It’s really good to see that the theater is slowly coming back. It has been two years since I saw a new work at a live theater. If I remember correctly, the last theater production I saw was Ang Huling El Bimbo at the Newport Performing Arts Theater. It had a re-run late last year, dubbed Ang Muling El Bimbo.
Speaking of new productions, Tanghalang Pilipino returns to live performance with Anak Datu, a play based on a short story written by National Artist Abdulmari Imao.
After two years, the CCP resident theater company finally returns. This signals the new performance season of the theater company, and it will also be the first theater production to be shown at the Tanghalang Ignacio B. Gimenez (CCP Black Box Theater), which was recently inaugurated.
This is also the first production to be directed by Chris Millado after he retired as Cultural Center of the Philippines’s artistic director, and his first live theater production after the pandemic.
“After the pandemic, nobody did live theater. I’m happy to be back. Even when I was at CCP, I would not mind going to rehearsals after working hours, after doing all the paperwork because it gives me a lot of artistic energy,” shared Millado who run directly from the airport to the rehearsal hall after his festival management work for the Cinemalaya 18 in Dapitan.
“Now, I’m more focused on the rehearsal work, which makes me very happy. And to do it in a space that has special meaning for me because I helped put it up five years ago, it gives it even more meaning,” he added.
The idea of staging Anak Datu started before the pandemic. Toym Leon Imao, the son of the late National Artist, brought to the collaborators’ attention a lesser-known short story written by his father.
Set during pre-colonial Philippines in Sulu Archipelago, the story follows the life journey of the son of a village chieftain.
Before he is born, their village is raided by pirates. His mother gives birth to him under captivity; hence, he grows up believing that his father is a former pirate. Only when the old man dies does the son discover the truth about his real father.
The original story seemed to be intended for young audiences. But when the production team started to pore over the material, the story got bigger. Layers of storytelling unfold.
In fact, Rody Vera who did the stage adaptation had gone through three revisions to incorporate the short story, documentary material, and personal recollections of the Imaos.
“The project evolved into a multi-layered narrative that would consider and dramatize the socio-political milieu of the Imao family. Written in 1968, incidents such as the Jabidah Massacre and the ensuing formation of the Muslim resistance in Mindanao exerted its narrative pressure on the fictional tale.
Through several readings, the narrative realms made themselves felt and surfaced: the realms of myth which is the world of Anak Datu, the realm of history which traces the birth of the Muslim resistance in Mindanao, and the realms of memory which plays out in the Imao househ9old of artists,” said Millado in his director’s note.
Anak Datu is also a musical treat. There will be live music from the Kulintangan Ensemble, perfectly harmonized with the symphonic music of Chino Toledo, the soundscape of TJ Ramos, and the live chanting from some of the actors.
Millado shared that they originally wanted an immersive staging in which the audience would go to different rooms where they could see how the story would unfold.
But since we still don’t know how the pandemic would pan out, and even with the easing of the protocols, it would be challenging to do that. As a compromise, they would bring a semi-immersive theater experience with traverse staging.
Theater acts move and flow through the stage, with wagons carrying scenes pushing in and out, bumping into and colliding with each other before moving away. Like how the river flows, reminiscent of the Tausug way of life.
Costume designer Carlo Pagunaling imagines three worlds: each with discrete visual textures and codes – the pristine quality of myth, the dinginess of history, and the playful scale of memory.
The production also weaves together the mythic, idyllic abstract canvases of Abdulmari Imao and the intricate collages and installations of Toym Imao, amid the performance aesthetics of the southern Philippines including the pangalay of Tausug and the martial arts traditions of Mindanao.
Projection designer GA Fallarme and light designer Katsch Catoy look for opportunities to bring in the color and silhouettes of Abdulmari Imao’s canvas, and contrast this with the graphic realism of recent historical incidents.
For the set design, “Toym Imao brings in his own worldview and artistic vision shaped by a household that negotiated multi-culturalism on a daily basis (his father was Muslim and his mother, a Christian) and a family history deeply wounded and recuperating from divisions caused by the conflict in Mindanao and Martial Law,” shared Millado.
Anak Datu premieres this Friday, September 16, and runs until October 9, at the Tanghalang Ignacio B. Gimenez. Check out the CCP and Tanghalang Pilipino social media accounts for more updates on ticketing and show schedules.