An ongoing exhibition shows how Salvador “Badong” Bernal, national theater artist, not only created visually appealing sets, but also created a stage full of meaning.
Have you ever wanted to look at a faulty part just to see its beautiful scenery? In 1997 there was one. It was a musical called “Lapu-Lapu”, and people mostly went there to marvel at Bernal’s set. “Lapu-Lapu” was about colonizers coming to our lands by means of ships, so the whole scene was turned into wooden slats in the shape of waves. The wooden slats formed the platform for the actors and bleed into the edges of the stage.
“This set saved the production,” said Nicanor Tiongson, co-curator (the other is Gino Gonzales) of the exhibition “Badong: Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage” at the Ateneo art gallery, which will run until ‘to July 2.
Before being presented at Ateneo, this exhibition was presented at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 2013 and has traveled to several destinations across the country. Ateneo is his 10th stop.
The model of the âLapu-Lapuâ set is presented in the exhibition along with other reduced models and photo slideshows of Bernal’s sets; some costumes he designed; videos of interviews with him interspersed with videos of plays that used his set; and his mixed drawings, watercolors and ink of costumes and sets.
The exhibit also has a navigational copy of Tiongson’s book on Bernal, whose title is the same as the exhibit.
It is no wonder that the National Artist Award, the highest honor the Philippine government bestows on local artists, has been awarded to Bernal; he is the first and to date the only Filipino scenographer to receive this distinction. The practitioners of the trade before him were considered as simple stage decorators. Bernal, now considered the âfather of theatrical designâ in the Philippines, changed that by elevating stage design into an art form.
Tiongson said Bernal thinks in pictures because he is a poet. Whenever he designed a set he would read the script and talk to the director or choreographer to determine the meaning of the piece or dance, then he would think of a visual metaphor that would best summarize the material.
This can be seen in the scale model of the ensemble for “Sa Bunganga ng Pating”, a 1995 sarsuwela by Tanghalang Pilipino. The story revolved around loan sharks preying on the poor, which made Bernal think of how big fish eat small fish. He incorporated this image into his design; when you see the loan shark mansion, for example, what looks like white gates are, on closer inspection, fish skeletons. Even the leaves of the coconut palms next to the mansion have veins that form fishbones.
The baro’t saya the costumes worn by the sarsuwela actors are also on display in the exhibition, and the colorful patterns on their skirts and the appliquÃ© on their shoulders also feature the fish motif. All of these details have been designed to visually evoke the central conflict of the room.
“He interpreted the material in a way that a director would interpret it,” Tiongson said. âHe added meaning to the piece. “
The Ateneo Art Gallery is on the second level, Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue. Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The opening hours of the gallery are Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Individual visitors, Ateneo students, faculty and staff can visit the gallery for free. For groups of more than 20 people, a charge of 30 P per person applies. Group visits are possible by appointment.
Call 4266001 ext. 4160, or fax 4266488. Email [emailÂ protected] or visit www.ateneoartgallery.org or its Facebook page.