Culture Magazine

Nonon Padilla on Badong Bernal: 'He Thought Like a Poet When He Designed Sets and Costumes, Translating Image and Silhouette into Visual Metaphors.'

By Gibbs22manila @gibbscadiz
Eulogy delivered at the necrological services for Salvador Bernal, National Artist for Theater Design, at the CCP Main Theater, Oct. 27 (Saturday), 2011.

Badong and I began our professional relationship in 1986 after the Edsa Revolution. The CCP was re-organized under Dr. Nic Tiongson as Artistic Director and Mrs. Bing Roxas as President. At that time I headed the Visual Arts Department, inherited from Ray Abano. Nic asked me to head the Coordinating Center for Dramatic Arts with the objective of establishing a new resident Drama Company. Rolando Tinio, head of Teatro Pilipino at the time was on collision course with the Artistic Director and eventually folded up his company.
Tanghalang Pilipino began with a production of a zarzuela, “Dalagang Bukid.” Badong did the sets and costumes. A reduced PPO of 30 musicians played live the first 2 weekend run, then recorded a minus one for the rest of the run.
The objective of the new company was to develop a repertory company. We began with three productions that season, and increased it to seven or eight the next season.
Badong designed a lovely art nouveau set for “Dalagang Bukid” complete with a Tranvia. The costumes were the classic baro’t saya of the twenties.
We had two venues at our disposal, the Small Theater, and the laboratory space, eventually named Batute after the nom de plume of poet Jose Corazon de Jesus.
Next we did a Polish play, “Pulis” by Slawomir Mrozek. Badong, who was busy designing for Ballet Philippines insisted on doing the production design for “Pulis,” with very little budget. He didn’t mind. He wanted to design set and costumes. He came up with a hot fire engine red platform in the round. We suspended a red fishing net that eventually collapsed on the actors like trapped tigers.
In the 16 years that I stayed as artistic director of the Drama Company, I would say, more than half of our productions in the company Badong designed. And had he not suffered his first heart attack, and had kept his old energy, he would have done more. He loved the theater, pure and simple.
I guess you can say, we were an ideal team for theater, as I believe Alice and Badong were ideal for dance theater.
By ideal, I don’t mean to brag or sound snooty. Alice and I never dictated on Badong. It was always a reciprocal process, a give and take, where ideas were exchanged, or bounced around, with lots of discussions on concept, image, texture, and dramatic objectives.
When I was blank with ideas, or just didn’t know how to approach a given script, he was always ready with a question or two, to jump start our thought process. And when he was blank, I did likewise.
It was a fulfilling creative relationship because Badong had a sharp mind, a critical mind that many misunderstood as mataray sa pintas. But on the contrary, Badong would think aloud to keep the thought process going. He may have sounded opinionated in many instances, and dismissive about actors, directors, and designers, but his insights were constantly constructive.
Badong studied Philosophy at the Ateneo. He had a lifelong devotion and respect for his mentor, Fr. Roque Ferriols, a Jesuit professor he periodically visited throughout his life until recently when his health got in the way.
He was trained to think logically. And his sense of space, direction, and orientation was always firm. As tourists abroad, whether in Paris, Tokyo, or HongKong, I always relied on him to lead us back to our hotel. That was when he could still walk comfortably. When his leg gave him constant pain, he became despondent and sad that his traveling days were over.
Many will say he had genius. Badong will instantly scoff at the term. I can hear him whisper, “Say mo!”
What he readily admitted to his friends was that he had taste. And taste is not genius. It is a sense of proportion, a sense of scale, a sense for color and tone.
Badong’s was impeccable.
In his costume and set designs, what distinguished him from the rest was his attention to detail and correct period paraphernalia. It could be a simple lace handkerchief, gray stockings, or a feather on a hat. Whenever he adds the correct detail, the costume comes alive, and more importantly, the character is enhanced visually.
Badong would have been a wonderful director. I offered him numerous times to direct. In college he directed a number of stunning plays like “The Bald Soprano,” and a very intense “Paglilitis ni Mang Serapio” by Paul Dumol.
But he dismissed my offers.
He would quote or paraphrase T.S.Eliot: “No I am not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be; Am an attendant lord, one that will do to swell a progress, start a scene or two.”
O, ano’ng say mo?
Wa na say. Bow! Nagsalita na ang makata.
At the Ateneo, Badong was the Poetry editor of Heights. He was the college bard. Now, one can safely say he never abandoned poetry, although his published output was small and sporadic. He was to write poems intermittently, but at the turn of the millennium, he collected all his poems, early and new, into one volume, published by Bookmark. His poems were personal lyrics, honoring his mother or father, remembering a long dead friend, remembering childhood, song to a kikay friend, affectionate verses celebrating summer holidays.
He thought like a poet when he designed sets and costumes, translating image and silhouette into visual metaphors.
Dear, dear Badong, I don’t think I’m going to be honest if I simply dwell on your genius as legend, or your temper or personal eccentricities. We both have had our full measure of frustrations here at the CCP. You never got to beef up your production center and see it take wing into a full creative factory, as I never got to fully establish our ideal National Theater as a fully professional repertory company.
We were witness to the slow transformation of the CCP, from a creative center into a center for bureaucrats, the erosion of creative attitude to technical and political efficiency and/or expediency.
Betoots Manalang yesterday told me that you were hopeful that I would come back and work here again, but then you remarked, “Hay si Nonon, pag magsara ng tindahan, wala ng balikan.”
Well, friend, I beg you pardon, I was just following your footsteps. You left the CCP earlier than me to go back to the Ateneo on the ostensible excuse that you wanted a higher pay. I know for a fact that you were dismayed that Technical theater department waged a turf war on you and your office, valuing more bureaucratic efficiency over creativity and training. And when Malacanang gave the third floor of the Production building to Cirio Santiago and the Film Development Board, you quietly packed up your bags and with little drama, you transferred to our beloved hill between the earth and sky called the Ateneo.
You could not be bothered about the pettiness of it all.
As for me, why would you want to subject your dear friend to this cave of shadows, where every six years, with every change of administration, the circus comes to town, and all the artists working here are subjected to humiliation of loyalty checks and obsequious ceremonies of kowtowing to politicians and bureaucrats. Alas, the artist is not king in this center for culture.
But to pressing ceremony we must attend.
Betoots Manalang told me a secret lately about you. Before you were to undergo your angioplasty last month, you asked her to pray with you your favorite prayer written by Bernard of Clairvaux.
So this morning I pray it happily, filled with love and absolute affection:
“Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary,/ that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection,/ implored thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To thee I come; and before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my words,/ But graciously hear and grant my prayer. Amen.”
Adieu, mon ami.
A flight of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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