|The performers of Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan|
The poetry, lyrics, and verses of Jose Corazon de Jesus, aka Huseng Batute were celebrated in Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan, a fitting tribute by the Cultural Center of the Philippines at the building’s intimate 220 seater black box theater named after the renowned writer and poet.
Batute championed the Filipino language through his daily columns in written in the local language in verse published in newspapers that were in still Spanish and then eventually in English. Prolific that he was, his works numbered in the thousands and a select handful of his poems and songs that he wrote the lyrics for were recited and performed during the tribute that was hosted by Vim Nadera and Louise Lopez.
|Daloy Dance Company|
The poem Pakpak that served as an invocation was given life through a fusion of the spoken word, theater, and contemporary dance via the Daloy Dance Company.
Lou Veloso with Anthony Falcon showed the relevance of Aking Bayan across generations with Nazer Salcedo of the Philippine Opera Company (POC) echoing these sentiments with the song Madaling Araw.
Ronnie Lazaro championed the laborer with his impassioned take on Manggagawa.
Isang Punong Kahoy, the last poem that Batute wrote, was delivered by ventriloquist Ony Carcamo with Nonoy. I think that this poem which is a reflection on mortality wasn’t a good match with the humor infused ventriloquist act.
The era when the kundiman reigned supreme was relived with the Philippine Opera Company’s Kevin Guiman singing of Pakiusap.
A well-received portion of the tribute was the bridging of the traditional and the modern with mambabalagtas from Bulacan namely Jerryco Tanig and Melandro Pascual, rappers Beware and Negatibo, Karl Ivan Dan Orit, and POC’s Cris Go re-enacting portions of Bulaklak ng Lahing Kalinis-linisan, which is actually the first ever Balagtasan held back in April 6, 1924 between Jose Corazon de Jesus and Florentino Collantes.
The Makatas’ Lester Abueg and Jose delos Reyes showed how the balagtasan can work with millennial sensibilities when the two dueled with words whether one should cling to a former flame or find a spark with someone new.
Huseng Batute’s love for his mother and for his motherland was made evident with his Ang Pamana, tearfully recited by John Arcilla that segued into Bayan Ko sang by the POC’s Karla Gutierrez, Cris Go, Kevin Guiman, Rein Pineda, and Nazer Salcedo before being joined by the rest of the performers. When Arcilla sang the verse that was a late addition to the song, it made me realize that it had been ages since I last heard him sing live. It is high time that people get reminded that there is a lot more to John Arcilla than just his expletive laden performance in Heneral Luna.
A delightful Arimunding-munding and Dalagang Pilipina was the finale performed by the Philippine Opera Company’s Cris Go, Kevin Guiman, Rein Pineda, and Nazer Salcedo.
In between the performances, some esteemed personalities gave anecdotes, trivia, insights, messages and tributes to Batute including CCP President Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso, who is actually Batute’s nephew, Dr. Eliseo dela Cruz who represented Bulacan Governor Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado, educator Dr. Benilda Santos, and Pastor Ruel Garcia who represented Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque.
I couldn’t remember a time when the Tanghalang Huseng Batute was filled with the words of the man whom the space was named after. I admit that literary Filipino is not that easy to listen to as some words and phrases may need to be heard for a second time or more to fully understand the meaning. But there’s an undeniable sense of musicality in the words and the deft crafting of the verses makes the senses tingle once they’re heard.
Too bad that despite the sheer number of his output during his short life, Batute’s works remain out of print. I wish that the audience were handed copies of the poems that were performed. I could’ve savored the words and study the works in detail even long after the tribute has wrapped up.