The Manila Metropolitan Theater even before its restoration officially begins became a home to nights of dancing last December 16 and 17, 2016. The event on the 17th which I went to was attended by around two hundred guests who were treated to dance performances of Scandinavian artists along with a few local performers.The nights of festivities were organized by P-Noise, an association comprised of Filipino-European artists with the aim of supporting and spreading contemporary Filipino art. Prior to this, they had already held festivals in Paris and Copenhagen but this was the first time they did this in Manila. The festival was held from the 15th to 18th of December with venues in both Manila and Makati. As part of the art festival, P-Noise graciously organized two nights of dance performances at the Manila Metropolitan Theater for free.
I discovered the event upon seeing NCCA’s post in my Facebook feed. I have long been in awe and admiration of The Manila Metropolitan Theater even if I could only view it from the outside. I have waited for and missed some rare chances of going inside the theater – I went to the theater twice to check a recently held exhibition but in both times the Met was closed even if the exhibit schedule said otherwise, and I also expressed my desire to volunteer at the clean-up but my name was not chosen in the raffle. I couldn’t believe an opportunity to finally enter the Met would come knocking again just a few weeks before this year ends and being able to watch dance performances along with that was a pleasant bonus.
The dances on the 16th and 17th had the same program and people were asked to choose from either of one of these. Both performance nights were completely for free although guests were asked to make an online reservation as the slots were limited. After which, an email with an attached copy of the ticket was sent to the guest’s email. Guests had the option of having it printed out or keeping a digital copy through the app called Evenbrite. Either copy had to be presented at the entrance and organizers requested guests to be early to avoid their slots being given to people in the wait-list. Unsurprisingly, the event attracted much attention with the free tickets sold out days before.
I came to the Manila Metropolitan Theater at 5:30 pm, half an hour before the start time. By then, around a dozen were already gathered by the entrance. We had to wait for another 30 minutes before the organizers opened registration. Many of those took it as a chance to snap photos of the Manila Metropolitan Theater’s facade (which is not advisable to do in Manila unless you do it quick and hold to your device tightly or in the safety of a group). I did so myself but my phone camera’s not so good and I have never been good at photographing building facades.
Upon registration, guests were given a copy of the program which was in origami form. People were also handed free abanicos because the Metropolitan Theater lacks a ventilation system. Refreshments were in the form of mineral water and calamansi juice. I really liked these simple but very Filipino details (abanico and calamansi!) and the fact that they went all the way as it was a free event and it would have been cheaper to merely serve water and hand out cardboard fans.
The Manila Metropolitan Theater
There was only limited visibility that night- just enough to have a clear view of the dances. They were only running on generator and volunteers had to use flash lights to guide the guests and keep them from stumbling. Most areas of the theater were off limits and guests were wisely advised not to stray and keep to the program. Still, glimpses of the theater were enough to instill a desire to finally see the theater restored to its former glory.
The main gathering area was the lobby which also had the best lighting. The Metropolitan Theater underwent a month or two of clean-up drives and it showed in the lobby. The mint colored walls were clean as with the whole lobby. The ceiling was also intact (I wish I could say this for the other areas) and adorned with some metal sculptures. The lobby is accentuated with interesting details but were simple enough to not appear overwhelming. It is the most well-preserved part of the theater.
The theater has many rooms and I think we only went through half of the building. I liked that the event was in the evening as it added a cloud of mystery and romance to the performances but the darkness hindered my camera phone from taking presentable photos. I also wish I had the proper terminologies to describe the interior instead of merely saying that “it’s very art deco”.
Organizers took the effort to decorate some of the corridors we walked through with balloons and Christmas/fairy lights adding a touch of romance to the night. The interior on its own commanded attention but the night’s dance performances were hard to ignore despite the surrounding grandeur of the Met; I think both perfectly complemented each other.
Carlos Celdran during his opening remarks informed us that the dance was the last performance to be held at The Manila Metropolitan Theater before official restoration begins. I don’t know the veracity of this statement but seeing that it was coming from Celdran then it is most likely true. Last or not, performances at the Met are rare and, I was extremely grateful to have attended the event.
When they announced on Facebook that it would be a walking performance and with the last part of the event to be held at Escolta, I foolishly thought that the dancers would be performing from The Manila Metropolitan Theater all the way to Escolta. Instead, dancers used several parts of the theater and we had guides directing us where to proceed.
The first set of dancers were all in trippy costumes- had I not been occasionally talking with my friend, I would have completely thought that the night was just a dream. My two favorite costumes of the night were that of the “disco people” and the “light-bulb-handtopus”. Rather than exhibiting impressive dance moves, it was their costumes which really made their performance which was fine because their costumes worked well in the venue. The dancers I dubbed “the disco people” were disco balls in human form- when the spotlight would hit them the surrounding walls and ceilings would be spotted with little circles of light which makes for a beautiful sight. Not to be outdone in the costume department was the “light-bulb-handtopus” gal/guy with additional limbs, each of which has a hand on its end hence the term “handtopus”. S/he was covered in small bulbs emitting reddish light and s/he initially performed at a part of the theater enveloped in darkness making his/her light stand out all the more.
What really made the performance night for me was the second set of dancers who captured people’s attention not by their wardrobe but with the dexterity and fluidity of their movements. They were all donning simple white clothing with the gym clothes of one pair of dancers counting as the least casual/ordinary wardrobe. All the performances were intense and at times a source of slight discomfort. Sometimes the performances were too intense that I was afraid that one dancer might hurt his/her partner out of passion. Most of the time I had a foolish grin on my face- an unmasked happiness coming from the joy of watching these dances at The Manila Metropolitan theater no less.
The night culminated in another part of Manila close by – Escolta. Celdran led some members of the audience who were still unwilling to call it a night on a walk towards Escolta. I wasn’t really interested to party but my friend told me that it was safer to ride the LRT going home from Escolta instead of The Manila Metropolitan Theater. If we would all walk together, we would have safety in numbers.
Also, I have never been in any of Carlos Celdran’s tours; his rates are just way too high for my tight budget. It was a rare opportunity to see the famed and slightly controversial guide in action. I was impressed by his confidence to stop vehicles so that we could safely cross roads. We stopped at some key areas as he took some time to share a thing or two about some of landmarks we passed by. He also encouraged the group to use Manila. There have been many cases of heritage sites falling to the sad fate of demolition (recent threats include El Hogar and Rizal Colosseum) and maybe if people use Manila more, this could be stopped.
When we reached Escolta, people were having a street party but after staying briefly and seeing that the food rates were not within our budget, my friend and I headed to the nearest McDonald’s to have dinner and then tried to catch the last LRT ride on our way to our respective homes.