O'Layra: Princesa cang Dagat dance drama [reaction]

Last April 13, 2018, I watched the dance drama O'Layra: Princesa cang Dagat (in English, O'Layra: Princess of the Sea) live in UPV Auditorium. I saw the event advertised on Facebook and I was already interested in the poster and concept. At 150 pesos, I thought it would be a priceless experience. Their official Facebook page has more information and interviews with the key people of this production. A writer from Antique, Alex Delos Santos, posted a great review of this play. I'm writing my reaction as an ordinary viewer who just heard of the O'Layra legend.

I'm not really a theater enthusiast, but you know I love stories and mythology. That's why I keep writing about books and movies in this blog. What I like about theater plays and movies is the audience response - when you are part of the crowd, you can feel their energy and feelings about the story. In this play, the audience laughed, cheered, and expressed dismay at the sad parts of the story.

O'Layra was a famous radio show during the 1970's in the province of Antique, Panay Island, in Western Visayas. It was written and narrated by Russell Tordesillas. The story was about a tamawo (fairy/supernatural being) princess named O'Layra. Since her parents, the Emperor and Emperatris, wants descendants with souls, they send O'Layra to the world of the mortals where she can marry a human being. Since tamawo have no souls, the king and queen hopes that through O'Layra, the future generations of tamawo may have souls.

This is the stage adaptation of that popular radio show, but it's an entirely different approach. It doesn't only tell the story of O'Layra but also a creative/fictional narrative of Russell Tordesillas, the original writer and radio narrator of this story. O'Layra is not just a simple story. The radio play was inspired by these real stories and rumors were the writer himself had real encounters with the tamawo! People can still point to the exact tree where the infant O'Layra was found and she is also a part of myth and folklore in the province.

What's interesting about the play is that the writer himself is a character in the play. The real Russell Tordesillas has passed away, but Kevin Piamonte had the great idea to include him in the story. I love how the play portrayed the art of writing and creation. It had that postmodern element of blending fantasy and reality. In this play, Russell (the character) is portrayed as in love with O'Layra, but he's just a friend to her. In short, he's stuck in the friendzone with her. It seems that it is Russel who is the bida of this show.

The prominent feature of the stage design is the writer's table and radio booth where he narrates the story. The original music and songs were superb, as well as the dance choreography. The character of Russell has the most 'screen time' here and the actor was pretty good at it. He can sing, dance (quite), and his acting was also great judging by the enthusiastic audience response. The actress playing O'Layra was good as well. The characters of Prince Fitzgerald (O'Layra's love interest), Natalia (O'Layra's rival), and her human foster parents added a refreshing humor to the story. Even the nameless dancers could convey character and story through dance.

What I love best is that the play was in the Kinaray-a language of Antique. It's my first time to hear it on a stage play (out of the very few I go to) and it's just awesome to hear it. While I grew up in Iloilo City, my mother's side of the family spoke it. I learned a lot of new words in the play and had a renewed appreciation for the dialect. Overall, it was truly a priceless, one-of-a-kind experience.

O'Layra will be showing again in CAP Auditorium in San Jose, Antique on May 1. (Source)

The cast of O'Layra (photo from their Facebook page)
Writer/Director: Kevin Piamonte
Dance Choreography: Bobby Rodriguez
Musical Director/Composer: Crista Sianson-Huyong

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