Performing arts veterans Fides Cuyugan Asencio, Nonon Padilla and Denisa Reyes join the ranks of Natatanging Gawad Buhay! Lifetime Achievement Awardees honored by the Philippine Legitimate Stage Artists Group, Inc. (Philstage), in ceremonies held at Star Theater at the CCP Complex on June 16.
Fides Cuyugan Asencio
Cuyugan Asencio, one of the country’s outstanding sopranos, is also known for her work as actress, librettist, lyricist, pedagogue, producer and director of musicals and operas. She was the first Filipina to be accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
In 1986, she founded Music Theater Foundation of the Philippines to support and promote young classical singers. She became chairperson of the University of the Philippines’ Department of Voice, Music, Theater and Dance, and was given Professor Emeritus status by the UP Board of Regents in 1997. In 2005, she was conferred a Lifetime Achievement Award by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for her outstanding achievements in music.
Padilla holds the distinction of being the only theater practitioner to serve as artistic director of two of the country’s trailblazing theater companies—the Philippine Educational Theater Association (Peta) in the early 1970s and Tanghalang Pilipino, which he founded in 1987. He has directed hundreds of Filipino and foreign classical and contemporary plays and was instrumental in the training of actors, designers and theater technicians who have become major players in today’s cinema, television, live entertainment and advertising industries.
His passionate dream of establishing a national repertory company of actors, was, perhaps, the most compelling reason why his controversial acceptance speech at the awards night revisited some of his perennial pet peeves—the lopsided priorities of the cultural bureaucracy, for example, and the tendency of today’s performing artists to “flit from one company to the next, gathering different disciplines from different directors, gaining practical experience.” He has a special term of endearment for this group of theater artists, one that shocked even the artists who stood by him during the reading of his acceptance speech.
Reyes comes from a family of dance artists which include Ballet Philippines’ founding artistic director emeritus Alice Reyes and former BP associate artistic director Edna Vida.
As a young BP dancer in the early 1970s, however, Reyes already knew the kind of creative vision she wanted to pursue. While her sisters harnessed classical ballet aesthetics to develop original Filipino choreography or adapt foreign works into local settings, Reyes trained her sight on Asian contemporary dance and the possibilities of presenting current local issues through dance expressions.
UP feminist aesthetics and dance history scholar Rina Angela Corpus sums up Reyes’ artistic pursuit as follows: “Though contained within the dominant high culture tradition of ballet as the crowning glory behind Western theatrical dancing, and ensconced in the tradition of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, she has made it as a legitimate dancer-choreographer who has defined dance in her own terms.”
Main competition section
In Gawad Buhay!’s main competition section, Ballet Philippines’ “Rama, Hari” lived up to the high expectations it raised when it garnered the most number of nominations for a single production. It won the following 14 awards out of 22 nominations: Outstanding Modern Dance Production; Ensemble Performance in Dance (the cast); Outstanding Adaptation or Translation (Bienvenido Lumbera); Outstanding Musical Direction (Ryan Cayabyab and Jed Balsamo); Outstanding Musical Composition (Ryan Cayabyab); Outstanding Choreography for Dance Production (Alice Reyes); Outstanding Costume Design (Salvador Bernal); Outstanding Set Design (Salvador Bernal); Male Lead Performance in a Musical (OJ Mariano); Male Featured Performance in a Musical (Noel Rayos); Female Lead Performance in a Modern Dance Production (Carissa Adea); Male Lead Performance in a Modern Dance Production (Richardson Yadao); Female Featured Performance in a Modern Dance Production (Rita Winder); and Male Featured Performance in a Modern Dance Production (Earl John Arisola).
Together with three-time awardee Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino (outstanding lead female actress in a play and musical), this year’s winners include first-time nominees Mariano and Rayos, Eugene Domingo (outstanding female lead performance in a play for “Bona”), Edgar Allan Guzman (outstanding lead male performer in a play for “Bona”), Olive Nieto (outstanding featured female performer in a play for “Bona”) and Chris Millado (outstanding stage direction for “Stageshow”).
The program featured production numbers and excerpts from nominated musicals, plays and dance productions as well as previews of forthcoming production of member-companies. Special tribute numbers were performed by the Philippine Opera Company for Cuyugan Asencio; Irma Adlawan, Ricky Davao and Olga Natividad for Padilla; and Ballet Philippines company members for Reyes. Particularly applauded were the bravura performances of Cris Villonco, Kalila Aguilos and Angelina Kanapi, who sang the signature numbers of their nominated roles.
Gawad Buhay! has attracted huge interest and following throughout its five years of existence as an awards program,” said Audie Gemora, president of Philstage and artistic directors of Trumpets. “We are grateful that we have become a unifying force in bringing together the biggest and most established professional performing arts companies in the country.”
Fernando Josef, former Philstage president and artistic director of Tanghalang Pilipino (TP), is proud of the trophies given out to this year’s winners which were executed by no less than master sculptor Ramon G. Orlina. He said Orlina had committed to be the trophy designer-sculptor as early as last year, and he is thankful that the renowned artist stood by his commitment. “It shows his generosity, selflessness and concern for fellow artists.”
This year’s awards jury is composed of UP dance educator-historian Steve Villaruz, Inquirer Theater editor Gilbert Cadiz, Ateneo literary professor Glen Sevilla Mas, UST literary professor Ralph Semino Galan, ABS-CBNNews.com Lifestyle editor Vladimir Bunoan, Financial Times web sub-editor Elka Requinta, UP Humanities professor Ma. Jovita Zarate, Inquirer contributor Alyosha Robillos and Ateneo high school teacher Carlo Antonio Rivera.