From cardboard cut-outs, Manila comes to life

Michelle Baltazar

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is brassy and unapologetic. Repulsive yet compelling. Dirty yet clean. And for nine days only, a team of artists brings the sights, sounds and even the taste and smell of the city to Sydney in a rare display of ingenuity.

For a limited time, Blacktown Arts Centre will be showing a highly engaging ‘performance and installation’ about Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Called ‘Within & Without: Portrait of a City’, the title refers to, at first, the historic walled city of Intramuros, a name that literally means “within the walls” in Spanish.

But sometime during the creative process, the initial concept took a more ambitious turn. Paschal Daantos Berry and Deborah Pollard, the duo behind the project, decided not to limit themselves to Intramuros, which was ‘old’ Manila, but instead recreate modern Manila and its surrounds.

To get the project to its final format, Berry and Pollard collaborated with actor Valerie Berry and the Anino Shadowplay Collective (Manila-based multi-skilled artists Datu Arellano, Andrew Cruz and Don Maralit Salubayba).

Three other artists who rounded up the talented cast during the performance last night were David Buckley, Melanie Palomares and award-winning Australia-based actor, Kenneth Moraleda.

It is hard to describe this performance-and-art show in detail without spoiling it for those keen to attend. At the very least, expect an ingenious art installation where the production team used cardboard, junk, toys, knick-knacks, and paper to recreate Manila, including the exclusive district of Makati to the ‘colourful’ districts of Ermita and Malate, down to Quiapo, Binondo (Chinatown) and even Quezon City.

SintaThere was also some singing, some dancing and a lot of audience participation – keeping the show engaging throughout. Special mention goes to Melanie, David and Kenneth, who all gave star performances last night.

To those who have never been to Manila, ‘Within & Without’ might be an eye-opener, even disconcerting. As Berry and Pollard wrote in the show's program, they wanted to show Manila as a rambling, chaotic and somewhat schizophrenic city that is never silent. They wanted to show a city with scars, with character and with untamed beauty.

To those who know Manila, ‘Within & Without’ will make you want to buy a ticket and jump on the next plane to the Philippines. The endearing cardboard cut-outs of Quiapo Church, of the cafes and bars in Manila and the  signs pointing to SM and Jollibee are enough to make you nostalgic, homesick or both.

There was even a segment during the show where I thought I was in Manila.

It is a shame that it will only run for less than two weeks (final night is on July 2).  An extended period would have allowed Filipino-Australians from other states to experience this unusual show.

But credit goes to Performance Space, Blacktown Arts Centre, Blacktown City Council and Arts NSW for supporting ‘Within & Without’.  It would have taken generous funding and resources support to get a project as ambitious and left-of-field as 'Within & Without' off the ground.

It is a cliché but you just have to be part of the audience, limited to 40 per showing, to understand why it’s an artistic endeavour that all Filipino-Australians will be proud of. It is not just a feast for the eyes but brings the sounds, smell and even taste of Manila to you - so much so that you forget where you are for a moment and think you are standing in the middle of a street somewhere in a city more than 6,000km away.

Where: Blacktown Arts Centre, 78 Flushcombe Road, Blacktown
Cost: $30 or $20 concession
How to buy tickets:

Note: The Australian Filipina will feature reviews, interviews with the cast and blog postings in our next edition as part of our special ‘Within & Without’ media coverage.

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