We watched the shows at the CCP Biennale, and so should you

By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

Pamanang Pahina
Tanghalang Pilipino and

Anino Shadowplay Collective

Small Voice
With Alexa Kaufman
and Gerphil Flores

THE CULTURAL Center of the Philippines (CCP) opened its first Children’s Biennale on Halloween last month, but the festivities will go on until the 29th of November. Don’t worry — it’s all held online through the CCP and CCP Batang Sining Facebook pages, which means you can stay safe at home — and enjoy the programs again and again.

CCP Chair and former Miss Universe Margie Moran-Floirendo introduced the festival’s activities while placing emphasis on the program’s importance: that is, introducing and exposing children to the arts. She brought up research findings from 2008 by the Dana Foundation, a US-based organization focused on brain research. The research then had the goal of answering the question “Are smart people drawn to the arts or does arts training make people smarter?”

“Children motivated in the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval, but also apply [these] to other subject areas,” said Ms. Floirendo. “Interest in the performing arts leads to the motivation that induces sustained attention that leads to the improvement of cognition. Genetic studies yielded candidate genes that explain individual differences in interest in the arts. There is a link between high levels of music training and long-term memory. In children, there is a link between the practice of music and skills in geometric representation and a development of a higher IQ (intelligence quotient). There is a correlation between music training and reading and sequence learning. Training in acting leads to memory improvement. Lastly, learning to dance by observation leads to the improvement of cognitive skills.

“It is for this reason that we are engaging children from ages six to 12 in a month-long festivity where we can encourage and develop creativity and artistic expression in children,” continued Ms. Floirendo. “With this endeavor, we hope to contribute to the development of children’s skills in reasoning, math, science, and reading. As the center for the arts, it is our mandate to continue developing the next generation audience, by exposing children to different art forms.”

While reminiscing about Halloweens past in the CCP, talking about the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra’s (PPO) previous concerts where costumed children could engage with the musicians, Chris Millado, Vice-President and Artistic Director of the CCP said, “This year, because of the pandemic, and because we continue to be in quarantine, we reach out to you, wherever you are. We hope that through this online technology, we are able to continue to connect with you and continue to have fun with symphonic music.”

The program continued with the Tricks or Musical Treats PPO Family Concert which featured kid-friendly classical pieces, with archival footage and animated sequences. These included the “Amadeus Suite” from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, the “Russian Dance” from The Nutcracker, and Prokoviev’s Peter and the Wolf. Trust us, this is for the entire family. Learning truly never gets old, because the PPO musicians talked about their instruments, naming the parts of this and that, and of course played a song or two. Some of the songs were classic pieces from composers like Bach, while some, like the woodwind musicians, played Disney hits like “Part of Your World.”

Here are a couple of the shows which can be found on the CCP Batang Sining Facebook page.

A show on the Children’s Biennale circuit, Pamanang Pahina combines storytelling and shadow puppetry which are adaptations of storybooks, performed by Tanghalang Pilipino and Anino Shadowplay Collective.

A timely tale called Mga Giyera sa Katawan ni Mark (Battles in Mark’s Body) by Dr. Luis Gatmaitan opens the show with a lesson on microbes, vaccines, and trusting medical science. It’s a logical and appropriate lesson for these times, and because of the puppets, visually absorbing.

A story titled Ang Bagong Kaibigan ni Bing Butiki (The New Friend of Bing the Lizard); butiki being the Tagalog word for the reptile by Yna Reyes and Jason Moss tells a lesson about unexpected friendships, allowing change through growth, and again, a timely lesson: the role of animals in our ecosystem. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind a spoiler or two: house lizards live peacefully in an old house, eating dangerous insects to their hearts’ content, and to the relief of the house’s owners. The family son, who had grown up tormenting lizards, comes back with a young daughter, whom he teaches about the good things lizards do for a house. The daughter then befriends the lizards — always at a respectful distance, since they have a job to do.

Older children would probably roll their eyes at these, but it’s good, wholesome fun for everybody else. To usefully harness that eye-rolling energy for your cynical tween, let them watch another video, Mga Likha sa Likod ng Anino (The Art Behind the Shadows). There, they can learn about the fundamentals of shadow puppetry, as well as learn from shadow puppeteers about the process (tell them to bring a flashlight so they can practice).

The shadow show left the best for last: another story by Dr. Gatmaitan called May Mga Lihim Kami ni Ingkong (Grandpa and I Have Secrets). It’s based on his own childhood experiences, and the story won second place at the 2000 Palanca Awards for Best Story for Children. The story, lovingly rendered in shadows (thus allowing more freedom to project your own face and feelings) is about a young boy dealing with his beloved grandfather’s dementia. It’s a must-see for every family member. Its obvious utility is to serve as a very simplified children’s explainer for senescence, senility, and death. For adults watching, it’s a great refresher course, and catharsis. For both, it tells a lesson: dementia may steal memories, but the person left behind is the same person you loved. We just wish there was an English version for English-speaking kids, but then, they could learn Filipino (and existentialism) through this too. Definitely watch this together, so parents can translate, and explain the more complex concepts.

In case you have a budding singer on your hands, Small Voice is for them. It’s a short interview and performance with singers Alexa Kaufman and Gerphil Flores. Ms. Kaufman, at 11, is the youngest member of the Philippine Opera Company, and has played Young Cosette and Matilda on the stage. With a slight resemblance to then-child star Chloe Grace-Moretz, Ms. Kaufman tells her young audience that despite her responsibilities, she still has fun, and gives this advice to the audience: “Commit everything they do to God. Always be excellent, and enjoy everything you do.” She then sang the kundiman “Sa Kabukiran,” a feat for an 11-year old.

Gerphil Flores, meanwhile, still has residual glow from her Second Runner-up win in Asia’s Got Talent in 2015. Both singers, that is, Misses Kaufman and Flores, credit their talent to an early exposure to classical music (parents: wink, wink). “If it’s your passion to perform, then perform with your heart. Never give up on yourself,” she tells the kids, while advising patience, hard work, and discipline. Ms. Flores ended her interview with a performance of “Ang Maya.”

Other shows not to be missed include: The Philippine Ballet Theater’s performance of Cinderella on Nov. 15 at 4 p.m., and more shadowplay stories — Tahan Na, Tahanan, Nadia and the Blue Stars, and Inang Kalikasan’s Bad Hair Day on Nov. 22. Also watch out for animation shorts Augie Rivera’s Ang Katawan Ko at Ako, Jaypril Bataller’s Halimaw, Philex Merano/Dominic Barrios’ Work in Progress, Carl Papa’s ‘Nay, and Nonoy Dadivas’ Junkzilla.

To watch the shows and to get updates on the CCP Children’s Biennale, visit facebook.com/ccpbatangsining.

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