Scenes from Performatura

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) opened its doors for its inaugural literature festival, Performatura, last November 6, 7, and 8. To enter, no fee was required—only the donation of a book, be it fresh and glossy or old and battered. With the goal of exploring intertextuality, the event created a place where the traditional and the modern, the written and the oral, could come to break apart, link, and ultimately, flourish.


November 6, 2015

2:00pm – Opening Festival Ceremony

The theater smelled like a dusty age-old book, shaken and exposed. Coming in early meant being able to choose seats that offered a good view of the stage. When the lights dimmed, dance artist Chelsea Ainsworth stepped out and bowed her head.  The story was that of Ophelia and Hamlet, in the famous Shakespearean play. His words were “I don’t love you,” and we followed her slow, downward spiral into madness. From a stiff, statue-like stance, her movements became sharp, her limbs sometimes twisted in angles fit only to portray internal pain.

A Balagtasan trio from the Philippine Women’s University came next, posing the question: “Ano ba ang tama, wikang-puro o wikang halo?” A young lady dressed in Filipiniana spoke in wikang-puro, as her competitor, a young, mestizo man took selfies and spoke in wikang-halo. The young lady believed that to grow as a nation, we must speak in our native tongue, while the young man said we must welcome the language of globalization, of technology. The theater filled up with their verses, until the mediator stepped in to suggest that both ways play an important role in the development our nation.

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The smell of coffee beckons…

4:00pm – CCP Cafe: Coffee and Conversation with a National Artist

Right outside the theater to Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino hallway, it was time for Coffee and Conversation with a National Artist. Seated in two plump chairs were F. Sionil Jose and Lourd De Veyra. “Who here has read my books?” the former began as people rushed in to sit where they could, eager to lend their ears to two of the more prominent figures in the country. The National Artist showed no sign of resignation, saying that after writing his award-winning Rosales Saga, he still continues to write because he is “passionately angry.”

Lourd De Veyra, a satirist, naturally quipped with his sly sense of humor, conversed lightly around sensitive topics with F. Sionil Jose such as that of racism, The Revolution, and the Marcos regime. “One of the functions of writers is to give people memory,” Sionil said, mentioning how we Filipinos are forgetful of our country’s history. But he ends it more hopefully by saying that only through self-awareness, by being “honest with ourselves,” can we begin to change the psychology and tradition of our country. The National Artist also added that for writers and storytellers, politeness must sometimes be sacrificed in order to fulfill their duties as bearers of the truth.

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November 7, 2015

Not just plain old text

Chromatext Rebooted* & Transmitto

You’ve made your way towards the grand velvet staircase of the CCP to see what else the event has in store. In one corner, two doors stand adjacent from each other. Bulwagang Juan Luna on the left for Chromatext Rebooted and the CCP Library and Archives on the right for Transmitto. Both exhibits were open for the second day, which had more activities lined up, and, subsequently, more conflicting schedules.

If you entered Chromatext Rebooted, you’d have done a double take, wondering why there was an art gallery at a festival that celebrates literature. Chromatext Rebooted gathers different artworks mixed with poetry and prose, both old and modern. Artists paired words with color, painting a picture into readers’ minds to help them better understand what the words mean.

If art museums have sculptures and paintings, Transmitto had sounds. It aimed to teach history while stimulating oral and aural senses. Before entering, you’d have been handed a sleek black blindfold and asked to put it on. You’d be told to sit back, relax, and listen for roughly two minutes. Your hearing senses shift to high alert. As the moment you sat down and cleared your thoughts, sounds of what seem to be incomprehensible syllables fill your ears. Turns out, lamps shined their light on an interesting set of objects: an old radio, an open book, a recorder, and even a Xerox machine. Each object was surrounded by a bunch of microphones and their own speaker. Listen closely, and you just might hear someone talking.


Movers and speakers

7:00pm – Park Poetry II: Ensembles and Notions of Rhythm

At the Promenade, the second part of the Park Poetry trilogy was well underway. Park Poetry II focused on how words are spoken, specifically its beat and its rhythm. A few of the featured performers of the night were Speak 121, Ilustrado, and Tondo Tribe.

Speak 121, which came all the way from UP Diliman, had each of its members clad in black, making their way to the stage accompanied by shouts and war footage being projected in the background. Lines spoken alternated between verses from the prayer “Our Father” and what seemed to be accounts of different people under siege. With their change in volume and emphasis, they made the audience feel what exactly was going on in the Documentary About a War Photographer. Like your typical speech choir, they gave life to words through sharp and bold movements.

Ilustrado and the Tondo Tribe have one thing in common: rap. With the power of music and words, both the Tondo Tribe and Ilustrado put emotions and words together to project something powerful. The crowd often raised their hands as they howled in amazement at the impressive performance.


November 8, 2015

Not your average celluloid protagonists

1:00pm – CCP Dream Theater

The room was nearly filled to its full capacity. The temperature, perhaps a tad too cold, was a few degrees short of freezing. Lemuel C. Lorca’s Si Intoy Siyokoy ng Kalye Marino was showing. Starring JM de Guzman and Jorros Gamboa, the film bore naked the futility of an impoverished life. The picture wasn’t shy of casually blurting out expletives nor was it ashamed of realistically depicting the brusque nature of prostitution. Its tragic images were harrowing and haunting.  Perhaps Lorca’s work aimed to elicit a cathartic response from the audience?

Three hours later, the doors were opened again. This time around, it was the Dalena sisters’ The Guerilla is a Poet, a documentary/biographical drama on the life of CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison. What began with shots of the almost 70-year-old activist celebrating his birthday soon transitioned into a poetic reimagining of the founding of his group. The filmmakers didn’t hesitate in juxtaposing the serenity of the wilderness with the ruthlessness of the hunt for the communist comrades. The film was clearly driven by intention — not of the political kind, but that of the intellectual variety. Sison was positioned not as a candidate you ought to vote for, but as an idealist you should be well-versed on.


The poetry of music 

2:00pm – Huseng Batute Theater

It was two in the afternoon when The Huseng Batute Theater played host to the UPLB Choral Ensemble’s performance. Their setlist was a pastiche of various entries, with one notable inclusion being a musical rendering of Jose Corazon De Jesus’ Ang Tren. The artistic piece was composed of various odd hissing sounds that imitated the noise of a train as it rattles along the rail tracks, and though the words were often inaudible, the general sound of the song remained tightly structured. Their initial slow antics rose every now and then to conclude with a Korsakov-esque fidgeting.

The group also dabbled in acapella versions of Filipino pop classics such as Hotdog’s Manila and Hanggang by Wency Cornejo. The latter even resulted in a standing ovation. As the ensemble started to head towards the exits, chants of “encore” started to ring out. The group relented and performed one more song to the delight of the audience; a tune with homoerotic undertones flowed to the deep, rich bass of their male lead. The crowd nagged for another piece but the Laguna-based outfit finally closed the curtains on what was a thoroughly engaging performance.

These are just some of the many events that were held over the weekend. The sheer scale of the gathering seemed too much to be put to paper, with talks and performances all happening simultaneously. Yet, maybe this overflow of knowledge that caused multiple festival dilemmas will be the same factor that will propel people to remain perpetually curious and hungry for learning.

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