July 21, 2003
REINERIO A. ALBA
Since the announcement of Ballet Philippines (BP) production of ‘Darna’ last year, people have been eagerly awaiting its opening. Finally, on August 1, 2003 at the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the Filipinos’ well-loved flying heroine is set to conquer the stage, or more precisely, set to fly on stage, right before the viewers eyes.
To make this flying act possible, BP has employed the expertise of mountaineering guys . During the press preview held at the Tanghalang Francisco Balagtas, the media was given a sampling of how it would look like. BP Artistic Director Denisa Reyes emphasized that unlike standard productions, where the stagehands stay off stage, viewers, this time, will see guys pulling at Darna’s harness, pulling her up slowly, and making sure that she floats over or descends glitch-free at her enemies. Darna for that preview day was Christine Crame (Kris-Belle Paclibar alternates with her on the show), effortlessly flying, perfectly executing the choreography of Reyes and Alden Lugnasin. Anyone familiar with the walking the wall stunt done by the character Trinity in the movie ‘The Matrix’ would be thrilled to see BP dancers doing it. The same stunt was cleverly used in the ballet to change the perspective of the Darna flight from a purely vertical point to an aerial one (picture Darna with a camera on her back). Australian aerial movement consultant Gavin Robins, who taught the dancers acrobatics, improvisations, martial arts, including that wall trick, should be one proud mentor now.
Reyes had been wanting to do an original full-length dance as it had already been seven years since BP staged ‘La Revolucion Filipina in 1996,’ an hour and twenty minute work enfleshing Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini. ‘Darna’ became the obvious choice for Reyes who wanted a main character who could also fly.
Recent interest in ‘Darna’ (not that her popularity waned) was helped by the publication of a glossy special golden anniversary comic edition of ‘Darna,’ produced by the Tagaytay-based group called Mango Comics with Hugo Yonzon III as publisher and Zach Yonzon as editor in chief. Of course, there is the inherent wish in all of us to fly to consider, along with the people’s insatiable interest to see Darna flying, and this time, in the flesh, even if it is on stage.
This sort of ballet tribute was forthcoming –Darna, after all, is already half a century old. Darna was created in April 1950 by Mars Ravelo, the same creator of Dyesebel, Lastikman and Kaptain Barbell. Illustrated by Nestor Redondo, Darna first appeared in Pilipino Comics, and has captured the imagination of Filipinos since. Like all memorable Sharon Cuneta dialogues, Filipinos have become all too familiar with that exact moment when Narda finally swallows the enchanted stone, before shouting and metamorphosing into the voluptuous Darna. With14 ‘Darna’ movies made since 1951, we have come to know, too, Darna’s staple enemies: Hawk Woman, Leech Woman, aliens, giants, goons, and the snake-haired Valentina.
This staging of Darna is a fitting celebration of BP’s 34 years of existence with over 250 works produced to date. BP, being the resident dance company of CCP, has earned critical and popular acclaim at home as well as around the world with works like ‘Te Deum’ (1989), ‘Babaylan’ (1994), ‘Igorot’ (1994), ‘Taong Talangka’ (1994), ‘Moriones’ (1994), ‘Je, Tu, Elle’ (1995), ‘La Revolucion Filipina’ (1996), ‘Swimming the Ilog Pasig’ (1998), ‘Salome’ (1998), ‘Swans Fluttering Disturbances’ (1998). The Company currently has 10 strong dancers: Christine Crame, Judell de Guzman, Camille Ordinario, Alden Lugnasin, Irish Abejero, Kris-Belle Paclibar, Biag Gaongen, Clark Anselmo Rambuyon, Ardee Dionisio, Jojo Mamangun.
Reyes brings into the production an army of talents like Chris Millado, veteran stage director, who was tasked to do the book, the lyrics, and the stage direction. Millado said that he had comics, movies and his memories to draw from with Peque Gallaga’s movie version of ‘Darna’ (which starred Anjanette Abayari) as a main source of the story he made. This time though, Millado incorporated into the story the ‘lola’ or grandmother, who acts as the keeper of the enchanted stone that in turn were spewed out by a volcano.
Interestingly, too, in the ballet production, it was not only Narda but Valentina as well who gained possession of the stone. Playing Valentina is Chin-Chin Gutierrez (with Tex Ordoñez alternating with her) who even gets to sing an aria, where she sings of her love for Darna’s sweetheart. Jesse Lucas, composer/arranger, explains that he tried to veer away from casting Valentina as a plain villainess. “ We tried to humanize each character.” Lucas, who had done original ballet pieces for Philippine Ballet Theater (‘Andres Bonifacio,’ ‘Sarimanok’), said that the music for ‘Darna’ is a fusion of film and techno music, with some Broadway, pop, kundiman, and indigenous beat thrown in.
Dressing up Darna and her ensemble is Liz Fjelle Batoctoy who counts among her works the elephant and the non-human props and costumes for SK Entertainment’s “Rama at Sita” at UP. Liz admitted that the hardest costume to do was still Darna’s. “Most of our time was spent on it. What the people will see is pretty much like the original Ravelo look, but this time, it has to accommodate this great big flying harness. It’s hard to make it look sexy.”
Looking back at the preview that day, and this writer experiencing first hand how it was to be fitted with all that harness, and hoisted up in the air, appearing ‘sexy’ would be the farthest concern. But it is exactly this challenge—to make the hard parts appear beautiful, as in any dance form– that easily makes this latest BP production one of this year’s reasons for trooping back hurriedly to the main theater of the CCP.