Monday, April 19, 2010

Improvisation 2.5

I find it funny how, after months and months of wanting to do serious improvisation again, whether as a dance or as an acting exercise but being very scared of the idea, I was led to yesterday, Sunday, where I faced serious improvisation in three different (each of them very, very interesting) incarnations of it.

Contact Improv Jam

Back in December, Marah gave me the link of the Contact Improv Jam in Hong Kong that happens twice every month. Since then, I have been receiving their invites and every single time, I RSVP'ed "Might Attend". Interested, but non-committal. I had rehearsals every Sunday, and then my mom came to visit, and then finally I got back my Sundays off, which I haven't had since June of last year, and... Well, the list could go on and on. There was always an excuse not to go. But really, the bottom line was that I was scared to do it. It had been 4 years since my last contact improv, and I was gonna do it dancers I was meeting for the first time. That was scary! But anyway, I am not a fan of disclaimers, so I decided I'd rather not go until I can go with conviction than go half-heartedly with a pocket-full of excuses and apologies. Until a week ago, Marah & I agreed to go yesterday, with another friend of ours, CatV.

"This is a jam, not a class," said David, yesterday's facilitator, as we welcomed us, the virgins, to the group. It was something I was supposed to know already. But hearing him say that reassured me that I was in a safe place. In a place were I can explore, make mistakes, find my own resting point, dwell in it if I want to, and not be judged for it. "My own happy place," is how one of my biggest dance influences, Enrico Labayen, fondly refers to it.

Since I had already found peace knowing that the rate by which I would progress in the jam would be on my own terms, I strategically positioned myself in such a way that the first contact I would do was with the person I was most familiar with in the room: Marah. And right on cue, just as my head touched Marah's nape, David said, "Pay attention. You may already know this person for a long, long time, but today is a new contact." Those words, like heavy iron gates, shut close and isolated us from the rest of the world. I was in the here and the now. After a few minutes, I felt an unfamiliar human body touched mine, and immediately, I was faced with a choice to make: Should I let go of Marah and start a new contact? Or should I treat that contact as incidental, retract from it and focus back on Marah? Before I could even begin to think about it, Maru, the unfamiliar body, picked me up, and I surrendered. It was that slight action of Maru's that bridged me to the rest of the group. It was that which said, "We are open. We are ready to give, and ready to receive from you."

About half an hour later, I gently maneuvered Maru to a different person. And slowly, slithered away and took a break. I could feel a distinct buzz in my head. My happy headache. It's the kind of headache I never try to remedy, because it's the kind of headache that only comes when I'm extremely happy, or after a big show that I'm proud to have performed, or during great parties that I do not want to end, or when I'm about to finish a herculean choreographic assignment. I was feeling it, and was loving it. And was utterly grateful for it.

After one more exercise (the more exciting one), the jam ended. Looking back, I could now vaguely remember what had happened. The mental notes that I made about my movement dissipated into nothingness as soon as I stepped out of the studio. My mind seems devoid of new learnings, but by body feels, even now, more intelligent than ever.

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

Back in my uni days, whenever we needed to present a report in any class in a manner of a show, my classmates would always turn to me to lead them. It was because I was a member of the college theater guild, and, from this guild, I learned the technique of propelling an improvisational skit, which, somehow, always worked. It concealed the fact that I didn't do as much research as any of my classmates did, and that I knew the least, out of everyone, about the report. It saved my ass, put a smile on our professor's face, and gave my classmates good grades. It made everyone happy.

But that was in uni. If our gimmick didn't click, the worst that could happen was a failing mark, and that could be made up for, by doing a re-report. Or a makeup project. Or doing better than average in the final exam. If you were a group of professional actors, the expectations are high. Now, if you were a group of professional actors who would travel to Hong Kong from London for a week of shows, the expectations are higher. Oh, and when you charge $500 and flash the five stars and glowing reviews you have received, even more so. Even more.

"Showstopper! the improvised musical" has probably been the most intriguing show that's been stage in HK since I got here in 2005. For me, at least. They promised to show "a full-length brand-new musical every night!" Well, that's expected since it is an improvised show. But how do you improvise a full-length musical?

The show starts off and works around a basic premise. We find the MD/Keyboardist and the "Writer" onstage in the beginning. The 7th libretto that the writer has produced for the week has been trashed, yet again, by the producer. He is given this one last chance to create another musical. Running low on ideas, he then enlists the help of the audience to come up with the theme, the setting, and the musical motif for his new work, which, as he writes, is acted out, sung and danced by his characters onstage--- complete with scene changes, lighting effects and keyboard accompaniment.

