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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

entry arrow5:14 PM | Exhibiting Badong's Stage Designs

In 2003 and for the first time in the history of the awards, the National Artist Award was given in the field of theater design, and, fittingly, it was presented to Salvador F. Bernal, not because he pioneered theater design in the country, but because he was the first to develop it as a profession and to elevate it to the level of an art form. Born in 1945 to a family that ran a terno shop, Bernal was exposed to the rudiments of fabric, cut, and silhouette early in life. At the Ateneo de Manila (BS 1966), he honed his talent as a poet and philosopher, acquiring the ability to read a text and imagine its theme as a visual conceit. At the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (MFA 1972), he studied, practiced, and handled courses in the art and craft of theater design. After his return in 1973, Bernal taught briefly at the Ateneo and the University of the Philippines, but soon plunged headlong and full-time into a life of design, which until then was largely unchartered territory.

In the beginning it was difficult to earn a living from design, since the production budgets of most performing arts companies were often just barely sufficient and sometimes even less than adequate. But with his discipline, resourcefulness, and industry, Bernal’s exceptional talent began to be noticed. After a decade, he was acclaimed as the foremost theater designer of the country and directors were lining up for his services. After four decades of intense work, he had designed more than 250 productions in ballet, opera, theater, and film, mentored two generations of production designers, trained a pool of artisans (seamstresses, carpenters, metal workers, painters, among others), initiated and supervised the building of the country’s first Production Design Center at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and founded the first and only professional organization of production designers in the Philippines. For all this, Bernal has earned the title “Father of Theater Design in the Philippines.”


The art of theater design remains largely unknown or unappreciated because most people are unaware of what it is, what it requires, and how crucial it is to a theater production. The exhibit aims to introduce and explain this rising art form through some of the most expressive and impressive works of Salvador F. Bernal.

In the four main alcoves of the gallery, seventeen maquettes and fifteen photos illustrate the four major aspects in Bernal’s process of design: under SYMBOL, the selection of the key metaphor that crystallized the director’s interpretation of the dance or theater production; under SOURCES, the range of sources from which Bernal drew his design concepts and styles; under SURFACES, the local and inexpensive materials that Bernal discovered and developed for the stage; under SPACE, Bernal’s successful experimentation with theater space and successful solution to stage limitations.

Opposite these four alcoves are four sections under the title SILHOUETTES, where extant Bernal costumes are displayed. Opposite the alcove on SPACE are the costumes of The Magic Flute, whose budget allowed Bernal’s imagination free rein. Opposite the alcove on SURFACES are the attires from Orosman at Zafira, which used indigenous materials as costume décor. Opposite the alcove on SOURCES are the Asian-inspired ensembles created for Realizing Rama. Opposite the alcove on SYMBOL are the ternos with fish-motif designed for Sa Bunganga ng Pating. Outside the gallery, a timeline traces the patterns of Bernal’s creativity on one wall, while the opposite wall showcases the sketches he himself made for selected productions.

Ang Pagpapatay Kay Luna, Set and Costume Design, 2001, Musical, Nonon Padilla (Director), Tanghalang Pilipino. Photo from the CCP Collection.

Realizing Rama, Set and Costume Design, 1998-2001, Ballet, Denisa Reyes (Choreographer), ASEAN COCI Project. Photo from the Salvador Bernal Collection.

Engkantada, Set and Costume Design, 1992, Ballet, Agnes Locsin (Choreographer), Ballet Philippines. Photo from the CCP Collection.

Scale model of Paglipas ng Dilim, CCP Collection. Photo by Ricardo Cruz.

Scene from the Court of Rajah Humabon. From Lapu-Lapu, Set and Costume Design, 1997, Musical, Behn Cervantes (Director), Dimitri Productions. Photo from the Salvador Bernal Collection.

[Text from the exhibit catalogue]

The exhibit Badong: Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage opens on 18 JULY 2014, Friday at 5 PM. It will run until August 6. The exhibit is brought to Silliman University by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and 2Go.

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