On November 18, Malacañang issued a non-apology to the public who had been inconvenienced during APEC 2015.
A non-apology worded as a thank you “for your patience and understanding over the inconvenience brought about by our enhanced security measures.” And then it spun the difficulty of the commute to work, the fact of absences and tardiness that will mean less wages, and said: “You have shown to the 10,000 delegates what Filipino hospitality means.”
If it’s to sacrifice our time, energy, earnings the past week – well, we were forced into that kind of hospitality. If it’s Manila streets emptied of people and vehicles, shops closed, turned into ghost towns – that does not speak of the Manila we know at all.
If it’s the display of culture as revealed by the final APEC Dinner Performance for Leaders (as uploaded on YouTube by the Presidential Communications Operations Office: https://youtu.be/a5R1nMINzXs) – then please lang. Not in our name.
Because that was a monstrous failure, an ill-conceptualized variety show, that was far from displaying “the best” of Philippine culture.
Whose idea was it, to begin with, to use the Banawe Rice Terraces as symbol of nation? Yes, it is a wonder of the world. But also it is not in any great shape, and endangered by tourism and the impending construction of a parking lot.
If we truly wanted to work with our environmental wonders, why not Palawan? Between El Nido and Puerto Princesa, the Underground River and the rock formations, the absence of large developments and the historical importance of the province, this would’ve provided a deep well of creative possibilities for any production.
The decision to work with the Banawe Rice Terraces, and the decision to work with the agricultural theme given that symbol, was the downfall of this production. Because other than being a wonder of the world, there is nothing to be said about the Banawe Rice Terraces that makes it a source of pride at this point, nothing to be said about it as far as modernity and cultural production are concerned, nothing to be said about it that would make it a fitting symbol of who we are as nation.
Unless of course the point was to show how neglected we are, how backward, how unprepared for the global economy, and yet how we have been forced into it by our APEC “friends”?
I’m pretty sure that’s not what this production meant to say. But for whatever reason, they picked the Banawe Rice Terraces, and it went downhill from there.
Modernity and the parochial
I trust Kenneth Cobonpue’s aesthetic and vision enough to know that he must have seen this as a great opportunity to meld together nature and modernity. But the Banawe Rice Terraces decision is one that is beyond modernizing, especially when one is bound to imagine it as agricultural symbol and nothing else.
Because we could’ve showcased the kind of Pinoy mind that went into building those terraces, and looked at the manner in which we have continued to construct and build for nation. Then it could’ve been a history of the constantly changing aesthetic of Filipino design, as bound to the needs of the populace. Then, it could have been a grand show of what we have become since, and what we imagine we can still do given our creativities.
Then we could’ve gone beyond the mounds of dirt and rice stalks, because there is nothing more fake than to show that we are all still bound to the earth.
Ah, but it could only get worse. The performance itself (press releases point to Gina Tabuena and Paolo Valenciano as in-charge-of-production) could only imagine working with the old and tired postcard images of performance as we have been taught it in our grade school Araling Panlipunan classes.
Women dancing with pots on their heads? Check. Men and women doing an indigenous dance decontextualized from the ritual it stands for? Check. Lumad boy dancing? Check. Choir in Filipiniana attire? Check check check!
If the goal was to meld the old with the new, the traditional with the modern, then this production was better off using the LED backdrop to reveal the past, and have that stage used for the more modern, more contemporary imagination of its continuing influence and power. Because certainly Douglas Nierras’s Powerdance could’ve spent more time on that stage; in the same way that El Gamma Penumbra shouldn’t have been mere backdrop to Jessica Sanchez singing an unremarkable song.
Watching this almost 40-minute show was really about seeing our talents under-used and misused, listening to songs that were neither here nor there, and not at all bound by a concept obvious enough for the every Pinoy to understand. One can only wonder how it was understood by the APEC Leaders and Delegates at all.
And what a waste of the presence of the great Cecile Licad who could have been the star of the show (absent Lea Salonga), and who certainly deserved better than to be unceremoniously sandwiched between Arnel Pineda and Apl.De.Ap. Ms. Licad could have been given the opportunity to do us all proud with a bonggang opening number, or a finale that would certainly have elicited a standing ovation.
But no. She was placed between the badly chosen rock song “Stairway to Heaven” and the hiphop song “The Apl Song” as performed by Apl with Lumad boy Renan – who of course had to perform in costume. And then it was Charice singing another forgettable song in Tagalog. By the time Martin Nievera and Gary Valenciano get on centerstage to sing yet another unfamiliar song, one couldn’t help but wonder how this is the best that we’ve got. Putting Gary on that stage dancing a more contemporary version of our indigenous dances as choreographed by Nierras – that would’ve been an awesome combo of old and new. Having Martin do an aria that only he can do with aplomb – that would’ve been just fantastic.
Have them sing an unremarkable ballad, with which to end this show – hindi manlang Shout For Joy! – was just so deplorably sad.
This show took the best talents of this country and brought them together in an ill-conceptualized, badly-written show.
This is the best of Philippine culture? This huge mess of a mash-up is what we’re proud of?
You wonder why exactly the Valenciano-Tabuena duo got this gig to begin with. And how much we spent to mount something that was no better than a run-of-the-mill Linggo ng Wika variety show.