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March 15, 2004

BASILIO ESTEBAN S. VILLARUZ

Singularity of purpose breaks out in singular steps in dance.

A woman does just that in a small, marginal space on West Avenue with her Dance Forum. Its three imaginary walls open to a backyard. A row of small shops keeps noise and pollution out. You have to be a dance habitue to know this “secret” corner in Quezon City. It has spawned fresh and forceful initiatives in the choreographic art.

After working closely with Enrico Labayen until his departure for San Francisco, where he won the Isadora Duncan choreographic award, Myra Beltran continued experimenting. She also kept Labayen loyalists and freelancers busy with serious works ignored by escapist balletomanes.

She had had enough of ballet with Dance Concert Company and Ballet Philippines (BP), with state companies in Germany and old Yugoslavia, and had to find her true form. For a time her pieces looked flat in presentational staging. Now confined to her open box, she has discovered space in its multifaceted directions, volumes and immediacy.

Beltran’s works, ranging from solos to quartets, have found scope in choreography and content. Even her redundancies have poetic ends. Often she also recites verses with disarming honesty, as in her story of a “Star Maiden.” A feminist but not the virago kind, she explores the beliefs and fears of women with constant daring.

In 2000, Beltran did “Unbearable Lightness,” “Daughters of Necessity” and for Philippine Ballet Theater (PBT) “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1.” Like her dreamlike, Hopkins-inspired work, she again dwelt on the relational strength of women. The extended solo “Lightness” bared the interstices of her feelings with articulate and concentrated eloquence. “Daughters” captured a Lorca-like bonding in echoed actions. The same minimalist layering, with Neruda’s thoughts, emphasized shared intuitive strengths in “Bachianas.” Women in black clustered and scattered to embody empathy, courage, and even vulnerability.

With Mylene Saldana and Christine Maranan, Beltran also revived excerpted solos from Alice and Denisa Reyes and Corazon Iñigo in “Bungkos Suite,” “One-ton Pinay” and “Sisa.”

The chance to do these dances was missed by Ballet Philippines in its 30th anniversary. Except for the rewarding revival of “Amada” (not performed for years), and a wacky and wily melodrama in “Gaano Kadalas” by Tony Fabella, BP’s year was quite forgettable.

The demonstration “Story of Dance” was reductive (as academic thesis it had nothing to prove). The much-bruited “Firewaterwoman” failed its own challenge and lapsed in several aspects of production. Impressive as the designs by Salvador Bernal and the acting of Carla Martinez and Bodjie Pascua were, the totality did not fire up or inundate our imagination. From the start, it betrayed the strands to be predictably tied together and the value touted was very middle-class. Thirty minutes of Reyes’ “Amada” could erase the long musical play from BP and Musical Theater Philippines. Moreover, the unresourceful music was so American in many parts.

Before the year ended, BP gained praise when certain members won at an international competition in Paris, namely Georgette Sanchez (second place) and Sonny Locsin (special prize).

The future of Philippine ballet lies in its young choreographers and dancers. BP alumni Stanley Canete and Gerald Mercado were hosted with Beltran in PBT, with Mercado showing depth. Philippine High School for the Arts and University of the Philippines alumni Ronilo Jaynario and Flordeliza Fernandez are up-and-coming. Jaynario choreographed for Nicanor Tiongson’s “Sulyap kay Gatlaya,” while Fernandez has been co-directing the UP Dance Company. Her short works are well-focused, intricate, sometimes assertive. An extended work with composer Joy Marfil (on Sisa, Salome and Maria Clara) is an awaited challenge.

Theater director Paul Morales should do more dances. Last year his take-off on “Anna Karenina” was cleverly put together and smashingly intriguing. His movements for Nick Pichay’s “Bilog” added complexity and fugal coherence to the play.

