue or variety show in a theater turned cocktail lounge. A tuxedoed waiter appeared now and then to hand Salonga a glass of water. She took sips to recover for her next number. In a televised comeback concert of Barbra Streisand, she wove that break discreetly by sitting in a living-room set, a tea cup behind a vase of flowers.

For lissome, catlike Macuja impressed first-time audience members for landing soundlessly on her feet, leaving them breathless after the nth number of pirouettes. This concert is part of her prolonged "swan song" series. She sees the limits of age and her body's capacity. As a columnist wrote, for the country's prima ballerina, this event marked a possible second act in her life as daring producer.

Licad selected aptly lighthearted Gottschalk pieces. She capped her solos with Chopin's Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillate, Op. 22. The same piece is featured in the end credits of the Polanski film The Pianist where Adrien Brody won his Oscar Best Actor trophy.

Licad's interpretation underscored why she remains one of the great Chopin interpreters in the world. She almost stole the thunder from the other two women although they and the organizers explained earlier that this was no competition. It was a showcase of the greatness of the Filipino. And they all delivered.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")