‘Anak Datu’: Mindanao’s past, future come alive onstage

ANAK DATU depicts the lives and struggles of the Tausug people of Mindanao.

September 3, 2022

Proof that Philippine theater is back in full swing are the slew of productions since the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

There’s Anak Datu, Tanghalang Pilipino’s second offering for its 36th season.

Adapted from a short story by National Artist for Visual Arts Abdulmari Imao, Anak Datu depicts the lives and struggles of the Tausug people of Mindanao.

Imao wrote the story in 1968 before the birth of his first son Abdulmari Jr., who is now an artist in his own right and goes by the name Toym Imao.

Directed by former CCP artistic director and vice president Chris Millado, Anak Datu is about the son of a village chieftain in Muslim Mindanao in pre-colonial Philippines. Before his birth, their village was ravaged by pirates. His mother gives birth under captivity and grows up thinking his father is a former pirate from the land of the Tausug.

It was only upon the old man’s death when the son discovers the truth about his real father. The plot leads to other events in the history of Mindanao and the personal lives of the Imaos.

Rody Vera, who adapted the story for theater, said that when he was approached by theater actor Fernando “Nanding” Josef and the younger Imao to write the play, he had “zero knowledge” about Anak Datu.

ANAK DATU opens 16 September.

“They sent me a scanned copy of the story, published in 1972. It won the Pamana Children’s Story contest (high school level) even earlier in 1968,” Vera recalled.

The acclaimed playwright said he did not want to just tell the story that was written by the elder Imao on its own. “Rather, I wanted to juxtapose it with other contemporary stories, and real-life events in Mindanao that resonate in the short story itself,” Vera explained. “I also wanted to tell the story of how it was written.”

Vera recounted Josef and Toym have been pitching the idea since 2018. But then the pandemic happened, putting the project on indefinite hold.

TOYM Imao also created the show’s striking set design.

In 2021 they realized they wanted to push through with the production.

Pre-production saw them thinking of ways to solve the limits imposed by health protocols. “Chris (Millado) had a staging idea. He thought of doing some sort of travelogue where the audience will enter one space, watch a scene and then move on to another space, controlling the traffic of audiences, instead of having them sit all together like what conventional theater offers.”

In the end, the team decided the travelogue style may not be necessary. “So Toym created a magnificent set for the stage,” Vera said.

Toym has worked with TP several times as set designer, including for the multi-awarded musical biopic about Apolinario Mabini titled Mabining Mandirigma and the avant-garde rock opera Aurelio Sedisyoso.

His work for Anak Datu marks his first since the pandemic.

Aside from harnessing their creativity to make the most of Covid-19 restrictions, they also did a lot of research not only on the setting of the original story but also on the contemporary history of Mindanao.

There were also the challenges of getting to know more about the Imao family and weaving all the information into the foundation story which is Anak Datu.

“These added more layers to the piece so that it became not just a chronicle of that war, but also tackled the artist’s questions and dilemmas in the face of urgent social and political upheavals,” Vera said.

He invites everyone to watch Anak Datu for its “colorful production and enthralling music.” He also mentioned how Millado’s “exciting” staging ideas are something the audience must look forward to.

“And because the story, its themes, and this whole play carry that urgency that should compel the audience not only to grapple with a past that has largely been rendered invisible and voiceless to them, but also to look forward to a future in the hands of the youth, not much different from the likes of Karim, the young Anak Datu,” said Vera.

Playing the young National Artist Abdulmari is TP associate artistic director Marco Viaña. On some performances, he alternates as Hadji Hamsa Tacbil and understudies for the role of Nur Misuari.
TP artistic director Josef plays Jibin Arula.

CCP artistic director and vice president Chris Millado directs Anak Datu.

Other major roles are played by TP Actors Company senior members Antonette Go (Imao’s wife Grace de Leon) and Lhorvie Nuevo (Putli Loling); TP guest artists Tex Ordoñez-de Leon (singing narrator), Carlos Dala (Binatang Karim/Imao), and Hassanain Magarang (Datu Karim), who is also the choreographer.

For their debut performance with TP in a live theater and to be introduced in various roles are TP Actors Company scholars Edrick Alcontado, Arjay Babon, Mitzi Comia, Judie Dimayuga, Earle Figuracion, Vince Macapobre, Aggy Mago, Sarah Monay, Heart Puyong, and Mark Lorenz.

Joining the artistic troika of Millado, Vera, and Toym Imao are composer and musical director Chino Toledo, choreographer Magarang, costume designer John Carlo Pagunaling, sound designer TJ Ramos, lighting designer Katsch Catoy, and projection designer GA Fallarme.

Anak Datu comes to the Tanghalang Ignacio Gimenez (CCP Black Box Theater) from 16 September to 9 October. For tickets and show-buyer inquiries, you may call
0915-6072275 or email [email protected]

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