Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Metropolitan Theatre in Manila, Philippines

Manila City has a huge Performing Arts movement, with a Spanish influence for 300 years and nearly 100 years of U.S. influence, Filipinos have had a long attraction for drama, as in many capitals of America and Europe; stage companies are mixed, official companies, commercial companies, and many groups of student theatre share the field. But on my trip to the Philippines was not going to see its contemporary theater performances, instead I sought expressions linked to tradition, the festival, the ritual, and arrived at a bad time.

My trip to the Philippines was so like many other unintended, but this time I did not touch a single popular festivities, I could not get any information about schedules in theaters or student performances, not a single representation at the state theatres, nothing more apart that concerts and dance (with companies and artists from abroad), and therefore I accepted that I had no encouragement to see and listen to any Musical in Filipino version. I was looking for history, theater tradition, I read a bit and found they had a theatre, a building, which was recognized as one of the most beautiful and important buildings of Philippines, The Metropolitan Theater.

Manila’s Metropolitan Theater is located in the heart of the capital, now displaced as a care-free zone full of dirtiness, a zone contaminated by noise and gases from cars, contaminated by that life of a city that does not stop his movement. Hundreds of years ago there were other major theaters in the same place, maybe a few meters away, and the area was recognized as an important center of cultural activities. Then, in the 30s of last Century, was designed and built this theatre as their national theater, a building that was on a par with those of the richest world capitals. Manila lived an unparalleled wealth since the beginning of the Century, the city was redesigned, increased both the quality of their buildings as their services. There was much money, it was rich, so European artists (Filipino and foreigners) could be paid and many of them came to build, sculpt, paint and perform.

The Metropolitan Theater was designed with the most modern from the new architectural era, the Art Deco. With its vast global expansion, Art Deco could sustain the purity of the style born in France and be mixed with characteristics and specific details to each region's culture . That has been one of my most pleasant experiences while traveling, seeing different types of Art Deco buildings in the world, from Miami to Paris, from Shanghai to Mexico City, from Beirut to Bangkok or in this case in Manila.

The theater was designed in 1931 by Filipino architect Juan M. Guzman Arellano, the lobby wall designed by the famous painter, also Filipino, Fernando Amorsolo, and the sculptures on the facade were designed by the Italian artist Ricardo Monti; details within the regional style, Filipino’s details (plants from the region, objects, etc.), on the walls and ceilings were made by the artist Isabelo Tampingco. Even do much of this work is lost.

The Metropolitan Theater was destroyed during the American reconquest of the Philippines in 1945, Manila had been snatched by the Japanese just before the Second World War and had to come back at any price. The city with its historic buildings and more than 150 000 people died in a few days of bombing, the glory of the 300 years of Spanish colonial era was reduced to a few houses and churches (the church and convent of San Agustin is the only real jewel that remains of the Spanish era, within the so-called "Intramuros"), and the glory of the new wealthy Manila was reduced to nothing; of the beautiful Metropolitan Theater left a few walls and some sculptures.

After the war and a total independence of the Philippines, the theater could be rebuilt in the early 70’s by those gods-chairmen (and chairwomen) of the archipelago, "Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos”, who took over the nation for several decades. However, it was third world-kind remodeling, the theater again close for lack of care in the 90's.

During my visit there in November 2008, I saw a building with many dirty and semi destroyed parts, apparently home of some street sellers and vagrants, and with government offices at the back. I understand that new remodeling works have begun, but that works are slow and apparently surrounded by an aura of corruption, but there is a hope in them. (2)

The chaos of the city, their lack of care and the area, it makes me doubt about the functionality of this remodeling, nothing can stand up clean, beautiful and dignified in this place (as you will see in the video).

In my video I tried to show both the beauty of the theatre as the real situation in which it remains, I made the first shots in the noise of the city around it and then changed for a background music, I thought we could enjoy the beauty of the building with a Fauré’s piece as a background.

Seeing this beautiful building in the conditions and the area where it was reminded me those architectural gems of the “Colonia Juarez” and “Santa Maria la Rivera” in Mexico City, jewels also awaiting for a rescue, for a bit of care, But memories did not deceive me, I can assure that the noise and pollution are worse in the city of Manila.

