Lighting has always fascinated John Batalla. Its various facets such as colors, patterns, and movements have inspired the light designer to pursue this artistic path 28 years ago.
As a technical theater and management student at UP Diliman, he honed his craft under Tony Mabesa, who was then the artistic director of Dulaang UP. Doing light design for the theater company’s rigorous performance seasons, he was able to develop his own distinct style.
After graduating, he further enhanced his skills by working with various theater and dance companies, even crossing over to live events, TV productions, concerts, and what have you.
Known for creating vibrant onstage scenes using lights, Batalla received Gawad Buhay awards for outstanding lighting design in theater production for various productions produced by different theater and dance companies.
This year, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, through the Production Design and Technical Services Division, tapped Batalla to create a light and sound show on the facade of the CCP Main Building to celebrate its 53rd anniversary.
Dubbed Sinag 2022: Light and Sound Spectacle, Batalla experimented purely with lighting to evoke feelings, thoughts, and moods to celebrate the CCP anniversary post-pandemic. He partnered with sound designer Jethro Joaquin to curate the soundscape for the show, providing a cleaner and more nuanced bed for the light show.
“Lighting is visual but can only represent ideas never literally. Through a curated soundscape of music and Filipino soundscapes, we want people to feel and see a representation of what Pinoy culture has become,” shard Batalla.
Batalla and Joaquin interpreted the three transcendentals of “Truth, Goodness, and Beauty” for Sinag 2022. Composed of three suites, the light show will last for 10 minutes.
The light show opens on September 22 (Thurs) and runs until September 25, with shows from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at 30-minute intervals.
The spectacle opens with the first suite, dubbed Katotohanan / Truth, featuring the birth of Filipino culture amid the sounds of nature and various indigenous instrumentations. Gobo patterns of indigenous fabrics vis-à-vis broken leaf patterns give this segment a subdued feel.
Synced with a musical bed of traditional Filipino folk songs modernized with beats, the second suite (Kabutihan / Goodness) is peppered with bits and pieces of indigenous instruments as it fades into an idyllic representation of the Filipino sound. The lighting imagery deals with colors and blocks as an artistic reimagining of the painting styles of Fernando Amorsolo, Hidalgo, and Juan Luna, among others.
“There are no literal images projected on the façade but rather a more romantic take on how colors and patterns evoke a Filipino Idea. The baybayin text for Kabutihan also ends up projected on the building at some point during the suite,” shared Batalla.
The final suite (Kagandahan / Beauty) explores the idea of what “Filipino” is right now, a great melting pot of many things and unabashed and unapologetic.
“The music is upbeat and driving and peppered with quotable quotes from many Filipinos that have now become part of the zeitgeist. The mood is hopeful and celebratory and the lighting reflects that, with movement and color all across the façade and fountain,” said Batalla.
While preparing for the CCP light and sound show, we sat down with the light designer to know his vision of light design in general.
GL: How challenging is it to create a light and sound show using the CCP façade? What are the limitations?
JB: Time and money are always a challenge in any project, but Pinoys are great at making things with what they have, and this project is no different. We’re hoping for good weather because we all learned our lesson from Sinag 2019 when bad weather can ruin all the best plans. We’ve made changes and are using all weatherproof lighting (proprietary waterproof moving head luminaires) this time around so rain or shine, Sinag 2022 will go on.
GL: When designing light, what is your approach to creating the right feel and aesthetics for the audience?
JB: I think all (lighting) designers have their own styles or trademarks that differentiate them from the rest and we can’t really put a finger on what these particular styles are. I personally design from a place of feeling, what mood a piece of music makes me feel, or how I want the audience to feel at a specific point in a piece – that’s how I judge if what I’m doing is effective, if it makes people see and therefore feel a certain way.
GL: For this specific project, what effects do you aim for? What emotions do you want to invoke?
JB: Sinag 2022 is a celebration first and foremost. In an age of digital media and instant satisfaction, we want people to remember what it is to be Filipino, and how far we’ve come as a people. The past can seem so far removed from daily life but it still has brought us to today and changed us for the better. We want the audience to feel pride in their Filipino-ness, here and now especially after the pandemic.
GL: What is more helpful in light design – the knowledge of technology, experience, or is it intuition/creativity?
JB: Every time we try to teach lighting, the ethereal and intangible is always the hardest part to get through. Yes, with the tools of modern lighting things have gotten easier to some extent and equally more complicated with the digitization of all things. I think the creative aspect of light design comes from a full understanding of the technology involved as well as the designer’s personal experiences. A Filipino light designer’s sunset can look very different from a light designer from Europe or the US.
GL: What makes light magical to you?
JB: What I find magical about lighting is that we are all drawn to it, like a moth to a flame, like that which is at the end of a tunnel, like ancient people’s fascination with the sun and moon. It is ingrained in all of us, we may not understand it fully but we are moved by light nonetheless.