In 1990, Ballet Philippines 2 (BP2) was formed to legitimize the emerging artistry of the company’s young talents, where they were allowed to explore choreography and technique at a very radical pace. They were given opportunities to create art through projects like “Neo Filipino” and “Bagong Sayaw” where the dancers reintroduce themselves to the public as contemporary dance collaborators.
The Ballet Philippines of the present seems intent on using the same formula for these millennial times, thus the return of “Bagong Sayaw.”
On September 10, six dancer-choreographers — Al Bernard Garcia, Erl Sorilla, Bonifacio Guerrero Jr., Gia Gequinto, Danilo Dayo Jr., Louise John Ababon — were given an opportunity to showcase their concepts at the Cultural Center’s experimental theatre. The current BP 2 dancers were the colors to their canvas. While all pieces showed promise, two works stood out.
Garcia’s purposeful simplicity
Al Bernard Garcia presented “Tau-luwa”, the story of an imagined rural community, which was impressive in its purposeful refusal to find inspiration from the easily accessible, instead choosing to dig deep and create something new out of what’s forgotten or ignored. Equipped with a background in folk dance and his research on tribal dance, he created nuances to his movement by borrowing accents from different tribes like the celebrated use of the siosay (palm leaves) from the Subanen tribe and the malong from the Tiboli.
Garcia was quite the storyteller as he played with courtship, marriage, and family while using the thread of movement. Derived from the words tao and kaluluwa,“Tau-Luwa” explores the connection of tribal faith to the earthly journey of people,at the forefront of which were his principal characters, a man and woman that showed the dynamics of romantic relationships. At one point both characters were joined in a mirage of a pas de deux that used them along in a slow careful process of connecting the couple, until they were finally moving as one person, signifying togetherness and commitment — a marriage — executed through gradually intensifying extensions and lifts.
Developing the story through vignettes that portrayed the different roles people play within the community,Garcia allowed for this unfolding to engage the audience more intimately as the narrative progressed. His aesthetic was clean and consistent, and he chose purposeful simplicity over technicolored tricks. Every movement held a specific emotion, all in all making “Tao-luwa” an effort worthy of recognition.
Sorilla’s beautiful chaos
Erl Sorilla, one of BP’s more reliable dancers and rising choreographers closed the show with “Langit / Lupa.” A discussion of the pursuit of heaven in modern times, this piece ironically refuses abstraction. Instead it is a bold expression of distaste over how people are easily distracted by self-righteousness and crab mentality, at the same time that it highlights the paralyzing effect of practicing superficial faith. Using commendable synchronicity, Sorilla introduced his sinners by placing them all on a long bench performing a decorative repetition of movements, all seemingly asking for salvation in one breath. This escalates to reveal the dancers showing pain in the process of purging, whispering their individual prayers, until a dancer silenced the audience with a scream of Patawad! The dancers in organized chaos lift up their faith despite the pain. The scene intensifies as the community of sinners start destroying each other, and the benches are transformed into a stairway to heaven, sinners fighting for their chance to receive salvation.
Sorilla succeeded in presenting an intricate display of dynamic mobility. There was a delectable selection of contradicting movements, contributing to this beautiful chaos. Pushing, pulling, jumping, crawling, sliding—everything was in this electrically charged choreography that won the crowd over. Having seen Sorilla’s previous pieces, the intent to emotionally invest in each of his pieces is against apparent here. Definitely one to watch out for, Sorilla continues on his steady rise.
While not all the choreographers rose to the challenge of creating a masterpiece worthy of a bigger stage, overall, “Bagong Sayaw” 2016 was enjoyable to watch, and the potential on stage was uplifting.
Garcia’s and Sorilla’s worksprove that “Bagong Sayaw” can still be seen as a rite of passage, and that at least for these two choreographers, it signals a readiness to embark on a higher level of artistry and creativity.
As with Dwight Rodrigazo, Gerard Mercado, and Alden Lugnasin, I have high hopes that Garcia and Sorilla will in similar fashion follow their footsteps and make local dance a more exciting place to thrive in. ***
Erica Jacinto is a former ballerina with Philippine Ballet Theatre who has discovered her passion for dance photography and is pursuing her goal of making dance accessible to new audiences through her blog http://artaturningpointe.blogspot.com.