Ballet Manila (BM) guarantees well-schooled and beautiful dancers. Its young corps sets off the senior Lisa Macuja, Melanie Motus and Osias Barroso. Year 2000 gave rewarding opportunities to soloists Elline Damian, Aileen Gallinera, Pamela Asprer, Sandra Lynn Huang, Christopher Mohnani, Eduardo and Jeffrey Espejo.

They distinguished themselves in “The Naughty Daughter” (La Fille Mal Gardee), “Dracula” and “Firebird.” Even if the first two were enjoyable, only the last was really notable. Jean Paul Comelin and designer Inga Borg wed East and West in “Firebird” in archetypal goddesses-women (our Ibong Adarna partly suggested) and in the social-spiritual journey of a shaman (Barroso in a dynamic portrayal) that at the end revived his people. The result was a resonant, complex thematic and choreographic weave.

While in the Visayas, I noted initiatives from Kaanyag Pilipinas Dance Company of West Negros College, TAPAS (Tourism and Performing Arts Society) of Rene Hofileña, Kasadyahan Dance Company, and Dance Fest 2000 led by Rene Hinojales, all of Bacolod. Bago City has Akasya Dance Ensemble. Aside from Dagyaw and established school groups, Iloilo now has Sari-Sayaw at Central Philippine University, the groups of Edwin Duero (now on his own), Faith Javellana and Nila Clavarall Gonzalez. The last organized an International Dance Festival and the NCCA Dance Committee’s national conference there in April.

From NCCA’s Sandiwaan productions, I saw total theater in Mindanao. “How the Women of Joaquin Met Lawanen” by Steven Fernandez for the Integrated Performing Arts Guild in Iligan was a deconstruction with choreography by Nolly Ceballos, while “Mindasilang: Converging Dreams for Peace” by Don Pagusara with Kaliwat of Davao was choreographed by Allan Hioca. Hioca’s work was notably demanding in agility.

Notable also were the debuts of Nonoy Froilan as Macbeth and Edna Vida as Lady Macbeth in a tantalizing staging of the Shakespearean tragedy by Cris Millado. On video-film, the two also brought out the dancing facets of critic Marge Enriquez in “The Tao” (The Way).

Most consistent in performance quality was Douglas Nierras’ Powerdance. Its dancers have been outdancing senior and endowed companies. Always inventive, Nierras challenges his dancers to inspired heights. His earlier ensemble breathed as one, living dance on stage. The present group is just as strong, even charismatic, though not yet as cohesive.

Nierras reprised his prize-winning “Sayaw ng Puso at Kaluluwa” which had superb visual impact. The same was true with his Onassis competition entry “Metanoia” which had more sweep and scope but was diminished by predictable formal devices that undermined its unfolding. (Another Onassis entry was “Stillness in Motion” bypangalay exponent Ligaya Fernando Amilbangsa.) Choreographing for BP, Nierras’ “Bakit ang Pinoy ang Hilig-hilig sa Ballad” was an utter failure.

But by mid-year, he spun out high-impact works like “Bolbogan” with the riotously comic Monette Victoria, “Brown Sugar and Blue Velvet,” “Coroner’s Report,” cleverly juxtaposing science and art that put to shame Gener Caringal’s “Saga of a Coronary Man,” and “Love Chooses Us” with the marvelous Julie Alagde. The last was an overwhelming piece, plangent in emotion and invention.

I saw PBT’s “Tuklas” program that underlined the importance of original Filipino works, but I missed “Romeo and Juliet” by Thomas Pazik, a signature work made for our Maniya Barredo of Atlanta Ballet. Catching its “Don Quixote” in November, I appreciated the challenges it posed to lead dancers Maritoni Rufino, Guada de Leon, Katrina Santos, Cathy Lee, and noted especially the debuts of Katherine Sanchez, Kristin Dabao and Ronilo Jaynario, with Lucas Jacinto guesting. The staging by Ida Beltran Lucila had sweep that triumphed over the ballet’s stock steps and characters.

