Thursday, January 5, 2017

Artist Feature: Al Bernard Garcia


For a class I took, we were given the opportunity to explore any topic related to understanding the relationship between art and culture. After having finished all the previous requirements and doing my own research and looking at my own materials, I was quite sure that I wanted to explore transnational art. I am fully aware that transnational art is too wide a spectrum to discuss in one blow. After all it has been interpreted in so many ways by so many art academe professionals here and abroad. And so I narrowed down the study. I was drawn to the concept of art (and the artist) defining a nation's identity. I narrowed it down even more by concentrating on art that reflects specific cultural attributes like values and traditions. Quite recently I was floored after having seen a perfect example of this. I was thoroughly impressed and so I decided he was a perfect fit to be my resource speaker. Below is the link of my interview with Al Bernard Garcia. It includes snippets of my personal research. Beyond the interview, I have chosen to include snippets of a research I personally conducted on the Philippine Dance Contemporary platform in MANILA covering 2016 output performed in one of the most reputable (if not the most) cultural institution in the Philippines to add context to the conversation. It also includes a summary of the output of the three major ballet companies in the Philippines. All research references and resource persons were included in the acknowledgements to give full credit.

Al Bernard Garcia has a calming effect on people. His soft voice and dark brooding eyes make you think that the words that come out of his mouth are truthful. Quite an unassuming guy, he spoke intently about his journey as an artist. The dance world being too small for comfort in the Philippines, I have been given several opportunities to speak to him about dance and art appreciation. I have also seen him perform and seen his pieces. I already knew he was a serious and passionate artist. But only because of the time we spent doing the interview did I understand why he has become this way. As a young boy, art touched his soul and left its mark and so now it has become his language.
In grade school, he was part of the Leyte Dance Theatre which introduced to him folk dance. Encouraged by his joyful experience as a dancer he gave Philippine High School for the Arts a try. Al specialized in Folk Dance and finished with an Outstanding Artist Award and the Maria Scholarship. In the absence of any other course related to his specialization he enrolled in the University of the Philippines and took the dance course. It was then that he was exposed to several dance genres and his vocabulary of movement grew overtime. He fell in love with dance. As he progressed in his technique, he developed a love for creating movement. But seeing more of dance never diminished his appreciation for his roots which is folk life. In contrast, it empowered him and allowed him to creatively open up to possibilities. In fact he revisited folk dance when he created his thesis Sulog sa Kinabuhi ( It was a dance drama inspired by the Subanen Tribe. The completion of this ambitous project was a pivotal moment that intensified his passion for choreography. It was the discovery that you could produce something new using something old that comforted him.


His journey as a choreographer is a beautiful one because at a young age he has had the chance to learn from both local and international artists. Enriched by opportunities to create works of art and opportunities to witness art within the dance community developed his choreographic skill. Last September, he earned a spot in Ballet Philippines' "Bagong Sayaw". His latest creation which we discussed heavily in the videoclip is his first major work for a ballet company, performed in no less than a respective cultural institution. When asked why  he chose a theme so intrinsically Filipino and far from the So You Think You Can Dance genre so popularly loved, his answer was clear. It was his first major body of work and he felt that he needed to share with his audience something that he felt was close to him. In his resolve not to show anything underdeveloped he went back to his roots and found his voice where he started. He took another look at his thesis and research on Filipino Tribes and ethnic culture and decided to take another shot at creating something  Filipino. This time his intention was more solid. So what was his intention? In his own words he says, "I want to show the audience that our roots should never be forgotten. Our heritage should no longer be looked at as museum pieces that cannot be touched or experienced. I want to show that new art can humanize and contextualize our Filipino roots. My work is a reminder  of the richness of our heritage. I don't intend to recreate tradition but I want to create works that are strangely  familiar yet new. I want to create curiosity about our roots.".  And so it seems to me that what started as an interest in folk dance has became a personal  advocacy in favor of the Filipino.

His words stayed with me. Strangely familiar yet new. It was a simple goal but it struck me hard. He has reenacted his educated consciousness in progressing pattern with his body of work but he remains at the end of the day steadfast in illuminating "The Traditional Filipino"  with new pieces. In his twenties, he is a sparkling example that one can stay true to being Filipino despite Global influence in technique, taste and education. He remains humbly  grounded to his journey but intent in approaching the future.

While Al shies away from labels, I believe to a certain degree that he is on his way to becoming a nationalistic artist. It comforts me to know that somewhere along the way, there were teachers and choreographers who were able to plant the seeds of inspiration in him. Truly he is proudly wearing his Filipino colors.