Thursday, September 6, 2018 2018; Creatures Vs Caricatures

Two years ago, I witnessed the 10th year anniversary of the WIFI which originally was a multi-faceted festival celebrating contemporary dance. In 2016 it was a simplified and straightforward competition that left me in awe. Despite the fact that it did not have its usual frills, it achieved its original purpose which was to broaden the concept of contemporary. The vocabulary was expansive and the articulation varied. I was ecstatic that the template of the previous seasons were blurred allowing audiences to see what contemporary really means. It was a collectively strong representation of the genre. While so many dance icons have defined contemporary dance, the common denominator is that it is an art that is not contained in a particular shape, theme or medium. At the same time, dance is still an exploration of movement. In the past, I would be disappointed that people replaced the action word with bad acting or even worse something that served only as shock factor. Last season's showing was  a fitting representation of how far the Philippines has come.

That being said, I had high hopes for this season's new breed of young choreographers.I was eager to find out if the momentum was sustained. Thankfully, I had my fill of good performances from both the competitors and the previous winners. Honestly I did not love everything I saw.  There were still a few remnants of the past. However the point of WIFI is not to please audiences like me (It is impossible to please everyone anyway.) The point of WIFI is for contemporary thought to prevail. In this sense, this season just like the previous one moved a step forward. In this year's WIFI, the range of movement or technique for that matter was generally lacking but the conceptual approach of all the choreographers were very impressive. The story telling was not generic. The nuances of the pieces created space for audiences to have fun interpreting the pieces in accordance to their own set of beliefs. In a nutshell, the pieces were alive colored with meticulously planned emotions and references that audiences can relate to. The standard has been set.

Winning the top prize of this year's competition is Raul "Buboy" Raquitico Jr. His piece "Transacting Comfort" was indeed superior to all the other intelligent pieces. He explored the concept of materialism as an addiction and distracting social phenomenon. He himself performed the "body" with dancer Jan Lloyd Celecio as the measure of comfort. Raquitico appeared in the corner with his bare body hunched over. Celecio who was in black  in static movements moved towards him revealing a tape measure. In a gentle pas de deux exchange they measured each other. Celecio initiating and Raquitico responding. Celecio dressed Raquitico with a skirt but instinctively Raquitico rejected it. Eventually he obliged and wore the skirt until they danced together with the same  breath. Raquitico acclimatized with the presence of Celecio just like a person relies on temporary comforts. He leaned on him, hovered over him, was lifted by him as if he was as necessary as air. However in the end of the piece he returned to being himself, looking at his comforts as a complex creation that was completely unnecessary. He looked at  Celecio, his self created monster with the measurements that he thought were sound. In the end, he allowed himself to walk away and Celecio wrapped in tape measure stood there stoically as if his life was thinning out. In solid dramatics, the light dimmed and the tape measure unraveled out of his body with a shrieking sound dancing with the light until complete darkness came. Worthy of recognition was how Raquitico translated such an internal complex concept of mental duality into something very easy understand. The strategic use of props was a winning idea. His calm fluid combinations were  very appropriate in depicting his  train of thought. Also noteworthy is his use of space.  His patterns allowed the audience to  really understand the concept of measuring comfort. "Transacting Comfort" was inventive, powerful and engaging.

Second place was won by Jovie Ann Domingo for her piece "Walk Without Pain". Panel judge Tatsuro Ishii said it best when he described this piece as more of a theatrical unfolding rather than a dance performance. He mentioned that the strength of this piece was that it was communicative and emotive. Domingo explored the concept of death with the image of a loved one lingering even as time passed by. In the performance it was unclear to me who was dead and who was alive as they stepped in and out of their respective realms. Dancer Beauty Balaga was in a chair and  Ralph Malaque sat in a table. Both executed corporeal movements imitating an unremarkable day made remarkable by lingering memories. They eventually gravitated  in the same space and they performed a struggle to let go.

Third place went to "Namoka" a piece created by Sasa Cabalquinto. In the program it says  it is an exploration of  the individual self. The choreographer performed it herself. She appeared  dressed in layers and would play out a different emotion as she  took off layers of her costume. While her piece very clearly states it is about a single individual, my take of the piece is a bit different. I would have to refer to the iconic answer of Ms. Universe Sushmita Sen, "Just being a woman is God's gift that all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, and is a woman. She shows a man what sharing, caring and loving is all about. That is the essence of a woman.". In blunt imagery  the piece depicted the different roles that women in the world have had to take. In sections of her piece she is seen lost, suffering, wanting, crying. In the more powerful moments when she starts undressing, she shows the image of a nurturing mother. She ends the piece with undressed but commanding. The piece to me is about empowered women.

With the competition ending, the festival director Myra Beltran presented with pride the works of the previous season winners.She was hopeful that the  performances would show maturity and depth after all the gifts they have received as a result of their win two years ago.

Beauty Balaga's new piece "Opinion is like and Asshole Everyone Has It" was quite a departure from her previous choreography. In a monotonous manner,  the dancers came in and followed a straight line  opening their mouths as if they were receiving communion  or giving confession to a cult pastor in an unthinking manner. They congregated and sat in chairs where they moved in unison as a one body. A girl entered  and spoke in sign language and everybody started talking randomly about her.  She went  to them and was  moved by the people without touching her. When she finally ascended they followed her moving around her as she stepped in and out of a chair. Nobody really bothered to save her from falling.  At the end of the piece the girl spoke in sign language again but this time beside a girl with red balloons. The balloons burst one by one. Each time it did, a cult member fell down. At the end, the girl left with immobile  bodies on the floor. To be honest I thought that the piece would have been more powerful with more technique in the execution. The dancers made up however with a very soulful theatrical interpretation. The storyline was all to too relatable. It clearly explained the indifference of people to  the adverse of effect of not sincerely caring about issues.  It was a very cutting emphasis that people care more about the story than the person.The girl was speaking in sign language, nobody understood it but dancers articulated their judgement. She went about them and they followed her story but nobody lifted a finger in actually being there for her. They actually let her fall. They just all reveled in their opinions. What was important was that they were spectators of a story. In the end the balloons signified  that opinions have the capacity to hurt one or more individuals if they are not shaped with the right intentions. Balaga's approach to choreography has definitely evolved. Clearly, she is now more motivated into incorporating communal interaction rather than a straightforward delivery. I view it positively because her point of view is expanding. 

