"To miss out on developing choreographers is to miss out on dance history. Often enough the maker is given secondary position and projection and the stellar dancer hogs the limelight. Should this remain so for long, the choreographic art itself gets encased and atrophied. It might be skillful and elegant but without the dashing waves of the new, it becomes smooth and sleek deadwood on the shore of dance history."
This insightful quote came from dance historian Steve Villaruz. If the choreographer's creative fleshing out of ideas and emotions is an after thought, then the audience misses out on conversations about life. Similarly, if nobody shows up at the theatre then the conversation is somewhat silenced. While choreographers seem to be powerful visionaries, an empty seat in that theatre can easily paralyze at a molecular level their to drive create new pieces. They are human after all. Finding opportunities to stage performances is already a challenge. Crafting something out of nothing is already emotionally draining. After that effort, it cannot be discounted that an empty seat can dim someone's spirit. It is not a certainty but it is a possibility. The less people watching means less people engaging, less people challenging the message, the aesthetic and the construct of the choreographers. What do you think happens when ideas are relayed like a whisper? Not everyone is strong enough to keep a dream afloat when there seems to be nobody listening (or watching). Hence I think platforms like the WIFI Body, Koryolab and Neo Filipino who provide opportunities of growth for choreographers should be fully supported no matter what. The tripartite progression not only highlights the choreographers' skill, they acknowledge their voices and push for broadening of audiences through various ways. These projects ensures that the skill of creating is harnessed and cared for. So I encourage those who see imperfections on its execution to see that gleaming redeeming factor. Perhaps, a non deserving choreographer chosen can come out better out of the exercise. Perhaps, someone who has entertained the concept of quitting, will be encouraged to create some more. Perhaps an underdog, can surprise people with something mind blowing. Anyway, a couple of hours in the theatre is never unrewarding. Dance while it is governed by social norms like politics, rules, massive followings will come out as a product of the human mind that surely will appeal to someone out there. Time spent will surely be worthwhile.
That being said, I made it to the theatre last August 24, 2019 in support of Koryo Lab where major players in contemporary dance were ably represented. Dingdong Selga, Michael Barry Que and Sarah Samaniego are alumni of UP Dance Company. Buboy Raquitico Jr. is currently dancing for Daloy Dance Company. Christopher Chan is from Airdance.
Buhay Pagasa (House of Hope)
Choreography by Dingdong Selga
Music: Matmos, Olafur Arnalds
Dingdong Selga's brand of emphatic choreography reminds me of "Humans of New York", a page that shares remarkable stories of people you've never met. The stories they share are shocking, tear jerking, offensive but at the end of the day their stories represent stark realities that nobody considers in their daily lives. In this edition of Koryolab, Selga's "Bahay Pag-Asa" shows the backstory of children who serve time in correctional facilities. There was nothing remarkable about his day-in-a-life story-line. It was moments of the day, thoughts of the day, laughs of the day but it was piercingly profound. Selga in his fifteen or so minute piece was able to discuss the irony that "Bahay Pag-asa" which translates to House of Hope robs children of a future. The piece began with three dancers cramped in to a cell. Struck with boredom the three engaged in sharing of corny jokes emphasizing the repetitiveness of their lives. Same, jokes, same people, same cell. The audience responded to their jokes and the shared laughter momentarily relieved their haplessness. It doesn't last long, because they are interrupted by imaginary caretakers who elicited fear and panic in them. It is at this point that Selga begins to unfold the harsh conditions that the children have to live with. They struggled to make it to the food line. They did hard labor, cleaning and scrubbing, They were silenced with brutality. All of which were done in stylized pedestrian movement with a predominant rhythm to it. The "children" in the harshest conditions thrived by sticking to each other like family. The were all going to be ok because they had each other. One of the dancers was told he had a visit from his mom. In a child like manner he looked into the darkness and waited patiently with eyes watching out for miracle. All of a sudden the solid upbeat vibe transcended into fluid melancholy. Kirby proceeded to perform a solo eliciting tears as he explored the human connection of motherly embrace and child's longing. While this is happening a pas de deux ensued at the background framed by the steel bars. The remaining two children looked enviously at what they didn't have, love. They only really had friendship, nothing else. When the solo is over, his solace was disrupted by his friends who reminded him that all good things (at least for them) come to an end. The three go back to their prickling life where all their rights are taken away from them. The child's right to education, the right to be safe, the right to play, the right to be heard, the right to have healthcare, the right to food and water all taken away supposedly to give them hope for a better future that seemingly will never exist. The message of this piece is achingly beautiful. It's a sad reminder of how adults have lost touch with the important things in favor of structure. The status quo provides no hope, but we can always change the status quo right?