Apparently, in one of the shows during the week, the audience suggested "Barbie" as the theme. And since they couldn't agree on whether they wanted Barbie the doll or Barbie, as in Barbecue, Aussie-style, that night, their musical was about Barbie's journey to Oz for a barbecue. On our night, we saw "Euraka" (spelled that way because that's how the writer, he justifies, wants to write it)--- the eccentric travels of eccentric characters, or something like that. It turned out to be loads of fun, with interesting twists, the most eccentric pool of characters, a touching end-of-Act-1 song, featuring borne-out-of-love evil plots and an underlying love triangle, and a redemptive resolve with themes (brilliantly) borrowed from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and James Bond. Sure, it's nothing close to a hit Hollywood flick or Tony- or Olivier-worthy Broadway or West End show. But for a improvised musical, it is polished, tight and way too entertaining.

All throughout the show, half of my brain was just engaged in their antics, while one quarter was trying so hard to predict what was gonna happen next. 9 times out of 10, I failed. The other quarter, just kept thinking--- How in the world are they able to do that? They launch into a song of powerful lyrics that rhyme beautifully and are completely sensible and apt for the scene, after hearing only two bars of the music they're supposed to sing to. They change accents and shift their train of thought at the Writer's every whim. And their stage composition was always clean and uncluttered. How in the world are they able to do that? I guess I will never know. What I do know, is that they exceeded, by miles the expectations I, and most people I know in the audience had set for them.

They are now stuck in HK because of the volcanic ash. I could only wish that we had one philanthropist in HK who had the money and the heart to buy say, 3 more of their shows and have them shown in areas where the general public had free access to. I wish all of my friends, whether or not in show business and all the performers and musicians that I know could see it. Because the Showstopper gang had definitely raised the bar in Improvisation, and besides the raucous laughter they bring, this is a very, very precious learning experience for our generation-- a possible artistic landmark of our times.

Wan Chai. 7pm.

I was running late for my pre-showstopper dinner with T, and was trying to walk as briskly as I could. There was a pair of Filipino girls walking towards my direction. And although I could see them, I didn't pay them any more attention than that. I was, while trying to get to Cafe O as quickly as I could, trying to replay the contact improv jam I just had an hour ago.

All of a sudden, one of the Filipino girls yelled, in a very loud and irritating voice, "Hoy!", as they inched closer to me. I looked at them and they were looking at me and smiling in a sly manner. I stared at them both with my right eyebrow as high up as it can go as they walked past me. Then the other girl, in a condescending manner said, "Ay, bakla!" (Oh! A gay guy!) They both broke into a boisterous laughter.

I turned around and approached them, looked at them from head to foot, and in a calm but firm tone, I said, "Kaya cheap ang tingin ng ibang lahi sa Pinoy, dahil sa mga taong kagaya nyo na para walang pinag-aralan kung makaarte. Wag nyo kaming idamay sa kalokohan nyo, dahil hindi lahat ng Pinoy cheap kagaya nyo."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, may not have been the quickest of all the improvs I had done and seen yesterday, but it was the one that I think was most powerful of them all.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Walking Parallel

This is the first Sunday in a long, long time that T & I did not spend together. It has sort of become a habit already--- I, staying over at his place on Sundays (among other days) or he, at mine. Wherever, we have always been together on Sundays over the past, maybe, 8 or 9 months.

But not today.

No movie plot-like reason or big mind-blowing discussions behind it. It was just easier for us to stay in our own respective islands today. He had a yoga studio opening to attend last night, while I had a party to host at my place. He had some cleaning up to do in his flat today, and so did I. Late this afternoon, he went to the gym and I, to the market.

Tonight, he made an important life-altering decision for his career, and tonight, too, I set an important goal for mine.

Tomorrow, we'll see each other again-- each of us with a more positive disposition and with something bigger to look forward to: both for our own selves, and for the other. It's been a day apart well-spent. I look back now, and I see two sets of footprints that, no matter how far their individual realizations have taken them, remained close, walking parallel to each other.

Friday, April 09, 2010

At The End Of The Day

11-hour working day.
5 destinations.
4 meetings.
3 classes.
2 frustrating news.
1 bad knee.

Bad day.

No, not really.

Came home to Razel & Gil's Pork Steak and Ginisang Ampalaya.
Bonded with my birthday boy anak.
Miro & Enan came by with Apple & Blueberry Galette Ala Mode.

Absolut Apeach.

Not a bad day after all.

Thanks, friends!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Panganay Means Eldest

I have a plethora of things I wanna tell you.
But I have found a way to say it all succinctly.

I love you, 'nak.

So before the lines get busy,
let me be the first to greet you.

Happy Birthday!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Not Another "Reflection"

So, again...

What is so good about Good Friday?

Why Good Friday?
Why not Good Thursday or Good Saturday?
Why not Friday of Crucifixion or Friday of Temporary Death?

Why Good?