Christopher Chan presented "H2 +1". He showed off his signature movement combining held yogic poses and calculated breaths and explosive dramatics. He incorporated a mix of foreign chatter which I'm sure is a thread of poetic thought. While I appreciated the performance greatly for his abilities I honestly did not understand any of it. I do not discount the art but I did want something new from him.

Michael Barry Que's piece is one that I would like to see in a bigger stage. I have to make mention that his casting was quite strategic with some of the best contemporary dancers casted. The mesh of dance experience and innovative spirit was a good mix, something old and something new. Que's set consisted of a clothes line with hangers with black suits. A dancers wears the suit and a few more follow. With much intensity they form an ensemble who dance fiercely  interacting in pairs, in groups and sometimes in dancing in quick solitary moments. Together they dance the life of adults. Adulting forces them to contain their individuality in favor of responsibility complying with the demands of society. The hangers remained in the set as a constant reminder  that they must be clothed with responsibility. At a certain point all of the dancers take out one by one their black coats except for soloist Al Garcia They remained colorless in white. Garcia is then thrust into a web of white with everyone threading their arms and legs  creating a webs of beautiful images. Garcia's coat is discarded but continues to dance but he does so with limited freedom. He conforms to the white movement. For me the message of the piece was brilliantly delivered  with a series of  rich memorable imagery. Clear as day was the depiction of how adulting dulls lives with the requirement to conform, deliver and succeed. Adulting doesn't end with what society expects, that is just one layer of expectations. Even in your intimate lives there will be other layers demanding  a person to conform, deliver and succeed. Perhaps it could come from family, friends, mentors. What is nice about this piece is that it doesn't force a conclusion. It doesn't necessarily portray the extremes of happiness or angst instead it delivers the state of being.  For me as an audience, it allowed me to commiserate and I guess think about my own layers. I believe Que is on the verge of unraveling his own layers.

The WIFI Body Competition was meant to be a platform to explore thought and movement in a contemporary manner. The noticeable shift of perspective from creating caricatures to representing actual creatures of God is such a big step forward. The growth of the previous winners is also a big contribution to the dance world. In closing, I encourage all creators to revel in this step forward. Opportunities like the Wifi should be more than just a stepping stone. It should be  a moment that helps you decide whether you are an artist or not. The dance world can be cruel. Obstacles and noise will always be there to pull you back. The lack of equal opportunities is also very discouraging. Not everyone will like the works as well. I can only hope that breakthroughs like this remind  the artists that to be able to create is a gift in itself. To be able to better yourself is a blessing. But the ultimate reward would be to share it with another human being filling them with a chance to think, imagine and be captivated for a moment in time. May the fight for art be won everyday.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Battle or Celebration of the Mixed Bill Program

Season of Flight Choreographed by Norman Walker
Photo by Jojo Mamangun 

Ballet Manila and Ballet Philippines will be sharing this weekend as they open their ballet seasons. Both will be presenting mixed bill programs that commemorate their past. It's a joint throwback.

Iconic 2.0 is the second installation of their iconic trip to memory lane. Featured are the works of local choreographers such as Gerardo Francisco (Ibong Adarna), Osias  Barosso (Ecole), Eric Cruz (Carmen), Lisa Macuja (Fur Elise) and Bam Damian III (El Adwa). Included in the program are the contributions of Martin Lawrence and Simon Hoy. Except for a few, these are major pieces that are familiar to the ballet community because they are often performed by the company. However what would be interesting to see is the debut of the new cast assuming the lead spots in these pieces. Take for example Jasmine Pia Dames performing in Bam Damian's El Adwa and Abigail Oliveiro performing Eric Cruz's Carmen. It's a reintroduction of who the new front liners are for the Company. It is a baptism of sorts that makes me giddy.

Abigail Oliveiro in Eric Cruz' Carmen
Photo by Gnie Arambulo 

Jasmine Pia Dames in El Adwa 

Ballet Philippines on the other hand continues their grand retrospective leading up to their golden anniversary. With the exception of one new piece "Sama Sama" by up and coming choreographer Ronelson Yadao, their season opener is a collection of pieces from the 1970s to early 1980s. Featured choreographers include Brando Miranda (Vivaldi Concerto), Norman Walker (Seasons of Flight) and of course National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes (Carmina Burana). These pieces are quite new to the eye for the newer generations. It is in a way a tribute to neo-classicism as they generally explore the ballet vocabulary in a stylized manner of story telling. Another good reason to watch this show is to see how the Company will utilize their fresh delivery of dancers. Joining the Company this season is Stephanie Santiago, AL Abraham and Earl John Arisola. Santiago is a homegrown talent of ACTS Manila who recently finished her schooling in Joffrey Ballet. AL Abraham is a skilled contemporary artist from UP Dance Company. Earl Arisola was a former soloist for the Company. It's interesting to see how they will contribute to Ballet Philippines' movement.

Carmina Burana
Photo by Jojo Mamangun 

With such a mix of pieces, surely there will be one that audiences will love. There will always be a reason to go to the theater and see our local ballet companies perform. Take your pick or watch both and come home with the satisfaction that you have been part of their journey. See you at the theatre.