At its core, it revolves around the Imaos family—a real-life Tausug lineage. Their patriarch, Abdulmari, would ultimately ascend to the exalted status of a National Artist for Visual Arts in the year 2006. His spouse, Grace, embodies self-assuredness, fearlessly articulating her convictions with unwavering resolve. In the backdrop, their progeny, Toym, emerges as a luminary in the realms of sculpting and painting, carving out a legacy of his own.
The magnetic pull of the Imaos saga draws us inexorably. Yet, the theatrical spectacle doesn’t content itself with this singular narrative strand. It weaves an intricate tapestry, interlacing two additional narratives that meld seamlessly with the Imaos’ historical tapestry. One narrative thread unveils “Anak Datu,” a succinct short story penned by Abdulmari himself—an anecdote that breathes life into the existence of a village chieftain’s offspring within the pre-colonial backdrop of the Sulu Archipelago. The other narrative offers a glimpse into the arduous tribulations endured by the Tausug populace in Mindanao—a crucible that catalyzed the inception of the Muslim resistance movement.
Though these narratives may appear disparate on the surface, the artistic architects behind “Anak Datu” masterfully intertwine these strands into an intricate mosaic, thus birthing a narrative opus that resonates with profound beauty and emotional resonance, serving as a poignant mirror to the Philippines’ historical trajectory.
As the narrative unfolds onstage, the actors infuse it with a nuanced blend of grace and fervor. Carlos Dala, donning the dual roles of Toym and the youthful Karim, exudes childlike wonder, straddling the line between innocence and enlightenment. Paul Jake Paule and Antonette Go, embodying the elder Imaos personas, channel an immersive level of conviction into their characters, navigating the intricate pathways of motivation.
A resplendent star in this theatrical constellation is Gie Onida, breathing life into the character of Jibin Arula—the lone survivor of the harrowing Jabidah Massacre in the fateful year of 1968. While Jibin’s role primarily assumes the mantle of a narrator, Onida injects it with palpable gravitas and emotional depth. Notably, the ensemble enriches the narrative by sharing their own poignant tales from this tumultuous era, collectively wrenching at the heartstrings of the audience.
In the segment dedicated to the short story “Anak Datu,” the choreography is a vibrant tapestry of delight. Rooted in folklore, it relies heavily on the fluid language of song and dance to convey its essence. Marawi-based Hassanain Magarang, doubling as the choreographer and Datu Karim, crafts sequences that pay homage to the evocative Tausug pangalay dance, evoking a mesmerizing sense of awe. Act one crescendos into an enchanting moment as Lhorvie Nuevo-Tadioan, portraying Putli Loling, exits the stage, gracefully elevated on bamboo poles, an act of sheer enchantment. It is worth noting that her recognition as the Best Featured Actress at last year’s Aliw Awards came without the need for spoken lines.
Tex Ordoñez-de Leon lends context with her mellifluous singing as the “tagapagsalaysay ni Putli Loling.” This auditory tapestry harmonizes beautifully with the melodies and chants inspired by the vibrant cultural landscape of Southern Philippines, expertly curated by composer and music director Chino Toledo.
The opulence of this production extends beyond the performances to embrace the opulent realms of costume and set design, meticulously crafted by Carlo Villafuerte Pagunaling and Toym Imao—yes, the very character from one of the stories within “Anak Datu.” Their work emerges as a sumptuous visual feast, meticulously recreating the sartorial splendor of pre-colonial Filipino attire. The tableau at the denouement of the performance stands as a testament to their artistic prowess—a tableau that transcends mere spectacle and blossoms into a resplendent tapestry of beauty.
Inevitably, “Anak Datu” finds itself under the stewardship of heavyweights within the artistic realm. The narrative, penned by Rody Vera—a revered name within the hallowed halls of the Palanca Award Hall of Fame—resonates with intellectual depth and emotional resonance. Steering the ship is director Chris Millado, renowned for his triumphant forays into productions like “Mabining Mandirigma” and “Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Musikal.” And, lest we forget, the very source material of “Anak Datu” springs from the creative well of a National Artist.
To label “Anak Datu” as a mere theatrical production would be an injustice. It serves as a vital pilgrimage for any discerning spectator, an odyssey that explores the profound undercurrents of identity, heritage, and the enduring quest for peace. In an era where these themes continue to reverberate with undeniable relevance, “Anak Datu” emerges as a radiant beacon, artistry that transcends the visual and resonates deep within the soul.”