There was an excitement about Manhid long before it opened. After all, it had all the elements of a good show. Music by the Eraserheads now to be performed by Radioactive Sago Project, contemporary dance by Ballet Philippines, a whole lot of singing. And it’s about superheroes with names like Lam-Ang, Bantugan, Alunsina!
What could go wrong?
The premise of this story is a what if: what if the EDSA 1986 Revolution did not happen? What would have happened to nation then? What would happen to us as a people?
The fiction is that the nation gives birth to a new breed of hero, named after folk and mythical heroes across the regions, and imbued with powers that they know not how to harness. They use and abuse this power without thinking, turning good or evil as they see fit. This is the time when one Lam-ang would like to gather all the good from her generation to fight the kamanhiran—the apathy—of the populace. One controlled by the evil and decadence of The Minister of Humanity who leads the villains.
It all seems well and good as concept, except that it does not resonate in the present anymore. Apathy is not the problem of nation at this point: it is the ill-informed, badly educated populace that has been voting into office leaders who do not care for nation. It is not kamanhiran of the 1990’s kind that is our problem. It is being so embroiled in the issues of nation that we get easily drawn to the loudest voice, we get lost in the hype and propaganda. There is no apathy when loyalties can be bought, no kamanhiran when the every Pinoy thinks he is correct in his assessment of nation. It is not lack of caring that ails us; it is lack of information, lack of a sense of history.
Which is sadly what Manhid lacks as well.
The possibility for Manhid
Fifteen years or so since this production was first staged in 1991, so much of what we know of history has changed. Whatever power this text held in the early 90s does not stand in the present, especially at a time when even an honest president and purportedly transparent government can do so much wrong. And no, the people are not just watching that happen either. We have ceased to be unfeeling and uncaring, and that’s a crisis that’s totally different from the one that this production speaks of.
What is wonderful is that these songs stand the test of time, and could be used to speak of this current crisis. A different form of kamanhiran, the kind that we do not know we are in, the kind borne of drowning in all this information that render us mere pawns controlled by those who hold the wealth and power. Heroism is different now. It’s the kind that’s not just about being good, but about deciding on what is right. Because it is about justice, about feeding the hungry, educating the un-educated, and sustainably living in a country that is rich in natural resources.
This is in our myths and epics, and Manhid could’ve spoken still about these same heroes, leveled up to becoming relevant in the present.
One couldn’t help but wonder why this production did not adapt the original Manhid. Why it decided to stage it in this way—almost simplistically—with no sense of how wonderfully heroism and nation have already been discussed in recent years, from Zsazsa Zaturnnah ze Musicale to Ibalong, even Kung Papaano Ako Naging Leading Lady.
How those have been a level up to the narrative of good and evil, right and wrong, and how the epic and the comics have been adapted for the stage.
Was it laziness? That could be another form of kamanhiran.
There was a clear lack of direction here, if not a lack of vision. Seemingly bound to the conventions of the comic book, the projector was used to explain every change in setting and to provide sound effects. Yes, ala Batman cartoons with Kapow! Bang! as backdrop. The set and lights could’ve created the sense of dystopia, but the costumes were far from dystopic—in fact much of it was painfully archetypal: Lam-ang in a woven cape, Urduja in green with insect horns, Lagrimas in Marian blue, Dilim in flowing black.
Certainly the singing was great among Jean Judith Javier, Teetin Villanueva and Kim Molina and the rest of the singing cast; and the dancing was fantastic too when there was enough space for it. But the line drawn between singers and dancers was a thick one, and it was not bridged at all. That the dancers knew to act through their bodies also highlighted the lack of gravitas in many of the singers.
One is reminded that were we talking about talent in this country we would have no complaints; but that is not all that makes a production.
In this case, they needed direction and vision. They needed to be more certain about what they were doing on that stage and why. So much time was wasted telling a story, not showing how it happened. This must have been alternative theater in 1991, but in 2015, we demand more from our productions.
Certainly we deserve more as an audience.
Manhid is a Ballet Philippines production directed and choreographed by Paul Alexander Morales, written by Kanakan-Balintagos, lyrics by Carina Evangelista, and compositions by Vince de Jesus and the Eraserheads. Musical direction by Francis de Veyra, set design by Zard Eguia, costume design by Victor Ursabia, and lighting design by Roman Cruz. Live music by Radioactive Sago Project.