Philippine icons in performing arts come together to create ‘Carmina Burana’

To hear National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera describe the latest CCP offering as ‘overwhelming’ is an understatement. “I have not seen them for a long tome, but now, they’re world-class.  It is something that makes the Philippines very proud,” Lumbera exclaimed. The National Artist is referring to the monumental piece that brings together Philippine icons in performing arts in one stage:  Ballet Philippines, the Philippine Madrigal Singers and Maestro Gerard Salonga and the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra.


National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera

“Carmina Burana is big, major work.  Every conductor must conduct this,” Maestro Salonga said.  He added that to conduct Carmina Burana for the first time is a feat.  “Ballet is always different,” he stressed.

Carl Orff’s magnum opus

Photo by Jojo Mamangun

Carmina Burana which means Songs of Beuren is a ballet based on a collection of Goliard poems of the same title discovered in a Bavarian monastery in the early 13th century.  German composer Carl Orff chose 24 poems and set them to music in what he called a “scenic cantata.”

It is declared that Carmina Burana is Orff’s magnum opus.  Some of Carmina Burana’s instantly recognizable music were popularized by movies, TV commercials, sports and even video games.

Alice Reyes

National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes

The breathtaking choreography of this dramatic, arresting ballet was elegantly crafted by the company’s Artistic Director and National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes.

“It’s Carl Orff’s music and that’s already a very different musical vigor,” National Artist Reyes said. “That inspired me tremendously.  The music is so powerful, so dynamic,” she added.

“You grow every time you meet a group of dancers and you review something that you’ve done in the past.  That was the challenge to myself,” she continued.

Carmina Burana was first performed in the CCP stage in 2003.  “ I have changed it, it’s quite a different piece in many ways so I am hoping that those who saw the older versions, they’ll like this version just as well.  If some have not seen any version, I hope that this one satisfies them. Experience dance with us,” the Artistic Director said.

Gemma Cruz Araneta

One of those who saw Carmina Burana at the CCP stage 15 years ago was Gemma Cruz Araneta, Chairperson emeritus of the Heritage Conservation Society.  “This (version) is really superb, it is fantastic” the former Miss International said.

“I recognized the signature steps, poses and movements of Alice Reyes,” Araneta said, a former classmate of the National Artist.

Flying on stage

She also praised the male dancers of the company.  “In the past, the male dancers were, you know, not so spectacular, but now, they are really world-class,” the beauty queen repeatedly stressed. “Their full muscular bodies are very sure of their steps and they can literally fly on stage,” Araneta added.

Photo by Jojo Mamangun

The power, stamina and excellence of the company’s men were exemplified in ‘Sama Sama’ under the music of Ryan Cayabyab and choreographed by Ronelson Yadao.  The same capacity to fly and move freely on air was showcased by this batch of dancers in Norman Walker’s ‘Season of Flight.’

Displaying its versatility, the company showcased its neo-classicism in ‘Vivaldi Concerto’ characterized by vigorous, spirited movements.

Photo by Jojo Mamangun

Support to the arts: someone has to give first

In terms of Philippine artistry, Maestro Gerard Salonga said, “there is so much natural talent, there is abundant natural ability.”  With his exposure in other Asian countries specifically Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong, he noticed that other governments give support to the arts sector to make natural talents to thrive.

He said that some “Filipino artists are compelled to travel and leave the country because they cannot do what they want to do here.” Should they be able to do what they want in this country, they cannot earn a living and must do other things to survive, that’s the problem,” he emphasized.

Salonga has conducted at the Petronas Philharmonic Hall in Malaysia and has collaborated with some of the world’s finest artists.  Comparing the compensation of the orchestra in Kuala Lumpur, Salonga said that “it is easily six times the salary here.”  With that, “they do not have to do anything” but perfect their craft.

Gerald Salonga

Caesar Vallejos and Gerard Salonga

He stressed that there is a need for both private and public sector to support the arts. However, this is stuck in a  chicken-and-egg situation where “to be able to reach a certain caliber, artists need support; or for sectors be able to support, artists need to show their caliber.”

“Someone has to give first,” he explained.  He admitted that he had to leave the country “so I can have something to give.”

“You cannot cannot give what you don’t have and you have to acquire it somewhere where it is really on a high level,” he added.

To achieve a better future for Philippine arts, Salonga said that “we need more performances.”

“The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, for example, has only 10 performances in year while Malaysia has 44 weeks in a season.  That’s only a quarter of their performances,” he noted.

“And that is in Malaysia where classical music may have contradictions with their religion, yet they can still do it.  Here, we follow a god who tells us to sing and make music, but we don’t do it.” Maestro Salonga said.