A Couple of Friday Evenings in the City of Manila
We arrived early because we knew parking would be a bitch around the Metropolitan Theater. Sorry, the Met is a jewel of a theater, fabulous down to the smallest art deco details, but the parking is . . .. I don’t want to use two bad words in the first paragraph. Anyway, for an eight o’clock show, we got there at 6:30, and to kill time, we walked over to SM Manila for Razon’s Halo Halo because when you’re irritated, sweaty, dusty and tired, you simply must have the finely crushed ice and carabaos’ milk of Razon’s Halo Halo (not a paid partnership).
The mall had a school fair atmosphere with groups of students in a variety of uniforms cruising in every direction for whatever bit of entertainment might be available. There were long plaid skirts, pencil-cut skirts, and holy white shapeless dresses. The young men wore formerly white polos with school patches and dragged their leather shoes like slippers. Here and there military-style uniforms popped up. The shoulder bands probably indicated nautical or aeronautical training, but I didn’t care. The attention-getters were the athletes in warm up suits that screamed “Major University!” They walked around as if they didn’t care about anyone or anything, and you’d better get out of their way. Women volleyball players can be scary.
Near the center of the main passageway, a human statue had a attracted a respectable crowd. You know, that street performance gimmick you find at every tourist spot? This one was a scrawny man in a sparkly, silver suit, dark glasses and a flat cowboy hat. From his pose I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be Michael Jackson or some misbegotten rhinestone cowboy. It didn’t matter, though, because when anybody dropped money into the container in front of him, the activated statue performed a jerky, slow motion “Spaghetti Pababa”. Terrible as it was, it got the crowd laughing. They enjoyed it so much that someone was always willing to drop a bill to get him going again, and everybody had their phones out recording the show. Except for this one vaguely pretty girl in civilian clothes who had her phone up, pointed at the statue, but who was actually taking video of herself. Whatever makes you happy, I guess.
Over at the other end of the building, in the large event space surrounded by restaurants, a loose, wide circle of students had gathered around a busker with a guitar who had set up a mobile sound system. To me he was singing the unrecognizable, unhummable melodies and seemingly meter-less lyrics of an unknown singer-songwriter. Turned out to be insanely popular New OPM. At the chorus, all the kids sang along like the tunes were their anthems. Songs of undeclared, unrequited love. Strains of heartbreak. Music about moving on. And the young people sang as if they meant it. Not a bad show at all.
But it was time to go back to the theater, which in the hour we’d been gone had become packed. This crowd had been bused in, and so many of them had the chatty confidence of young stars. The girls had their hair tied back so severely they could only have been budding ballet dancers. The boys were fashionably dressed and insanely fit. Their chaperones had those long, thin scarves that I thought disappeared from view with Sen. De Lima. Beneath the hairstyles and the outfits, however, these people inside the Met weren’t that much different from those back at the mall. Not richer, not smarter, not even more talented, all things considered. Maybe they had different opportunities, but at heart they were just kids. In fact, this semi-pretty girl sitting behind me kept talking about how this selfie looked better than that selfie. Yeah, whatever makes you happy.
When the heavy curtain rose and Joey Ayala’s pulsating music took hold, the first shivers of movement onstage hinted at an outstanding evening of dance, and I wasn’t disappointed. National Artist Agnes Locsin’s “Encantada” was being restaged at the appropriately jungle-themed Metropolitan that night. Created in the 1990s, the ballet still managed to be a revelation. I’ll leave the formal reviews to the experts, in particular, Erica Marquez-Jacinto (http://theaterfansmanila.com/review-third-times-a-charm-with-encantada/). What she said. But let me just say: I would spend my hard-earned P8,000 to watch “Encantada” long before I spent a centavo to see a touring company version of “Hamilton”. Not only because of the excellence of the whole performance, but because “Encantada” is our very own story, so creatively told as to make its well-travelled themes fresh and powerful again.
One week later we were back at the Met for the final performance of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra concert season. No group singing here. Shostakovich’s “Festive Overture” had no lyrics. No mobile sound system either; but for Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9, op.95, in E minor, the roughly fifty violins, violas, cellos, and contrabasses together with the other sections of the PPO filled the hall with music so rich and yet so precise that it also filled the soul. Corny, but, hey, it’s my soul. Prior to this concert, if you had mentioned the names Shostakovich and Dvorak to me, I’d have thought they were basketball players. The PPO introduced them to me and put me in awe of their work.
What if, just for one evening, the audiences were switched? What if the culturati had heard the OPM cover singer and felt the rapturous support he got from all the other people around? What if the fans of rhinestone Jackson had the chance to see the Guardia Civil depicted in neo-ethnic ballet? What if the pretty girls got over themselves and really saw what was happening around them?
Manila could become a great city. Even without parking.