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Where will fashion (and design) be without literature?

Or why an ongoing exhibit of Salvador Bernal’s costumes and miniature set designs at DLS-CSB honors the late National Artist for Theater Design and his mastery of the literary classics

Images by Noel B. Pabalate

Video by JC Villanueva and

Julius Lacaba

As architect Gerry Torres and costume designer Eric Pineda put it, there are many reasons why De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde (DLS-CSB) said yes to the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) invitation to jointly present “Badong: Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage” at the 12th floor gallery of the School of Design and Arts (SDA) building in Manila.

Ongoing until Dec. 17, the show honors the late National Artist for Theater Design Salvador Bernal with an exhibit featuring costumes, scale models, and digital images of his many projects for Ballet Philippines and Tanghalang Pilipino where he was CCP resident manager. The show doesn’t include costumes he did for concerts and TV shows.

Among the items on display are Bernal’s costumes from such theater productions as The Magic Flute, Sa Bunganga ng Pating, Realizing Rama, Lapu-Lapu, and Orosman at Zafira, among others. At the same time, the show, which also features a timeline of Bernal’s professional life, also pays homage to his exceptional contributions as a production designer with scale models of set designs for Dalagang Bukid, Paglipas ng Dilim, and Romeo and Juliet, to name a few.

The items were initially curated by production designer Gino Gonzales and writer Nick Tiongson. Since it’s a traveling exhibit, it has been staged almost a dozen times before in various venues, including gyms, municipal halls, and other campuses. As resident production designer of CCP, Eric Cruz is tasked to re-imagine the show depending on the venue’s size and configuration.

Architect Gerry Torres and costume designer Eric Pineda of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde know that there is little money in theater. That’s why they encourage their students to go multimedia. But in keeping with Salvador Bernal’s exacting standards, they also remind students ‘pwede na’ won’t do in whatever field they choose to work in.

Architect Gerry Torres and costume designer Eric Pineda of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde know that there is little money in theater. That’s why they encourage their students to go multimedia. But in keeping with Salvador Bernal’s exacting standards, they also remind students ‘pwede na’ won’t do in whatever field they choose to work in.

In SDA’s case, Cruz designed the show like a maze composed of black walls and strategic lighting. Bernal’s body of work, which occupies majority of the available space, leads to a glass-encased sub-gallery featuring costumes designed by the school’s Production Design students inspired by real and fictional historical characters, including Doña Victorina, Marie Atoinette, Cosette, Lady Fidget, Mary Stewart, John the Cappadocian, and Aida.

Come Nov. 15, a new batch of students will have a chance to display their costumes inspired this time by characters in such fantasy productions as Little Mermaid and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some costumes will come with LED lights and are inspired by items worn by characters in cosplay.

Bernal’s costumes for Sa Bunganga ng Pating and Realizing Rama

Bernal’s costumes for Sa Bunganga ng Pating and Realizing Rama

“Eric (Cruz) highlighted around 20 of Bernal’s costumes,” said Torres. “His framed sketches dating back to his student days are also on display.” Dubbed as the “Father of Theater Design in the Philippines,” Bernal, who also dabbled in poetry, ironically enough, didn’t take up Fine Arts or Fashion Design in college. Instead, he finished AB English and Philosophy at Ateneo de Manila University.

“But when Bernal was studying, one of his mentors in Design and Theater was no less than the late great actor, director, and writer Rolando Tinio,” said Pineda. “They represent an unbroken line of brilliance. It also reinforces my belief that to be a designer, you have to be a renaissance man. You can’t just focus on design. You have to be interested in all aspects of design, which means being interested in life and the world itself.”

Scale model of Bernal’s set design for Dalagang Bukid, one of several set designs featured in the exhibit

Scale model of Bernal’s set design for Dalagang Bukid, one of several set designs featured in the exhibit

It wasn’t lost on Torres, director of SDA’s center for campus art, that DLS-CSB is the only school in the country that offers a bachelor’s degree in Production Design. Like Gonzales and Cruz, Pineda, who has been teaching Production Design at SDA for 15 years now, was mentored by Bernal during his college days at the University of the Philippines.

“The exhibit is an ideal way for us to highlight our Production Design program,” Torres said. At the same time, he and Pineda want to inspire SDA’s current crop of Production Design students to excel, work hard, and dream big like Bernal. Through a video presentation, the exhibit also honors four of SDA’s past graduates who are now making waves in the Philippines and abroad. They are Pio Herras, Ecker de Guzman, Raven Ong, and Zard Eguia.

“It’s very significant that Badong was chosen as National Artist for Theater Design,” Torres added. “The development affirmed that production design is an art and discipline in itself. It’s not only a viable design practice with a future, but its practitioners also take pride in the long and rich tradition of production design in the Philippines.”

With his use of native materials because of budget limitations, Bernal’s costumes for Orosman at Zafira were groundbreaking for their time

With his use of native materials because of budget limitations, Bernal’s costumes for Orosman at Zafira were groundbreaking for their time

As a teacher, Pineda cites Bernal’s mastery of literature as one of his strengths. That’s why he never tires of reminding members of today’s digital, Google-dependent generation of the need to read Shakespeare and other classic literary works beyond their on-line synopses. How can you design the right costume, say, for Lady Macbeth or King Lear if you’re not familiar with the Bard’s works?

“As a production designer, the actual unabridged material will give you a deeper insight on certain characters,” said Pineda. “In a lot of the classical plays, the material itself will tell you what some of the main characters are wearing.”

Pineda doesn’t begrudge today’s kids for using technology in their research. After all, he said, they’re products of their time. But they should learn to integrate technology with a genuine sense of curiosity and desire to go beyond what’s in front of them. They must not be a slave to technology, he said. Instead, they should let technology serve them.

“Badong: Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage” is ongoing until Dec.17 at the De La Salle-Collge of St. Benilde’s SDA building, Pablo Ocampo  Street, Manila.