L’enfant et les Sortileges (2006)

The Philippine premiere of
Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges (2006)
University of the Philippines – Abelardo Hall
November 22 and 23, 2006

A production of the UP Opera Workshop,  UP Dance Company, and AWIT

Production Design: Otto Hernandez
Choreography: Angela Lawenko
Musical Direction: Vina Gonzalez
Artistic Direction: meLê yamomo

Director’s Notes

At the height of the French colonization in Indochina, Maurice Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortileges was first staged in Paris in 1925.  A year after the establishment of French protectorate in Cambodia, Paris Musée Indochinois opened in Trocadéro (now the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques in Musée Guimet).   The “Arts d’Extrême-Orient” Collection of the museum became the repository of the most important collection of sculptures and bas-reliefs from the Angkor Wat.  These brought the culture and mystical philosophies of Cambodia to the artistes and cultural intelligentsia of the Late Romantic and Modern Paris.  In music, Debussy and Ravel were fascinated by the Asian musical modes.  Debussy painted images of meditating Buddhist monks and pagodas in his impressionistic piano pieces.  We hear in L’enfant’s opening scene contemplative pentatonic melody which I place more in a rural Cambodian village than Collette’s original Normandy setting.    

Two Christmases ago, I remember meeting a young Buddhist monk on the topmost tower of the great Angkor Wat, who upon learning I was Filipino excitedly blurted the names Ina, Jericho and Powers.  Clueless as I was to TV culture (even of our country), I stood there listening to him break out into singing “Pangako sa ‘yo.”  Last Christmas, the introverted me, found myself stuck in my hotel room—my first Christmas snow falling outside and I watching a video of Nederland Ballet Theater’s staging of  L’enfant et les Sortileges on my laptop.   I was dreaming of warmer Philippine Christmas and thinking about how far we are from seeing opera posters on billboards, buses and subway stations like in Seoul, instead of the endless underwear ads in Manila. 

Today, in our postmodern world – postcolonial for most Southeast Asian nations – the politics and dynamics of intercultural encounters constantly shifts and reconfigures.  Media and the arts cross cultural boundaries in unprecedented rate and means.  How am I supposed to react to a Buddhist monk in his saffron robe in the high temple of Angkor Wat talk to me about Philippine soap opera?  Or should I be amazed that my closest experience to the Old Soviet Russian Ballet would be watching Nutcracker in Seoul choreographed by Oleg Vinagradov, former artistic director of Kirov Ballet now relocated in Korea as the artistic director of Universal Ballet?  

Following the tradition of critical and scholarly art practice, I’d like to look into Ravel in the postcolonial framework.  In a globalizing world where multinational capitalist culture could easily confound us, I’d like to revisit Schechner contrasting the “internationalism” of the 70s cultural practice to the current practice of “interculturalism”.  He points out that “the real exchange of importance to artists was not that among nations, which really suggests official exchanges and artificial boundaries, but the exchange among cultures which could be done by individuals…and it doesn’t obey national boundaries.”  Or to Barucha’s critique of the particular Euro-American theatrical trend to borrow across cultures uncritically.  I hope to give honor to the profundity of our culture and talent as Southeast Asians who throughout history have equally enriched the Western art and music in their creation and our interpretation.  And vice versa.