Words by Helen de Castro | Photos by Reverb Manila
Losing a loved one is heartbreaking. I once was told that the experience of losing a close relative to the unforgiving arms of death feels weird, surreal. But contemplating on words once spoken and reliving memories over and over again is heartwrenching. This was the feat bravely faced by artists close to Maningning Miclat, the multilingual poet and visual artist who passed away at the tender age of 28. I could describe Ginugunita Kita as a close and intimate gathering at the Aldaba Hall in U.P. Diliman. A celebration of the short but meaningful life of Maningning that explored and internalized her literary works from the book Voice from the Underworld. The stage employed a simple set-up – a chair on the left that was occupied by the soulful cellist, Patrick Espanto; a piano on the right, whose keys were graced by the acclaimed composer, Jesse Lucas; and in the middle, a chair for singer-actor Banaue Miclat-Janssen, Maningning’s younger sister. More than a concert, the setting reminded me of a warm family gathering where members would sit around the living room, exchanging stories on how Maningning has touched each of their lives. In between one of the songs, Banaue shared how people responded to her sister’s book Voice from the Underworld, with most of them interpreting it as if it were Maningning’s final messages. The younger sister took their remarks as they were, opened the book once and never read it again. It wasn’t until 15 years later, as she prepared for that night’s performance, had she been compelled to read it again. She realized that Ningning’s poems weren’t at all goodbyes, rather a recounting of her life journey. Ginugunita Kita started when Jesse Lucas read Maningning’s book. Struck with inspiration, he sought permission from her family if he could put music to the poet’s words. Describing her works as visually rich, it was incredibly easy for him to connect with them.
Jesse Lucas: “The poems of Maningning Miclat is almost melodious that I can hear the music through the images used in poetry”.
One could not help but wonder about Banaue, the younger sister’s, journey in this whole creative process. The actress acknowledged director Roeder Camañag’s guidance.
Banaue Miclat-Janssen: From the beginning, I was scared that I might go to a dark place in the process of the journey, and he (Camañag) always guided me, showed me another way of looking at things na ‘oo nga no, it makes more sense.’
The performance featured a number of Maningning’s poems: Ginugunita Kita, Tawag, Kulay sa Bato, Ang Naliligaw, Duet (Rizal at Bracken) – where Banaue sang alongside singer-actor Al Gatmaitan; A Stare, which was elegantly interpreted by Delphine Buencamino through dance; Verses #2; and To Catch a Second and Turn it To Forever.
Of all the songs performed that night, Banaue said that it was Verses # 2 that made her see Maningning not only as an artist but as her sister. She shared that it reminded her of the day she passed away. Before she left for FEU that morning, Maningning kissed her and said, “I love you, Wei. Ok na ako.”
Banaue Miclat-Janssen: “With Verses, I will always, always see that. I understood what that meant with that song. Ok na talaga siya.”
There was not a single hint of tension during the whole performance. It was relaxing, comforting, nostalgic even. Ginugunita Kita is described as a healing process and a ‘rite of passage’ as each accepted that their loved one, who once graced this earth to impart so much wisdom even at a very young age, is now at peace. And they are left here to celebrate and keep her legacy alive. Pain – whether caused by death, a heartbreak, or a seemingly impossible challenge – is processed differently by each individual. We all have unique styles of coping. Ultimately, it is how we respond to it. We have two choices when confronted with pain: To allow it to destroy us or to get up and create something worthwhile, fueled by that intense emotion. In Ginugunita Kita, we saw how Maningning’s family and friends chose the latter. Through the collaborative efforts of these renowned artists, they have created something beautiful out of it. I was deeply moved by what I had witnessed that night. It was as if the whole theater was engulfed with so much love and fond memories. And though I have only encountered Maningning through poetry classes back in college or in conversations with friends, that night gave me the opportunity to experience the poet beyond her written words. She was no longer just a byline, or a Filipino painter, or the professor who taught in FEU. That night, she simply became a person. Relatable, real, someone who also went through the ordinary highs and lows of human emotions – it was her dedication to her life’s work that put her high up on a pedestal. I could not fully explain here the warmth and intimacy of that night’s experience. Even the photos stored in my phone could not give it justice. It is one of those performances that could not be described by words, but could only be truly enjoyed and appreciated if you are there. It is not quite possible to relive that night’s experience. So in Maningning’s words, I conclude:
So grant me another second
I will catch up with it
I will lock it in my heart
And turn it to forever.
An excerpt from To Catch a Second and Turn it to Forever
There will be a rerun of the performance on July, which will feature more songs (including a Chinese poem), and we’re all hopeful that a CD compilation of the songs will be available by then.
Videos will be up soon. http://www.reverbmanila.com. #ReverbManila