The Pinoy dancer, an endangered species Tats Rejante Manahan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines - At a recent fundraiser for Ballet Philippines, board member Joey Soriano addressed the CCP Little Theater audience, composed of patronas de las bellas artes dressed in full Latin fluff, in step with the evening’s “Latin Heat” theme, the end-of-season offering of the ballet company.

Many in the audience were members of Friends of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, all present to wholeheartedly contribute to the terminally ailing funds of Ballet Philippines.

Soriano’s impassioned speech elegantly articulated the oft-lamented fact that art and culture in this country had been put in the bin, and if one equated our souls to our culture, then we were on death row.

He went on to say that if many were moved to support the arts, then the phrase “starving artist” could be deleted from our vocabulary. His was the kind of speech we are all too familiar with. And yet…

The dwindling dance coffers are at an all-time low. And because more and more young gifted would-be dancers are turning their backs on dance-as-art to take up more financially viable work, the trained dancer is slowly becoming an endangered species.

Pity, because Filipinos have a natural God-given talent for dance that needs to be harnessed and disciplined. Otherwise, the natural dance ability becomes a danger unto itself.

Given the Pinoy’s scratch-and-sniff attitude to anything that comes easy can translate to a more sordid dance form which choreographer Douglas Nierras refers to as giling-giling.

He expounds that because audiences are not exposed to the refined version of dance, they are left with no other option than to accept what is fed on lunchtime shows.

“If you notice, the ‘network dance’ audience is bereft of options as to what kind of dance, or art even, they can experience,” Nierras said. “There are street versions of hip-hop (not even the genuine one) and sexy dances loosely disguised as ‘modern sultry jazz’ (Heaven forbid there is such a category!).”

In recent years, dancers who slugged it out on the meager paychecks dance companies could offer, finally gave in to the call of higher pay even if it meant eschewing the lofty ideals of dance-as-art.

Retired dancers who experienced the heyday of dance, like Cecile Sicangco Ibarolla, former BP principal dancer, notices that while talents abound, “the lack of venue to explore their craft has become a major problem.

As a result, we lose trained dancers to better-paying jobs like Disneyland Hong Kong, even if the jobs entails they becoming mascots or dancers in a Disney parade.”

Greener pastures

Historically, principal dancers left the companies for better reasons; not so much for financial ones, but for better training or because they had passed auditions in a foreign company.

We sadly saw the departures of sterling performers such as Franklin Bobadilla, Rey Dizon, Manny Molina, Bam Damian, Rebecca Rodriguez, Marybeth Roxas, Tina and Cecile Santos, and even Maniya Barredo, the Philippines’ one and only prima ballerina.

When the above would make their homecoming performances, balletomanes and dance aficionados would wildly applaud the performances. How can this now be possible when we cannot even see the anonymous dancer behind the mascot’s mask or, worse, applaud the zebra?

Sicangco said: “Gone are the days when people would watch a dance performance because so-and-so is dancing… Dance as a performing art is like poetry and each movement is a word. A dance disappears as you see it. Without our trained dancers staying with us to dance on our stage, dance disappears altogether.”

Twenty-eight years ago, a group of us made an attempt to bring the discipline of rigorous dance training into the commercial stage: daily classes, five-hour daily rehearsals, occasional workshops.

Two other groups of trained dancers followed, and it was a peaceful coexistence because we felt we were making a difference.

Looking back, it is safe to say that we succeeded somewhat for a time, and though the name of the group still exists today, I am not so sure that the ideals under which the old group was formed are shared by the present members. They cannot be faulted for it, because these days, the art is left to support itself.

The revered dancer and choreographer, Martha Graham, who at the start was not exempt from financial woes, declared that, as a dancer, “one becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire.”

And so may these present obstacles be overcome. Hopefully.

The author is a decorative artist and surface designer. She was a writer and director for television, and an independent documentary maker. She is board member of the Manila Metropolis Ballet; founding member and business manager of Hotlegs; and founding board member of Fundacion Centro Flamenco. She has done production design for Ballet Philippines.

Post a Comment


Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Theme images by graphixel. Powered by Blogger.