Photo by Keith Magcaling
Text by John Patrick Manio
It is interesting to look at Art and social media as means rather as ends in themselves, especially in Art. Regardless of age or generation, Art exceeds beyond mere form.
To Maestra Adela, played by Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, this form is the kundiman. Its transcendental life is its power to resist and to inspire others to do so. She is pulled out of retirement by the activist Bobby, played by Kalil Almonte, to share with the new generation the almost forgotten power of the kundiman.
The Kundiman Party closes Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas’ (DUP) 42nd Theatre Season and UP Playwrights’ Theatre’s (UPPT) 26th Theatre Season, celebrating the tagline of Honoring Defiance. Directed by Dexter M. Santos, it is playwright Floy Quintos’ last jab at writing for theatre after a 10-year run.
A recurring theme throughout this season is the lingering persistence of the dark past, and the current efforts of resistance. In this instance, the dark past is in the essence of the Marcos administration that lives in the present in the form of the current regime.
The play follows Maestra Adela as she reviles having gained prominence through the influences of the Marcoses, notably Imelda, the infamous Iron Butterfly.
However, she had dedicated the last years following her retirement to amend for this fact – using her talent and craft to fight against the inhumanity of the Marcos regime, sacrificing grandeur and artistic merit to the elite and hurting her career in the process.
Now, with the tyranny looming, Adela joins with Bobby and the rest of the Kundiman Party to brace a different generation. The Kundiman Party is comprised of fellow kundiman artists and activists who supported Adela in her tirade against the Marcoses and are still active in activism in the present. She returns to a world where the art of the kundiman is almost forgotten, while fearing the lost of its and her relevance to the changing world.
The stage set is adorned by the relics of Maestra Adela in her prime, haunting her of the images of what she could have become if she had not utilized the kundiman for political agenda. The production design was made specifically to highlight her lifestyle as a recluse, isolated and left behind by an ever-changing world.
And an aspect of a world in which Adela barely knows is the advent of social media. It is constructed, like art, as a medium and means for ideas, therefore a weapon for propaganda. And like art, has been used by the state for such, also. With the efforts and knowledge of tech savvy Bobby, the Kundiman Party has honed the power of social media to magnify their reach to the public and get their message across.
The aspect of using art to further socio-political agenda is not new. The context of the play in weaponizing Art served as counter-culture to the infamous state-funded Arts for the same function of propaganda in the heydays of the Marcos administration.
From the construction of the Manila Film Center, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the Philippine International Convention Center to the establishment of the Manila International Film Festival and the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines along with other works of ghostwritten autobiographical literature and self-centric films, the Marcos stain was everywhere. The holding of massive events like the Beatles concert of 1966, the Miss Universe of 1974, and the Thrilla in Manila boxing event of 1975 also support the claim that the Marcoses utilized the Arts for their own gain with other purposes as mere fronts.
The most well known, however, was the incorporation of the Malakas and Maganda folklore to the creation of the Ferdinand-Imelda mythmaking in the public sphere.
Veering away from the elitist and exclusive type of Art that Imelda nurtured, Maestra Adela instead ventured to the more accessible and mass-oriented Art that seeks to capture the human condition. This choice and sacrifice makes her worthy to be deemed as the successor of the legacy of the legendary sarswela performer Atang dela Rama, a fellow artist and humanitarian.
Floy Quintos and Dexter M. Santos weaves a narrative about the weaponizing power of Art in the socio-political stage. Their storytelling is coupled, enhanced even, with an artist lineup that did not fall short of the technical skills required for the elaborate play. It is not an easy feat, after all, to breathe life into written names and characters.
The Kundiman Party boasts a powerful ensemble of stage veterans who are more than capable of getting the message of the play across. Playing the lead is Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as Maestra Adela and Kalil Almonte as Bobby.
Joining them is the titular Kundiman Party played by multiple renowned stage actresses. The play was also blessed by the presence of Teroy de Guzman, playing Bobby’s father, who graced the stage for a short but pivotal scene. It is also worth noting the skill of on-stage pianist Farley Asuncion, playing Ludwig – Maestra Adela’s companion. The musical director is Krina Punsalan Cayabyab and the production designer is Mitoy Sta. Ana.
The Kundiman Party will run until May 6, 2017 at the Wilfredo Ma. Guerrero Theatre, 2F Palma Hall Building, UP Diliman.