Choreographing ‘Daragang Magayon’ in multi-media

By Pablo A. Tariman, VERA Files

The most encouraging thing about “Daragang Magayon: An Istorya Ni Mayon” is that it was spearheaded by the provincial government of Albay as part of its tourism pitch.

Very few in the government sector believe in the immense power of culture to perk up the tourism landscape. Albay, for one, has a formidable tourist attraction in the presence of Mt. Mayon. It didn’t occur to many that the legends surrounding the magic mountain can be transformed into a cultural attraction.

The production’s next commendable attribute is that Albay Gov. Joey Salceda was able to work with an artistic team in the realm of choreography (Gerald Mercado), music (Ramon Santos), poetry (Virgilio Almario) and dramaturgy (Abdon Balde, Jr.).

From the project director Katrina Santos Mercado, one learns that a dance music on the subject already existed with an original libretto by Merlinda Bobis. The libretto by Bobis focused on the oppressed Filipina and how she fought for love. When Santos survived his heart ailment in 2009, the family of the project director decided to revive his Daragang Magayon music through a new re-staging of the piece with some revisions to meet the choreographic demands of the new production.

With National Artist for Literature Almario and Albay poet laureate Balde and the e-dance Theater of Mercado getting into the picture, a new collaboration emerged and the libretto took off, away from the original Bobis libretto.

The production took a multi-media turn with film and animation getting into the picture.

“The challenge of combining the purity of live theater in dance and music with the incorporation of technology meant assembling a good core of willing artists who believed in the project,” Mercado said.

To make the story short, the project took off with Gov. Salceda picking up the tab for its financial requirements.

On an afternoon matinee, “Daragang Magayon” had its first performance in Metro Manila.

In the orchestra pit was a music ensemble composed of the UP Rondallas, the Novo Concertante Manila choir with soprano Stefanie Diclas Quintin, bass Agrifino Jonaf Del Fierro V and tenor Jay-El Viteno.

Conducting was the composer himself.

When the curtains went up to give us a view of Tierra de Ybalon, you get a fairly good inkling of the set design of Leo Abaya and the multi-level lighting designs of John Batalla and Luis Alcoran.

But as you figure out the Moon Goddess Haliya (Mayumi Toribio) with the two Gods, Gugurang (Ronnie Lazaro) and Asuang (Pontri Bernardo ), you realize you need more focus to follow the thread of the story. The ensemble of monsters somehow perked up the opening scene but as the story moved on with more characters from the legend getting into the picture, you begin to wonder if the production meant to showcase the music or the lighting design. There was a long lull in the first act with just the Santos music coming from the orchestra pit and no action on stage.

This choreographic vacuum is at once filled up in the second act with more action on stage. The Rawis tribe has accepted the fact that their Daragang Magayon has fallen in love with Ulap and showed their support. But Pagtuga (Francis Cascano) would not hear of this; he declares war to get back his loved one. But this bloodbath, according to the program notes, is also the war of the Gods.

The war of the gods highlighted by the wrath of Linog (Eduardo Ma) and Pagtuga ended in the death of Ulap (Victor Maguad) and Daragang Magayon (Ea Marie Torrado).

From where they died, the lighting design concocted a crater in the making, then a mountain and then rose Mt. Mayon. But the transition was quite long and inconclusive as the earlier dancing of Usa shifting to its animated version.

It is possible the production needed more time to fine-tune some details.

The input of composer Santos is first-rate ensemble music but revised to fill the demands of a two-hour ballet, it began to sound dolorous and over-stretched at some point. The choreography also needed more contrast to balance the solo parts and the pas de deux of Daragang Magayon and Ulap.

Still, the real test of a good dance-drama is when you can follow the story without looking at the souvenir program. Some characters are not well-delineated, the transitions somehow didn’t connect and yet you remain in the dark after reading the souvenir program twice.

But on the whole, Daragang Magayon was theater spectacle. The ensemble dancing sparkled, the lighting was effective and the set design brought you to that magical time when legends reign and mortals fall in love while the Gods fight for supremacy.

But to be fair, bringing Mt. Mayon’s tale of love over to the CCP is already a big achievement and this will affirm Gov. Salceda’s unquestionable affinity with the arts. He is one of the few in the government sector who can galvanize artists into doing something substantial for the community.

But for artistic collaborations to produce theatrical magic, many things needed to be worked out.

For as choreographer-dancer Twyla Tharp pointed out: “Creativity is more about taking the facts, fictions, and feelings we store away and finding new ways to connect them. What we're talking about here is metaphor. Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we are experiencing now with what we have experienced before. It's not only how we express what we remember, it's how we interpret it - for ourselves and others.”

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

Check out other interesting VERA Files stories: