Wyre Underground. A dance-drama for us, a rose for Neenah

MANILA - Where have all the players gone? Gone to under, everyone. When will they ever learn? When will we ever learn?

Friday, 03 December 2010, Manila time, we’re watching the stage play “The Underground Movement” at the now-acoustically sound DL Umali Auditoriumat the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, Los Baños in Laguna more than 60 km south of Manila. With daughters Daphne and Ela, my wife Amparo are herealso to watch daughter Neenah, who is a member of the Creative Team of Wyre Underground for the play TUM (the image you see is her design), who is head of the Publicity Committee, and one of the key performers. This is the University of the Philippines, UP. This must be good.

The play is to raise fun and funds. The beneficiary of TUM is the UPLB Artist Endowment Fund, set up in 2009, to promote the performing arts, with the vision of UP Los Baños as the center for culture and arts in the Southern Tagalog Region.I’ve heard that before, and I’m not content. A higher vision would be to produce multi-media presentations that are exportable abroad. I just hope the Fund is also on the lookout for new talents like Wyre Underground, whose play is the first multi-media production that I know of, perhaps first within the University of the Philippines, if not in the whole country. Aside from speech and music, TUM has dance, drama, and computer-generated audio-video, a device that heightens the drama. This is a high-tech stage play, even if the background scene doesn’t change at all. As a creative writer who is also a computer nerd, I applaud.

At 70, I’m attending a play, yes. My wife remembers our first date as sweethearts, in the late 1960s at UP Los Baños; it was to the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. And the next date? It was to the play The Subject Was Roses by Frank Gilroy. Both plays were produced, directed and acted by the faculty, students and alumni of UP.A play is simply a story unfolding in front of you, so it’s easy to like it. What do you expect from a shy boy who discovered his talent for writing and grew up reading in high school and in the municipal library of Asingan, Pangasinan all those books of poems, short stories, court cases (Perry Mason), classics, westerns, and copies of TIME and the Reader’s Digest?

I am beginning to write this the day after the night before, and I can’t recall exactly how the dance-drama starts. I do remember that in the audio-video presentation while the stage is empty, there is the moving image and the animated text that shows itself onscreen intermittently; it is really a computer-generated countdown: “2 months and 2 weeks until THE MAIN EVENT...”

I’ve never been to a play like this, where the sound is high, very high, first of all because of the music: modern, high-energy, youthful, and pulsating. The lyrics and sounds are for teen-agers, not seven-agers like me, but surprise, I don’t mind. As a creative writer, I’m more curious about how this theatrical presentation develops.

As it goes on and I’m beginning to love it, I’m reminded of the hit Fox TV series “Glee” in which our very own Charice is a guest star; I saw Season 1 Episode 1 and I gave Charice 5 out of 5 stars. Glee is song & drama while The Underground Movement is dance & drama, but my expectation in the first few minutes is essentially the same - this must be goodtheatre. And my feelings as the play goes on are basically identical - this is good theatre.I give TUM 5 out of 5 stars.

5 years ago, on 15 October 2005, 11 undergraduates of UP Los Baños formed the Wyre Underground of UPLB (complete name). With this, says Germaine Cruz, the group “instigated a movement that would soon usher a new era of dance within the campus.” Wyre Underground started with a studio in the City of Calamba, trained on the streets of Los Baños, and “these members fueled themselves onto various dance disciplines.” Germaine is the Executive Director of Wyre Underground. “Wyre” comes from the first 2 letters of the first names of 2 other founders: Wymerand Ernest.

From its studio and street beginnings, I learn that Wyre Underground evolved from being front acts in the Icebag and Elbi Pie installments, and as a team in events and competitions such as the

Skechers Street Dance Battle, SSDB held at the Araneta Coliseum

SSDB 1 (2005), SSDB 3 (2007) and SSDB 5 (2009)
Wave 89.1 Underground (2005)
Sun Cellular Dance Competition (2007)
IRRI Golden Anniversary Concert (2009)
FERN Incorporated Leader’s Summit (2010)
The Pink Movement (2010)
Bamboo Rocks Elbi Concert (2010).

The founders were Andrea Mae San Gabriel, Wymer Jorell Sagenes, Ernest Gamilla, Joan Cecilia Catubig, Gladys Palomares, Lester Paolo Almazan, Richelle Joy Morales, Jose Carlos Morales, Karen Ida Rempis, Edmund Maisog, and Janina Lozano. To celebrate its 5th year, Wyre Underground conceived of TUM as its first theatre production. The playbill says:

The Underground Movement (is the group’s) definitive crossover to showcase the infusion of both dance and theatre, a means of defining the ultimate aesthetic experience as a whole. The play showcases the desire to dance, perform and inspire amidst individual personal difficulties, the elements reflected through a fluid mix of routines and acts.

Dance, dance on little girl!

Joan Cecilia Catubig, Director, says:

We take pride on the very first production of the Wyre Underground of UPLB as a means of sharing our God-given talents to all who appreciate the art of dancing. Months of training, choreography and conceptualization of an original story line paved way for a one-of-a-kind dancing experience.

I say, through this stage play, Wyre Underground elevates the street dance into stage drama. I will never look at a street dance again without thinking of a stage drama.

In celebration of 5 years of self-expression and evolution of underground hip-hop, we resurface as a stronger group bonded by love of a family. Driven by the passion and love for dancing, we take joy in what we have achieved throughout the years.

I say they have achieved more than much. From what I can gather, and what I’ve seen on stage, Wyre Underground has redefined street dancing - and continues to do so. Joan says, “We define street dancing. The group started the first training practices on the streets, having to stop in-between hand stands for a passing vehicle.”

The journey has not been easy. “We found a home and lost it,” Joan says, “moved from one training location to another. But what is important all along is that no matter where we may be, the love for dancing within our hearts and the people who are with us, will be the home that matters the most.”

From street dancing to show new moves to stage dancing to tell a story, I say, from the streets to the stage is a great leap forward.

“This production is not your usual dance show,” Joan says. “It will draw happiness, fear, confusion and enlightenment with which audience of all ages can relate to. You will not look at your dancing shoes the same way again after watching the show.”

Joan is right. At my age, I’m not up to dancing but after watching the play, I will never look at any shoe again and not think of its story.

I am intrigued as I read the Synopsis in the playbill, which tells me:

Set in the suburbs of California, The Underground Movement is a localized take on the Fil-Am dancing community where passion is king and time waits for none.

Not Manila but California, USA! I happen to believe that it is not only the dance of life that the Filipinos must confront in the United States and other countries; it is also the dance of life in the Philippines, and I am sure that for the Filipinos to excel and proudly show the world what they can achieve, it must be in the English language, in art, science, and technology. With the imposition of Tagalog-based “Filipino” as the language to use every which way, we Filipinos have straight-jacketed ourselves into world-class mediocrity. Time waits for no one, especially the mediocre.

3 cheers for stories like that of The Underground Movement!

The denouement of TUM is the dance competition, called “The Main Event” in the play. The inside story leading to that finale has no title, but since I think it’s doubly important to the whole play, I’d like to assign it a proper title, and it’s “The Other Shoe.”

In fact, the inside story “The Other Shoe” is repeated within the play, within the 2 groups of dancers competing for the unnamed prize.

In Karly’s (Karla Iriza Cerdeña) group, the Underground, their leader Mark (Mark Borillo), who is Karly’s boyfriend, loses the other shoe of his only pair of dancing shoes; there arises a conflict, and the group disintegrates, even as Mark quits.

Cecil’s (Joan Cecil Catubig) group is the Movement, but there is conflict between mother (Cecil) and daughter (Karly), which complicates matters. It turns out that it is Cecil who has the other shoe of another pair of shoes, those of her boyfriend who 20 years ago had left her with child (Karly). That is the reason the mother warns her daughter not to continue dancing lest she suffers the same fate.

This is dance-drama, and I can’t describe the dances except to say they are not of my generation, but they do fall in nicely with the storyline. Life goes on, and if you don’t get on with the dance of life, you fall, you fail.

Even when the part of the unfolding story is sad, there is hope in the sounds of the music playing and joy in the moves of the groups dancing.

In my mind, young Cecil (Neenah Hilario) is the standout player. My wife says I’m biased for our daughter, and so I am, but not Nestor Baguinon, an old friend who told me after the show, “Magaling pala yong anak mo. Kanino kaya nagmana?” Your daughter is good. Whose genes did she inherit? Nestor was looking at me and smiling.

Neenah and Jahaziel Ylagan(young Jay Cruz) act out the scene where they make love. But the scene I like and remember most is that when Neenah gently and quickly climbsand steps over the hunched backs of boys and then jumps and at the same time flips herself to land backside on the waiting hands of other boys. Roar from the audience. There are many roars and eruptions of wild applause during the entire play, but this one I like the best.

Eventually, the dance competition, The Main Event, happens. The play ends and flowers are given to some of the girls. The Hilario family didn’t have flowers to give to the daughter, so this essay is in part a rose for Neenah, you know what I mean.

The play has a modern ending; the audience is not told which group wins. I first thought that that was a deficiency in the story, and the next day, Saturday, I tell Neenah, and she says that was deliberate on their part, being vague about the results of the contest, otherwise, the play becomes like many others. Hmm.

Neenah also tells me the beginning of the play is a Huddle of the dancers; the end of the play is also a Huddle of the dancers. With that inside information, I can see that the title “The Underground Movement” is wordplay on the names of the 2 dance groups; I take it that it is also a declaration of what really is The Main Event in life, with the whole play telling us:

When will they ever learn? When will we ever learn? Sure, in life there is competition, but in the end, the main event in life is to find unity of movements, even if you have to start from the underground, from some underlying stories.

For all your getting, get understanding!

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