What was beautiful about Selga's work was how he sensitively captured the plight of the condemned children. It seems he really took the time to step into their shoes and understand how it is to live a life without hope. As choreographer and director of his piece it was evident that he communicated this well to his dancers, Alexa Torte, Daniel Nagal and Kirby Terraza. All three dancers became colorful but broken souls. Their soulful interpretations had layers veering away from a mere comical performance. As a choreographer, Selga's brilliance is in the way he transforms the mundane actions into aesthetically beautiful movement. His work was far from pretentious or overbearing. It was not about him but about the children. HIs focus and pure mindset allowed the storytelling to become magical. Selga seems to have a preference for usage of props. In this piece he used the bench to transition and or introduce his mini vignettes. It was a person, it was a toilet, it was a bench and many more. The dancers handled the prop seamlessly and this says a lot about the preparations going into the show. Easily a crowd favorite, "Bahay Pag Asa" was a success in construction and in concept, social relevance and performance. Tears fell not just because of how emotional the piece but because a choreographer cared enough to tell this story.
Dos Mil Diecienueve Porsyento
Choreographed by Michael Barry Que
Video Projection: Aisha Polestico
This piece presented by Que is not a new piece. It already premiered in the WIFI Body as his graduation piece. I thought it was quite gracious of Que to explain that he stood by the decision of his mentors when they said "Instagram" (which was the piece that he worked on for KORYOLAB) was not appropriate as of the moment. However as an audience member who is interested in new works, I was extremely disappointed. Root word being KORYO standing in for choreography and LAB which means laboratory, I thought it was perfectly ok to fail at the experiment if that is what it meant to push the choreographer forward. Good and bad feedback is always valuable to the creators. I believe I echo some of his avid fans. That being said, I applaud Que for his utmost respect for this directors Myra Beltran and Denisa Reyes. While his new piece was not showcased, the presentation of his "Dos" was still beneficial to him as it reaffirmed his status as a choreographer. As he himself said, even if "INSTAGRAM" failed to make in onstage, the mentorship taught him all about the reality of deliverables.
The piece is about the blurring of identities as our fast paced world demands adults to be a clone of ideal individuals. I have already previously lauded this piece for its strong aesthetics. For this showing, Que chose to add some elements to the choreography. The art of light, leveled up the kick of flavor to the dancing. Shadows were more prominent, and more dancer focused especially in the diagonals. The execution of the hangers coming down from above was cleaner and less screechier then before. Visually, the original parts were dramatized better. To be honest I did not see the necessity for the additional parts and music. I thought the concise version was more effective. Disappointment aside, I believe Que will emerge as a visionary choreographer one day because he pushes his creativity to the limit differentiating his style from others. Perhaps not all his works will be a hit but surely, they will be all be innovative.
Choreography by Sarah Maria Samaniego
Music by Meredith Monk and Matmos
In contrast to the very colorful pieces presented in Koryolab, Sarah Samaniego chose to present a very internal perspective. Her style was not ostentatious, instead it was more like a slow burn demanding you to be patient as she herself told her story. Alala means memory and as far as the dancing is concerned this was quite clear. Samaniego playing the central role, looked back at her childhood days tracing the body that used to be with her fingers and with her body (another dancer, Katherine Sabate). She examined her old life remembering the highs and lows until she meets a turning point, the present. I appreciated the movement especially because Samaniego is a superb dancer. However, when I read the programme, I thought the explanation did not quite translate on stage. Aside from the huge set, the concept of the paper dolls was overshadowed and became a mere prop to signify childhood. I didn't see how it was meant to shape, duplicate and destroyed. The piece simply but elegantly became a reminder that sometimes you lose a little of yourself along with your memories. It was a wake up call that memories are important to keep you whole.
