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BASILIO ESTEBAN S. VILLARUZ

        In 1898, the United States colonized the Philippines. Contributory to the people’s eventual surrender was an  ongoing armed struggle against Spain. 

       Inevitably, the Americans’ entry into the country brought with it their cosmopolitan and commercial culture. Their Black-influenced music and dances appealed to the terpsichorean bent of the Filipinos. Already schooled in the zarzuela, they found fascination in the vaudeville (later called the stage-show) which is a mix of the theatrical, minstrel and circus acts that attracted both the elite and the masses.

       The cakewalk, buck-and-wing, skirt-dance, clog, tap and soft-shoe were performed in the zarzuelatheaters, later with the cinema shows. Social dances also became part of the repertoire on stage, such as the Charleston, foxtrot, big apple, one-step, slow-drag, the Latin-influenced tango, rumba, samba, mambo and cha-cha.

       John Cowper was called “dean of Philippine vaudeville,” and with him came other American and European artists. Later the Filipinos took charge by organizing their own troupes, such as those of the Salvadors, the Roques, Sammy Rodriguez, Lamberto Avellana, Jose Climaco, Ramon Estrella, Jose Generoso and Fernando Poe. Bayani Casimiro and Nieves Manuel were call the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of the Philippines. A noted Portuguese dancer-impresario from the Spanish times, Don Jose Zarah, carried on into the ’60s at the Clover Theater.

       With improved transportation, the Philippines became part of the big international circuit. Filipinos increasingly experienced the ballet. In 1901, the Lilliputians graced the Zorilla with “ballet girls”. The Japanese Infantile Company brought a “Japanese ballet” to Teatro Oriental. In 1902, the Baroufski Imperial Russian Circus advertised 25 “ballet beauties” in a “mammoth production.”

       In 1915 and 1916, Paul Nijinsky danced at the Manila Hotel with costumes attributed to Leon Bakst, Diaghilev’s designer. In 1922 Anna Pavlova graced the Manila Grand Opera House, prodding local girls to study ballet. Among these was Anita Kane (later teacher of Felicitas “Tita” Radaic and Ester Rimpos) who trained with Katrina Makarova, a Russian refugee. Others were Mara Selheim, Carmen McLeod and, and the most important, Madame Lubov “Luva” Adameit.

      Supposedly a dancer of Pavlova and coming in 1927, Adameit trained the first noted choreographers of Manila: National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco, Remedios “Totoy” de Oteyza, Rosalia Merino Santos, etc. It was she who planted the germ of native inspiration with her Cariñosa and Planting Rice on pointes.

       In 1939 Kane staged Mariang Makiling with composer Ramon Tapales. She later followed this with more Philippine-inspired ballets together with the ballet classics. In 1941 Orosa Goquingco staged Trend: Return to Native, seminal of her other Filipino ballets. In 1961, she topped these with Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance that toured the globe. Much later, Merino Santos turned to modern dance, founded the Far Eastern University Modern Experimental Dance Troupe, and directed the FEU Folk Dance Group that stirred up Europe as much as the Bayanihan did in the ’50s. Oteyza choreographed abstract ballets allied to musical forms of Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Frank, Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel and the Filipino Rodolfo Cornejo.

       Modern dance began in the vaudeville circuit. At the Zorilla, Ada Delroy Danced The Fire of Life that seemed inspired by Loie Fuller, an American like Isadora Duncan who found fame in Europe. In 1926, the Denishawn company of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn danced at the MGOH in its two-year Oriental tour. In 1932, Austrian Kaethe Hauser introduced ausdrukstanz. Her noted pupil was Manolo Rosado, a flamenco dancer, labeled  as the “poet of dance” in America. In 1937, another Austrian in Trudl Dubsky (a member of Gertrude Bodenwieser’s troupe) joined her groom, conductor Herbert Zipper, in Manila. She founded Manila Ballet Moderne where many Filipinos apprenticed themselves. She choreographed in the Western idiom, and performed at the Manila Metropolitan Theater. Later she directed operas including Carmen in Tagalog.

       Manila was heavily devastated during the World War II. The Zippers wanted to build a new arts center by raising funds in the United States. This was not to be. But into the ’60s, they periodically visited to stage ballets, operas and concerts of the Manila Symphony Orchestra (MSO), the first Western ensemble in Asia. The MSO accompanied many dance performances and its support society defrayed a few expenses.

       The American influence continued into the years long after the country’s independence from USA in 1946.

About the Author:
Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz is a former English instructor at the University of the Philippines who danced with Modern Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines), Hariraya Ballet Company, involving himself much later with Dance Theater Philippines as its balletmaster, choreographer and then artistic director. His recent choreographic works include: “Ritual Bonds”, “Oriental Fantasy”, “Ay Kalisud” (1990); and “Spiritual Canticle: An Eclogue-Operatorio” (1991). He is the Artistic Director of the University of the Philippines Dance Company.