“BAGONG CRISTO” (Aurelio Tolentino’s MODERN CHRIST)
> 2008 > University of the Philippines at Los Banos > Dramaturgy
(Photo by Dennis D. Gupa)
Bagong Cristo is an early 20th Century play written by a radical symbolist and free-thinker Aurelio Tolentino. As a playwright and revolutionary dramatist, Tolentino struggled to create an independent real and theatrical Philippines. The play was said to have been inspired by small and subterfuge revolutions between 1900 and 1940 as the Philippines was under American Colonialism. As this point was still reeling from the 1896 Revolt against Spanish regime, a few brave Filipinos were championing an eventual Philippine independence from this new colonizer and imperialist. Tolentino’s contribution to this liberation movement includes his play about a ‘modern Christ’ who is preaching the gospel of change on streets, during parliamentary debates, and in places of worship and strife of the then colonial state and order. Bagong Cristo also hid in front of the biblical and religious narratives of Christ’s martyrdom as this period was rife with American censorship and laws that forbid assembly, free speech, and radical performances. This play, therefore, belongs to a tradition of Filipino revolutionary drama that heavily uses symbols and references to disguise radical meanings between characters and allegories, as artists and heroes were censored and killed during that period in Philippine history.
The modern version of this play was also experimental as its director Dennis D. Gupa employed various theatrical tactics to draw out the complex narratives and texts of Tolentino’s oeuvre. These include the usage of historical and contemporary meanings brought by my dramaturgical analysis on that period of American colonial history and the present political realities of the 21st Century Philippines. Another notable approach in the play’s theatrical and performative gestus was through the use of mathematical symbols –from geometry, algebra to trigonometry — in creating embodied movements or dance, the stage design, and multimedia projections. It was guided by another dramaturg, Prof. Alleli Domingo of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos. For an academic reading about the play’s interdisciplinary approach through mathematics and theatre, here’s a paper that was written by Prof. Domingo, which was read at a UNESCO conference in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012.