Showing Mr. John Rockefeller the sights of the city, then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos pointed past the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard saying, “That’s where our cultural center will be.” “My dear girl,” replied Mr. Rockefeller, “that’s water!” Mrs. Marcos declared, “Mr. Rockefeller, on the first year, the land will rise; on the second the building will rise; and on the third year, the curtain will rise.” And so it did, on Sept. 8, 1969.
That will be exactly 53 years ago next week and the building is showing its age. Walls are leaking, entrance walks are buckling, cracks are getting wider and longer. The main theater lobby was slippery with rain water dripping in a steady stream from the concrete ceiling during the recent Cinemalaya opening. I happened to be at the lobby last month when a 7.0 earthquake struck Northern Luzon and the giant chandeliers were swinging majestically, dangerously. Something has to be done, quickly.
SOULSPACE The CCP main lobby during the Cinemalaya opening and the new “Black Box Theater” (Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez).
The CCP had been seeking funds to get everything back into shape but Covid intervened. With the intricacies of government procurement procedure, work finally began last March, just on time to be interrupted by the election ban. As of now, part of the survey work has been completed but it will take the better part of three years for the building to reopen.
Everything has to be looked into and reconditioned as needed—structure, plumbing, electrical, lighting, fire protection, and so on. Work started on the top floor and on the old Design Center Building at the rear where offices will transfer next month. It’s a small building so executive offices and conference rooms will move to the nearby Ramon Magsaysay Center building.
The main building has to be fully empty and turned over to the contractor by the first of January 2023 to allow work to proceed full blast and ensure completion by March 15, 2025, the target date. Progress is being monitored by an ad hoc board committee headed by hardworking trustee Stanley Seludo.
Quarter IV 2022 is therefore what you might call the “Hanggang sa Muli” season. It starts on Sept. 10 with a gala, MUSIKA II, which consists of selections from past hits, and ends on Dec. 18 with a performance of Handel’s The Messiah. In the intervening weeks, there will be farewell performances in Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo, the main art gallery, and the other venues that have served audiences so faithfully for half a century. These are in both contemporary and classical art forms, from an animé film based on a Lola Basyang Kuwento to Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot.
In the two and a half years that the main building will be dark, the CCP will mount events inside and outside the CCP Complex, within Metro Manila, and in the regions.
Within the CCP Complex is the new Tanghalang Ignacio B. Gimenez, a.k.a. Black Box Theater located across the street from the PICC. It seats 360 and has state-of-the-art sound and lighting systems. Built and equipped through the generosity of businessman Ignacio B. Gimenez, the innovative facility sets a superlative example of private sector support to the arts and culture.
The Black Box Theater will be inaugurated on Sept. 8 with a Tanghalang Pilipino performance of a new play, Anak Datu. Repertory Philippines will follow on Nov. 26 with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel starring Karylle Tatlonghari Yuzon, Gian Magdañgal, Lorenz Martinez, Mickie Volante, and Noel Rayos. Directed by Toff de Venecia, this is a must for Manila theater lovers.
The CCP complex is large and part is on short term leases but much remains empty pending the implementation of a long-range development plan. In the meantime, plans are being made for their use as performance areas:
- The open space within the fast food area beside the main building will be improved to be a performance-friendly plaza for Kanto Kultura activities, i.e., neighborhood composers and singers, mimes, bands;
- Along Roxas Boulevard between Aliw Theater and Gil Puyat Avenue is a tree-covered area that with some hyperbole might be termed “Gubat.” The CCP board has decided to do a bit of landscaping to make it available for performances. An amphitheater and shady lawn are being considered for the youth both as performers and audience (“Do not enter, teenagers above 30.”) It could be the place for amateur singing groups, rap music, small bands, street dancing, choirs, installations, photography;
- The large grassy area behind PICC is being considered for activities such as kite flying, band concerts, and possibly even something similar to what is being done by the Boston Pops Orchestra and at Glyndebourne where audiences hold picnics on the grass while enjoying the music;
- There might be possibilities for an air-cooled theater-in-the round. Built like a sturdy rural sabuñgan, there would be wooden bleachers on all four sides of a square structure. Any type of performance could be held in the center—folk dance, plays, chamber music, dance competitions.
Prior to Covid-19, the CCP had been bringing classical opera to growing Makati audiences. Metropolitan Opera HD films were shown at Greenbelt 4 cinemas with the support of Ayala Land, Inc. and Filipinas Opera Society Foundation, Inc. Showings will resume on Sept. 27 and follow through till March 2023 with the popular Carmen. La Traviata, and Aida and the infrequently heard La Fille du Regiment, Dialogue des Carmelites, and Samson et Dalila.
The CCP art collection will also travel, first to BGC with an exhibit of prints at Arthaland Century Pacific Tower on 5th Avenue and 30th Street. It opens on Oct. 13 as a project with Arthaland and the Printmakers Association of the Philippines. More will go to the Metropolitan Museum of Manila at its new location by High Street, starting with a loan of half a dozen masterpieces.
While its house lights are about to dim, the CCP is opening windows wider, looking to the youth on its second half-century.
Note: With the resignation of its former president Arsenio Lizaso, former chairperson Margie Floirendo was elected interim president. Your columnist was elected interim chairman of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in addition to his being vice chairman of the 106-year-old Philippine Trust Company, a universal bank.
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