Because the dance world operates on rather lean subsidies provided through donations by private entities or local governments, shifts in operations depend highly on socioeconomic situations. The pandemic just about crushed this art form, with theaters and other performance venues closing down, even curtailing dance companies’ additional sustenance from ticket sales, aside from denying dancers rehearsal and performance space.
Worse, many dancers found themselves displaced from their respective companies, which were not sure they could compensate the dancers without revenue support. Among the entertainment sectors, dancers’ fees fall way below those of other artists who work in other fields, despite the more rigorous training dancers put in to hone their art form.
Just before the pandemic was officially announced, some 20 or so dancers already found themselves displaced from their company, Ballet Philippines, due to an internal conflict with its board of directors. They banded together because they were driven to continue dancing despite all else. They were encouraged by the fighting spirit and support of National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes, who chose to stay in Manila, foregoing her retirement in New York, to make sure they would succeed in their incessant quest to continue what they had started.
Ms. Reyes, who founded Ballet Philippines in 1969, chose to go with the dancers’ sentiments despite her undeniable tight connection to and identification with the company.
Professional Artists Support Program
Recognizing the situation of artists, Chris Millado, then artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, along with former Ballet Philippines president and current CCP president Margarita Moran Floirendo, and former CCP president Arsenio Lizaso, formed the Professional Artists Support Program, which guaranteed not only the dancers’ fees but also the fees of other artists in other sectors.
The program also provided the dancers access to rehearsal space at the lobby of the CCP’s main theater; there, almost daily ballet classes took place, aside from online classes taught by the dancers. Within months, online performances titled “Dance On” were filmed by the dancers themselves on their phones and edited by another, tech-savvy, team of dancers. This initiative was named the CCP Dance Workshop.
The succeeding months saw the emergence of fresh and new works by young and new choreographers, mentored by Nonoy Froilan, Alden Lugnasin, and Ms. Reyes as well. The new works showcase thought-provoking concepts, such as Erl Sorilla’s “Musa” that dissects questions on how one truly lives. In John Ababon’s “In the Midst of Overcoming,” the ups and downs of life are examined. Inspired by environment activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN Climate Action summit, Lester Reguindin created his work titled “Now.” In “I Wanna Say Something,” JM Cabling reimagines the mind of a quiet person.
These new works were presented alongside a sprinkling of the classics, like the technically challenging pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s “Le Corsaire,” restaged by Victor Ursabia and danced by Victor Maguad and Monica Gana, and Jules Perrot’s grand pas de quatre, which was created in 1845 for the top international ballerinas of the day, Lucille Grahn, Carlotta Grisi, Fanny Cerrito and Marie Taglioni.
The works were performed by John Ababon, Al Abraham, Sarah Alejandro, EJ Arisola, Luigie Barrera, Ricmar Bayoneta, Danilo Dayo Jr., Monica Gana, Boni Guerrero Jr., Gianna Hervas, Victor Maguad, Eugine Obille, Justine Orande, Ace Polias, Lester Reguindin, Katrene San Miguel, Stephanie Santiago, Karla Santos, Erl Sorilla, Joanne Tangalin, Jessa Tangalin, and Ronelson Yadao. All these dancers are worth a mention for the courage and tenacity they have shown for “Dance On,” as the omnibus title of their pandemic performances dictates.
Soon enough, the group started considering commemorative performances for special occasions.
In May 2021, to celebrate National Heritage Month and the anniversary of Manila’s founding as a city, Vibal Foundation invited the group to film some themed numbers for their online presentation. As the Christmas season approached in 2021, a more ambitious, full-scale filmed production aptly titled “Tuloy Ang Pasko” was conceptualized by Yadao with inputs from Ms. Reyes. A nostalgic lookback of four friends as they reminisced their childhood Christmases, with one friend now residing in the United States, the production consisted of a pre-taped portion of the older cast and the coverage onstage of the younger dancers. Film direction and editing were by award winning movie director Carlitos Siguion Reyna.
Up until that point, all the dancers remained “in barracks” at the CCP. On breaks, some spent time at the home of Ms. Reyes, learning how to cook under her tutelage. Their special dish for that season was eggs Benedict.
As performances reached regularity, Ms. Reyes felt the time was ripe to form a new dance company. She was initially reluctant to lend her name to the company, but she was soon convinced by those in the know that her name would resonate much strongly as a selling point for much needed support. Thus did Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARPD) come to be, with Yadao appointed artistic director.
The selection of the board of directors eventually boiled down to a group of dance supporters who mostly “would have been dancers” except that other professions intervened: Greg Banzon, chair, is an award-winning varsity athlete who took dance lessons to complement his athletic skills; Cristina Santos Keppler, treasurer, is a forever dance subscriber and adult ballet class attendee; Leo Abuda, corporate secretary; Ricky Toledo, dance aficionado; Christ Upton, who practically grew up in the dance studio with his mother, Ms. Reyes; and yours truly, president, an early ballet school dropout who went back to ballet class too late to master the use of pointe shoes.
ARPD has a full year-ending season in the offing, which began with an inaugural performance in Dapitan to celebrate the 130th year of National Hero Jose Rizal’s arrival in that city to commence his exile. National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, who had collaborated with Ms. Reyes on major dance presentations like “Rama Hari,” joined her and the company at the inaugural performance.
With the support of the Professional Support for Artists Program, this year’s season opens on Sept. 30-Oct.2 with “Alay nina Alice at Agnes,” a presentation of works by the two living National Artists for Dance, Alice Reyes and Agnes Locsin. On Oct. 28-30, “Premiere and Encores,” a collaboration of the CCP with the French Embassy, will feature the works of renowned French choreographer Redha Benteifour, who will fly to Manila and stay for seven weeks for workshops, training and choreography. In addition to his works, three works of young choreographers Cabling, Reguindin, Sorilla, Ababon and Abraham will be performed.
The Christmas presentation is “Puso ng Pasko,” a collaborative work of Yadao, Sorilla, Ababon, Reguindin, Guerrero, Abraham and Dayo. It is an original full-length ballet with film direction by Siguion Reyna and music by Cayabyab.
In one of the filmed pandemic presentations, dancer and choreographer PJ Rebullida, a mentee of former artistic director Augustus “Bam” Damian, explained his work, “Light at the End of…” It was based on the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi” — of “holding the life cycles of birth, growth, decay and death in equanimity…celebrating the life cycle and even [how] the darkest part of life can be a moment of celebration,” where with each day’s evolution,” we discover ourselves even more.”
What could have been the death of dance during this pandemic indeed proved to be a rebirth, surviving the odds in faith and conviction and emerging as a breath that gave new life.
Liliane (Tats) Rejante Manahan is by profession a surface decorator and conservator of wall paintings. She spent 18 years as a writer and director for television and documentaries. She is the founding manager of Hotlegs, Dance, Stunt, Mime and Gorilla Training Troupe, and a founding board member of Fundacion Centro Flamenco Manila. She is the immediate past chair of the Heritage Conservation Society. At present, she is the representative of the International Council on Monuments and Sites at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. —Ed.