Rizal’s zarzuela gets a modern reboot

By Walter Ang
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Date First Posted 22:05:00 07/05/2010

Junto al Pasig is reinvented as a rock musical

AS PART OF THE CELEBRATION of Pio Valenzuela Day (the patriot after whom Valenzuela City is named), a zarzuela written by Rizal more than a century ago will get a modernized retelling via a three-in-one show combining elements of a concert, a dance show and a play.

Reincarnated as a rock musical titled ?Sa Tabi Ng Ilog Pasig, it will be staged by Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts (VCCPA). Director Andrei Tiangco updates Rizal's Junto al Pasig (Beside the Pasig) with contemporary music and alternative rock composed by award-winning musical director Jesse Lucas and a combination of hip-hop and contemporary dance by choreographer Arnie Umayam.

This not too well-known work of Rizal is a one-act zarzuela. He wrote it in Spanish while he was a student at University of Santo Tomas. It was staged at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila for the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception in 1880.

Philippine Educational Theater Association staged a Tagalog version in 1974 and National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin did an English translation in 1976. VCCPA?s version uses a translation by librettist and production designer José Jeffrey Camanag.

The production will also utilize video and image projections designed by award-winning visual artist Nasser Lubay (2nd place, Celeste Prize 2009, Berlin, Germany, and a selected artist for Animamix International Biennial 2009).


The group had done a children?s musical a few years ago and wanted to create a work for high school and college audiences. Artistic director Roeder Camanag came across Rizal's zarzuela and wanted to stage it as a dance musical. I wanted to do it along the lines of Rama Hari and Tales of the Manuvu by Ballet Philippines,? he says.

Students and even teachers might possibly be tired of or intimidated by Noli and Fili, he notes. The material became an opportunity for the group to introduce audiences to Rizal?s other works. I strongly believe students should really learn and understand Rizal because he is still very much relevant. His views and ideals can still help us understand ourselves and help us in the healing of our nation.

We always want to create imaginative and entertaining supplements to the formal learning provided by learning institutions and, at the same time, develop the talents of budding performers and theater practitioners in Valenzuela City, he notes.

Therefore, there was a deliberate effort to make it accessible to today's audiences. Aside from the staging elements, We tweaked the story a little to avoid confusing issues and to tighten the dialogue, he says. But we?re still 95 percent faithful to the original text and to the message of the story.

We want students to be able to relate to the material. We want them to open their eyes to the realities that they will soon be the leaders of this country and their political beliefs shall give shape to the future of this country.

Sa Tabi ng Ilog Pasig follows the adventures of a young boy named Leonido, who, while waiting for the fluvial procession of the Virgin of Antipolo, has a confrontation with the Devil dressed as a diwata, an ancient Filipino god, who attacks and questions Leonido's Christian faith.

The story focuses on breaking the simplistic view that the world is black and white, where good is always good and evil is eternally bound to be bad,? Camanag says. It questions the standards of good and evil in reference to the improvement of human conditions.


VCCPA was formed under the auspices of Valenzuela Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian in 2006. We are now on our fifth season, says Camanag. The group aims to foster new avenues where the city youth can productively channel their energies and experience the benefits of being part of the performing arts.

The group provides members with free extensive training in singing, dancing and acting and produces musical productions where members showcase their talents.

To date, VCCPA has successfully produced three major original Filipino musicals: Nom de Plum, a historical play about one of the heroic characters of the Philippine Revolution, Doctor Pio Valenzuela; Ang Mga Awit ng Ibong Adarna, a musical based on the famous Philippine korido; and Sangdosenang Sapatos, a stage adaptation of the award-winning children?s book by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan.

A dance-centric production also allows the group to showcase the variety of its talents. Our past productions have all been musicals. This production allows our strong dancers to take the frontline, says Camanag.

Our artistic direction and thrust is focused mainly on developing productions that are not only entertaining but educational as well, he adds.

Our productions are geared toward providing schools and students in all levels with innovative learning aids, positive awareness of the arts, and creative experiences that elevate values and morals.

The world premiere of Sa Tabi ng Ilog Pasig is on July 2 at Valenzuela City Center for the Performing Arts Theater, Poblacion II, Malinta, Valenzuela City. The show will run for school year 2010-2011 and is open for bookings and show buyers. Call 2776100 or 2776495; e-mail valenzuelavccpa@yahoo.com.

Source: http://lifestyle.inquirer.net/artsandbooks/artsandbooks/view/20100705-279185/Rizals-zarzuela-gets-a-modern-reboot

Nasser Lubay