Francisco Balagtas’ Florante at Laura at WECC

By: Ronald Mervin Sison

On the heels of the historic first-ever full unedited reading of Francisco Balagtas’ “Florante at Laura” in North America for Philippine Heritage Month, which happened on June 10 at PCCM and was hosted by the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba, came a lightning-fast re-staging in a true theatre of “Florante at Laura” at the West End Cultural Centre (WECC). This took place as part of the Kultivation Festival, a collaboration between WECC and the Philippine Heritage Council of Manitoba, to celebrate August as “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa” (National Filipino Language Month). History was made again as this was the first ever full Filipino language production to be done at the West End Cultural Centre.

The reading cast was composed mostly of the originals from the first production with Alden Novallasca reading Florante for both shows, Denny Nangan reading Aladin for the matinee, Catherine Manuel-Ferrer reading for Laura, Cez Berces-Lozada reading for Flerida, Tricia Magsino Barnabe reading for Maria Asuncion Rivera (MAR). The readers also include Sam Albano, Ador Cabrera, Maggie Chan-Urbano, Deus Ducepec, Cecil de Guzman, Neil Jusi, and Gemmarose Claveria; with new members Ann Evangelista, Genalyn Tan, Vicky Cabrera, and Noel Lapuz who read for Aladin in the evening show. The choreography cast included Marcelo Aiello (Florante), Bea San Gabriel (Laura), Medi Oman (Aladin), Johsa Manzanilla (Flerida), Ellie Natoza (MAR), Nino Claveria (Adolfo/Sultan), Henz Lozada (Briseo), and cameos by kids Xander Sison, Scarlett Sison, and Elsa Tian.

One of the pillars of Filipino Literature and required reading in the Philippines between grades 7-10, Florante at Laura was written by Francisco Balagtas while in prison until 1838 and dedicated to the love of his life Maria Asuncion Rivera who is referred to in the text as MAR or Celia. While Maria Asuncion Rivera is not an actual character in the work, for both productions she read Balagtas’ prologue dedication and the note to the reader to honor her memory.

Florante at Laura is a literary song or “awit” in Filipino with 12 syllables per line in quatrain form, similar in form to European epics like the Spanish Cantar de Mio Cid from 1207. The work was delivered in its original form – 1838 Tagalog; and the reader cast brought emotion, soul, and life to the words in full and without edits faithful to the wishes of the author Francisco Balagtas. The choreography cast to compliment created the visual tableaux scenes on stage accentuated by the immersive lighting and the English translation projected on the screen behind.

The creation of two different productions of Florante at Laura two months apart in two very different venues with varying reading and choreography casts put on full display directorial creativity and the brilliant performance ability of the cast composed of volunteers, students, teachers, and working professionals who from the depths of their hearts endeavor to bring forth the beauty of true Filipino Literature, the Filipino Language, and Filipino Theatre to everyone in our city and community.

As previously announced, in 2024 the company will be presenting a new production on Jose Rizal’s works Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Director – Ronald Mervin Sison, Assistant Director – Tricia Magsino Barnabe, Musical Director Jett Russel Panganiban, Filipino Language Consultants – Vicky Cabrera and Genalyn Tan.

Photos by: Deus Ducepec & Mervin Sison