An Interview with Ballet Manila’s Lola Basyang in “Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang”

When in Manila, a true Filipino knows that Lola Basyang is the greatest storyteller of all time. In fact, Lola Basyang (a.k.a. Severino Reyes, yes a guy.) has told over 400 well-loved tales. Apart from the magical twists, her stories impart heart-tugging lessons on good morals and values that appealed to both children and adults.  Thus, it is only natural to do something in lieu of her stories, especially now that the new generation is so engrossed with social media and may not even be aware of Lola Basyang’s stories.

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Ballet Manila comes up with a production called Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. “From Page to Stage,” Ballet Manila’s (BM) 20th performance season begins on Aug. 21 with “Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang,” three captivating dance productions of love, fantasy and adventure along with the narration of Luz Fernandez as Lola Basyang, a radio talent and a drama actress that has played the role countless times before. And thanks to WIM, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to her about the role she is playing, both on and off stage at a popular restaurant along Tomas Morato on a lovely afternoon.

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The encounter was nothing short of pleasant. I didn’t expect Ms. Luz Fernandez to be as lively and bubbly as she was when I walked in. Her gray hair, wavy and bouncy while she laughed as she shared her personal stories about love and life in general. She was talking about how hard it is to be a dancer, since she witnessed them everyday during rehearsal. Being a dancer myself, I found the mention of the word my cue to throw my first question: How is it like, working with dancers (members of Ballet Manila) on stage?

Luz Fernandez: Na’ko ang babait nila. Pero ang hirap ng ginagawa nila, mas mahirap ang ginagawa nila sa mga regular na nakakasama ko sa radyo at TV. (They’re all nice people. But I realized, their job is really hard compared to the people I normally worked with in radio and TV.)

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Then I slowly transitioned to asking more about the upcoming show, what is its difference with other Lola Basyang stories? She told me there is no difference in terms of the plot, as the story stays true to the original, but the overall approach is different. Ballet Manila promises to brings back “Ang Prinsipe ng Mga Ibon,” “Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya”, and “Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin” and it is a step towards their support for local artists. Everything from the script, choreography, dancers, and music are all originally done for the show.

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“Ang Prinsipe ng Mga Ibon” is choreographed by Osias Barroso with musical arrangement by Mon Faustino. It is about a princess who falls madly in love with a bird prince. Their love is put to a test, when her furious father expresses disapproval over their relationship.

Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde choregraphed “Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya” herself. Set to the music of Joey Ayala, it tells the story a boy in search of his sisters. Captured by a beast, as a punishment for their father’s greedy streak, the boy strives to fulfill their father’s dying wish.

“Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin.” is choreographed by Tony Fabella with music by Ryan Cayabyab. The tale is about a poor worker who was given a violin when he helped an old lady. The enchanting rhythm of the strings sends listeners in a trance, bringing about unusual behavior.

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Now that all the essential questions have been answered, I moved on to more personal questions, just because she looked like she was in the mood. I asked her what she loved most about being Lola Basyang and what is her advice to young people who’d like to pursue a career in performance art. 

She answered in a firm yet sincere tone “Pinaka gusto ko talaga ay yung pagkakataon mangaral sa mga bata, na ipaalala sa kanina ‘yung mga Filipino values na nakalimutan nila.” (What I like the most is the chance to teach the kids, to remind them of the Filipino values they forgot.) She reiterated that “po” and “opo” is rarely heard from children as well as “pagmamano” to the elderly, and even praying before eating. As for her advice, she said it’s all about the heart. You have to be passionate despite the fact that it doesn’t pay as much as the other jobs. Your heart is what keeps you going and from that piece of advice, I was moved.

“Lola Basyang is part of the Filipino our culture and heritage,” explains artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. “We at Ballet Manila are honored to do our share in preserving this wonderful gift, through dance and music.”

Catch “Severino Reyes’ ‘Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang’” goes onstage at Aliw Theater on Aug. 21-22 and 28-29, at 8 p.m., and on Aug. 23 and 30 at 3 p.m.


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