Darna, Mars Ravelo’s costumed superheroine much like the US Marvel Comics characters, has been reincarnated as a dance musical in College of Saint Benilde’s “Ding, Ang Bato!” The title refers to Ding, the brother and sidekick of Narda, the human alter ego of the superheroine Darna. The “bato” is the magic stone which transforms Narda into a “bahag”-clad Darna.
Although “Ding, Ang Bato” is produced by CSB’s dance program in collaboration with other programs, the school tries to professionalize it with illustrious names in the production team —Cris Millado for the libretto and direction, Denisa Reyes and France-based choreographer Ernest Mandap, Ejay Yatco and Jef Flores for music, Joaquin Jose Aranda for the lighting design, Aji Manalo for sound design and Tuxqs Rutaquio for production design.
The dance production tells the battle between Darna and arch-villainess Valentina, Ravelo’s version of the snake-headed Medusa. To make it inclusive, there’s participation of students from CSB’s School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies. The story is told from the viewpoint of a deaf-mute Ding.
To appeal to a younger audience, the production includes pop culture elements such as a rapping Armand (Ding’s buddy) and a social media-savvy Valentina with legions of followers on IG.
“Ding, Ang Bato!” started out very promising with video mapping of the sets, symbolisms and shadow play that parallel to the action on stage. There were strong performances by guest artist Natasha Cabrera, who could hold long notes as the singing Valentina, and student Rhianna Mantos as Lola Isabel, Darna and Ding’s guardian. Elijah Mendoza as the Maligno and Michael dela Torre, John Gamboa and Mark Juelar stood out for their dynamic moves amid a largely non-dancer cast.
“Ding, Ang Bato!” started out strong but the pace was not sustained. People who weren’t familiar with the Darna story couldn’t comprehend the story for lack of program notes. Even if there were program notes, the transitions and relationships between the characters and the symbols weren’t clear.
People who expected Darna to fly were disappointed. The production team chose to do the flying through the old-fashioned way by having several dancers hoist Darna, danced by Christine Crame. The problem with this staging was that audiences could already anticipate the movements, removing the surprise of theater.
Although the choreography had interesting movements, some dances were too long or lacked panache. Moreover, most of the cast had no dance background; they didn’t have enough time to learn movement dynamics to give justice to the choreography.
Still, “Ding, Ang Bato!” got people talking and appreciating modern dance.
“Ding, Ang Bato” will have its last production on today , May 21, at 1 p.m. at the the College of Saint Benilde theater.