Manila Metropolitan Theatre Slideshow

(1) You can find more pictures and information on the Blog: http://superpasyal.blogspot.com/2006/07/manila-metropolitan-theatre.html
(2) http://senorenrique.blogspot.com/2007/07/renovation-of-metropolitan-theater.html

Friday, January 23, 2009

Court Theatres from Qing Dinasty (Part 3): "Chang Yin Ge" at the Forbidden City,

In September 2008 I visited for the fourth or fifth time "The Forbidden City", but this time I was there with only one intention, to know one of the most important theaters in China, where the last Chinese emperor had seen performances played by the most famous figures of traditional opera, where the mechanisms of scenery and changes on the stage were the same or even exceeded in quality those of contemporary Europe.

Chang Yin Ge or "Pavilion of cheerful melodies” is the third of the court theaters built during the Qing Dynasty, perhaps the first in importance because of its location within the Forbidden City in Beijing. The other two theaters, the Deheyuan (inside the Summer Palace) (1) and the theater located inside the Summer villa in Chengde (2), surprised me by its size, its beauty and its originality, at the end there are only few theaters built especially for the court during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and expected the same of it in Beijing.

The Forbidden City Palace is the palace-kind of city that was Chinese emperor’s home (and his court) for something like 500 years, impossible to enter to the common Chinese, the doors were opened only after the Communist revolution in the 50’s when it was turned into a museum. Containing a number of scenarios, it was not until the second decade of the nineteenth century with the importance of the new opera, which later would be named Theater of the North or Jingju (Beijing Opera), that it requires a proper stage for its spectacular characteristics.

The stage was built in the east wing of the Forbidden City, in Chang Yin Ge or "Pavilion of cheerful melodies", which used to present music and dance. As in all Chinese architectural space, the stage was located inside the pavilion, which was a rectangular area within an open space (a kind of courtyard); corridors surround it and in front a building called "Pavilion for reading” which served as spectators shelter to the emperor and his court closest members.

The beauty of those architectural forms of the Forbidden City, the colors and materials and decoration, are unsurpassed in all of China, a wonderful experience for the eyes and mind. But being the third theater in its style I had seen till that time, confess that I was not so impressed, but I made an effort and left a side my other experiences, then tried to enjoy the beauty and uniqueness of this theater, and indeed did it. It was truly spectacular.

These “theaters” actually should be called "stages" no theaters, because as I commented before there were constructed in pavilions inside palaces, then the theater would be the pavilion itself; what we admire is the stage, the construction that housed, during the performance, the orchestra and the entire company of actors and singers, with their dressing room, its stage machinery halls, scenery, etc ... a unique architecture in the world.

I share the information provided at the site about the building:

"This pavilion was built in 1776 (the 41st year of the reign of Qianlong during the Qing Dynasty). In 1817 (the year of the reign of Jiaqing 22), an opera stage for three floors, the largest stage in the palace, added to the flag. The flag is 20.71 meters high, with a construction area of 685.94 square meters. The top floor of the stage is called Scenario Happiness, the average position scenario, and the lower deck , Stage Longevity. The scenario Longevity has five hatches in the roof, leading to the second level, the position scenario. For the hatches, there are winches and wheels, allowing entrances and exits of supernatural beings, ghosts and demons . For large-scale shows, actors appearing in the three floors at a time. The arena can accommodate 1,000 people. This pavilion is located opposite the Shi Yue Lou (Pavilion for reading) in the north. The two words Yin Chang mean as much loud sound cheerful."

The miniature model of "Chang Yin Ge"

Shi Yue lou, the "reader's Pavilion", had mounted a permanent exhibition with photographs of the Forbidden City theaters, draws, instruments and objects used in it, and in particular exhibits a model that shows a cut of the stage in a moment of any performance; so, we could see all the engineering used in the theater and the places where players were hiding and waiting for their entrance. I took a video of the model, even the model is behind glass, you can see this wonderful world back stage, during a performance of a Chinese opera.

(1) http://gustavothomastheatre.blogspot.com/2007/04/china-court-theatres-in-qing-dynasty.html

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Gustavo Thomas. Get yours at bighugelabs.com