I also missed the tribute to Eric V. Cruz from Ballet Manila. Cruz’s real productivity dates back to Dance Concert Company with Vella Damian and PBT. He is all of choreographer, scenic and lighting designer, and director.

In folklore, the Bayanihan seemed to be getting into new grounds with dance director Ferdinand Jose. For a time, Jose was stuck in uninspired, under-crafted composing. In parts of “Bayanihan: Our Gift to the World”(quite pretentious a title) after its South American and European tour, Jose used folk steps and styles to construct what could be called ballets. But the dances do not pretend to be ballets. Rather, they seem to be responses to: “How do the folks do it?” Drawing from the Bagobo, Tiboli, Tausug and “ethniking” to jam with drums, agong and flute, Jose crafted coruscating sections that recalled Lucrecia Reyes Urtula’s “A Sound of Tambours.

To a lesser degree, Jose also succeeded with “Noche de Gala,” but the final “Quadrille de Oro” could only fascinate with Isabel Santos’ beautiful gowns. A danger is courted when subjects like headhunting and occupations are made to look facetious as obvious displays rather than as portrayals.

Also on tour of Europe was the UP Filipiniana Alumni Dance Troupe (with guests from UP Dance Company). As of this writing, Ramon Obusan still has to stage his post-Christmas show, even as I missed his mid-year major show.

Three foreign groups were outstanding. Ballet National de Marseille came for the “French Spring in Manila” festival. Memorable was Richard Wherlock’s “Stetl” (Ghetto, Refuge) about displaced people in the world, pulled here and there by their ties and anxieties. The feminist “Le Sacre du Printemps” of Stravinsky by choreographer Maryse Delente had formidable women led by director Marie Claude Pietralla. Under the unremitting eyes of a male icon, they marshalled their strength and beauty, only to be swallowed up by the icon’s mouth and properties.

Le Theater Talipot enthralled us with just four actors in “The Water Carriers.” They were profoundly primal and imagistic by speech, animal sounds, music, dance and suspenseful construction.

Welcomed in 2000 was the new local Dance Magazine. Hopefully it may bring about real discussions about dance, dancing bodies and the social body that is our stage for which dance is a metaphor. Much of that social body is now sick with deceptive performing—on and off stage.

In an interview, a noted writer-choreographer said that groups today seem to have no vision to guide them. Because of this, she feels that they cannot come out with impressive results.

Indeed, many artists now divide their time between legitimate work and what they call “racket” as part of “surviving.” But in the process they compromise their total work as artists. Might not the multiplicity of commitments that keeps them busy making money sidetrack them from their original vision, away from their dreams for which some had to defy parents and friends?

In dance where equipoise is a condition, this is dancing out of kilter, resulting in uneasy art and life. Perhaps that is why our dance scene has been spotty since we left the twentieth century.

Much of the ’90s had been insipid, with companies just carrying on (as if the record of years is a guarantee of artistry) without the true spirit of innovation or research on both traditional and contemporary life. From the ’50s, there was scholarly substance in the work of the Bayanihan, other folk groups and Leonor Orosa Goquingco, and the pioneering aspiration for professionalism from Hariraya Ballet, Dance Theater Philippines (DTP) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines Dance Company (later BP). Even Alice Reyes was carried up by this earlier bouyancy (BP grew out of DTP, UE and Bayanihan groups), until BP cornered the CCP and all the annual commissions. Agnes Locsin capitalized on the ethnic link, Denisa Reyes on her American experience.

But the responsibility of providing the guiding vision cannot rest on just one or two artists, unlike in the driven community of dance (both artists and audience) in an earlier time. BM’s pioneering streak for classical ballet and Nierras’ uplift of jazz to serious art are the parallels at present. For the most part, dance today does not really open our eyes and carry our hearts. Thus the marginalization of dance in our lives and our quest for the artists who would provide fresh artistic input and share with us their vision.