Choreography by Christopher Chan
Music by Jarred Pinto, Iguan, Judith Weir, Jason Lescallet, Meta Gesture Music, Chunky Move
Many have seen Christopher Chan's choreography for Airdance Company. Unfortunately for me I only saw his works at the WIFI and in both cases he was the dancer. It was a refreshing experience to see two male dancers give life to his vision. I was pleasantly surprised that Brian Moreno and Joshua Bajado too could perform his brand of tantric body movements including fabulous arm balances complicated by the usage of chairs. The physicality and athleticism were breath taking.
His theme was technology and this was evident in the execution. Despite the limitations of the blackbox he used projections directed at the floor to simulate how individuals now live inside the box of virtual living. He had two bodies as virtual selves dressed darkly and the main character was dressed in white. Ian Tiba who played the soloist danced in the middle of the stage with the video projections projecting on his skin, he was clothed in virtual reality. They would often dance in unison or in canon establishing the unity of the bodies. Most of the choreography made use of their metallic chairs implying they were stuck in their chairs as technology usually straps us all down. At one point Tiba sets in to movement alone in the chair performing Chan's brand of movement being all consumed by the stress of life. As he struggles the two dark bodies further smothering him to a point of asphyxiation. The trios bodies intertwining making it hardly recognizable which body was which as if to imply that the influence becomes truly embedded in oneself. The individual forgets which is influence and which is his or her own thought. Mettalitic was dark and broody much like who we all are sometimes or who who most have become. It's timely and a good representation of current life.
Choreography by Raul "Buboy" Raquitico Jr.
Music: Harold Andre' Cruz Santos
Mano Fracture was surprisingly uncharacteristic of Buboy Racquitico Jr. As his write up clearly says he is a self confessed compulsive thinker. My initial impression of him when I saw "Transacting Comfort" was that he was incredibly precise as a dancer and as a choreographer. He seemed to be quite meticulous in threading together his statements in the form of movement. Mano Fracture was very entertaining with lots of bits and pieces that are largely memorable. Who can forget Deborah Afuang belting out "Basang Basa sa Ulan" while splitting and undressing?! Who can forget the lingering jingle of "Here at SM, We've got it all for You"?! However I think the message of his piece was a bit muddled. I reckon a lot would like this piece because it the framing was familiar but I guess I was looking for something deeper. I'm not quite sure but Mano Fracture seemed to be about inclusion. How a lurker (played by Brian Abano) with no economic power could or couldn't be welcomed in a capitalist society. The first scene showed a mall opening with guards screening who could come in and Abano was always filtered out. It progressed into a sale, again Abano was pushed out. It transformed into a food court, again he was discriminated. The cycle goes on. However, there was Abano's character through no fault of the dancer does not develop. As the piece was nearing the end I could no longer remember what he symbolized. Was it a character who was indifferent to the discrimination? Did he want to defy it? I thought that with Abano's technical arsenal, he was underutilized. I do however recognize the creativity and entertainment value of the piece. Raquitico is a very intriguing person with a whole lot more to offer in the years to come.
In the very small world of contemporary dance, Korylab is a gift. With access to feedback from CCP's very own greats including but not limited to CCP Artistic Director Cris Millado and founders Myra Beltran and Denisa Reyes, these choreographers had a chance to sink or swim, remain true to their vision or choose to be blurred, remain unapologetic or apologetic about their work. In addition, on the back end they were provided by a lighting team (Katschthelight) who actually cared about adding value to the pieces. In fact the collaborative energy allowed light to dance with the dancers harmoniously .That kind of environment I believe is an awesome training ground for the life as an artist. The result of the exercise as it is coined lab work, will never be futile because it is the output of the mind, body and heart speaking. It is the accumulation of ideas performed earnestly by a cast who believed in the process. Regardless of audience opinion (including mine), their statements will always be VALID. As the directors themselves have said (and I completely agree), their presence before the audience makes them luminous and powerful. That to me defines the success of Koryolab. Congratulations to the empowered brave choreographers who embarked in this journey. May more people recognize them and find opportunities to use them, watch them and support them. Bravo Filipino.