Stories of creatures from Philippine folklore come alive in ‘Aswang, Mga Kwentong Halimaw’

Stories of creatures from Philippine folklore come alive in ‘Aswang, Mga Kwentong Halimaw’

Growing up in the Philippines we always hear from our elders stories of creatures from our folklore.  Most of the time, they use these tales to scare us, but oddly, we yearn for those stories that piqued our curiosity.   On Sunday, January 28, these stories will come alive in an 80-minute live concert, “Aswang, Mga Kwentong Halimaw.”   The concert is the precursor to an upcoming feature film of the same title.

Created, written and produced by husband and wife team Florante Aguilar and Fides Enriquez, “Aswang” is a dramatized song cycle exploring stories of these creatures from Philippine folklore, with themes of resilience, survival and persistence.

“Aswang is inspired by the Philippine ghost stories that we enjoyed telling each other when we were growing up in the province,” said Aguilar, when asked what inspired him to do “Aswang.”  “I wanted those creatures to come alive and tell their own stories from their point of view.”

Enriquez shared that after she and Aguilar completed their first film together — the award-winning documentary, “Harana – The Search for the Lost Art of Serenade” (which told Aguilar’s journey to the Philippines in search of what’s left of the Philippine tradition of serenade), it felt right to explore the other side of the coin of their culture.

“As ‘Harana’ was about the music and romance of Philippine courtship, ‘Aswang’ would be the opposite. It would be about the monsters and ghosts and about story telling,” she said.

“Aswang” was also created as a result of a grant to create new work that Aguilar received from the San Francisco Arts Commission and the SF Foundation, in collaboration with Kularts.

In “Aswang,” the featured monster is the “Manananggal,” a commoner by day and a hideous creature by night capable of severing her upper torso and flying into the night to satisfy her hunger for human flesh, and is presented within the context of colonial history.

Also featured are the stories of the “Tumao” (a mysterious ape-like beast who roams the mountains of Mount Banahaw in Quezon Province), the “Syokoy” (a fearsome being of the deep, dark seas), the “Tikbalang” (a horrifying trickster with a human body and the head of a horse), and the “Lady in White” (a tormented soul wandering the streets of modern day Manila).  The power of myth depends on who tells the story. In this concert, the “Aswang” tells their side of the story. Who among us is the real aswang?

Cast, music and crew

“Aswang” consists of a Filipino-American cast headed by Kristine Sinajon, Leon Palad, Charmaine Clamor, Giovanni Ortega and Kyle de Ocera.  Enriquez is very proud to share that she is deeply honored to be working with “incredibly talented, deeply instinctive and magnificently seasoned” artists.  She is also equally grateful and excited to be working with veteran designers like Kevin Myrick (lighting), and Mindy Sugino (make-up), as well as co-producing with actress Esperanza Catubig.

But the biggest highlight of the concert is, of course, the music; which is all written by Aguilar and will be performed by the Fandangueros, an all-acoustic band composed of Chus Alonso, Sage Baggott, and Greg Kehret.

“I would say that the music is the result of my admiration of Stephen Sondheim and Led Zeppelin, plus traditional Filipino music with a dash of flamenco,” said Aguilar.  “I know that sounds almost comical but I think in some way that reflects the Filipinos’ cultural mix and affinity with western music. “

Although song lyrics will be sung in what Aguilar calls “provincial Tagalog” (an unadulterated form of language rarely used today), they have painstakingly worked on providing English supertitles.

Enriquez believes that it’s important to share our culture to the community to know where we’re coming from.

She explained, “Every culture has their stories.  There are millions of Filipinos today living in California alone. Florante and I both immigrated to the U.S. about 30 plus years ago. We bring with us our stories, our myths, our lore.  ‘Aswang’ is my and Florante’s way of telling and exploring the origins of the scary monster stories of our childhood.

“‘Aswang’ is not so much about trying to terrify people, it’s more about revealing the tragic and human side of how these monsters came to be. For me it’s about questioning our colonial history and challenging assumptions about our myths. How did these stories come to be? Who was telling the story and what was their perspective?

“’Aswang’ is also about exploring the deep connection between people and the environment we come from. It’s about the anger and rage of the displaced and historically persecuted, and the power of love and how it persists through time.  What is the story behind the myth? And how does the storyteller change the narrative?”

Enriquez also said that the concert will also be filmed live and will be part of the “Aswang” movie they are developing.  This means that the audience will get to experience not just a concert, but will be able to witness a film in the making as well.

“The main idea behind “Aswang” is that these monsters and ghosts are among us in the present time, telling their own stories, challenging the common held notions of their origins. So we take the audience beyond time and place.  The stories of each aswang traverse centuries in the Philippines, and we attempt to reflect that in the concert,” she said and added, “The format is a dramatized song cycle. We hope to ensnare you through the strength of the story, the music, the acting, costumes and lights.”

“Aswang, Mga Kwentong Halimaw” is a non-profit project of Theater Residencies Inc. and will go onstage only once on Sunday, January 28 at 4 p.m. at the state-of-the-art Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center.

Tickets range from $12 – $35. Advance tickets and group rates can be purchased at https://aswangconcert.brownpapertickets.com.  For more information please visit http://floranteaguilar. (AJPress) 

On the cover: Charmaine Clamor as “Manananggal” (top photo), Leon Palad as “Tikbalang” (middle), Kristine Sinajon as “Lady in White” (bottom left) and Giovanni Ortega as the host and “Tumao”

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