14 September 2017

Dance is now

Sometimes I think about dance. Not that thing we poor souls do at the club, but that which is conceived by a choreographer and realized by a dancer. How the art form seems to evade preservation and discovery.

Stumbling upon a great modern ballet piece is not as easy as stumbling upon, say, a great novel by an obscure author or great music from a band in the ‘70s. Sure there are licensed recordings of performances available in stores — limited as they may be — and there’s YouTube and other video-streaming services to scour (if you want something recorded by naughty, rule-bending audiences), but my impression is that dance doesn’t bother as much with reproduction and distribution the way other popular art forms do.

Paul Ocampo and Chien-Ying Wang perform Equanimity in Ballet Philippines' A Gala Celebration.

From where I am, there’s no better person to ask whether or not this is an actual problem of the industry than National Artist for Dance, Alice Reyes. “It’s not a problem, it’s a fact. It’s something we have to live with,” a fired up Reyes told me during an open rehearsal of Ballet Philippines — the company she co-founded in 1969.

“You have to experience it now. Tomorrow, it’s different. That’s what George Balanchine said, ‘Dance is the art of now,’” she continued. “That’s why the dancer’s and choreographer’s careers are so short.”

How choreography is passed on or saved for posterity is another mystery to me. “It’s hard. That’s why you have coaches. For instance, we have to get somebody to come in who dances the role and coach the new artist dancing it (to arrive at the right interpretation),” shared Reyes. “There’s an oral history attached to the dance… Kung video lang, kung mali ang na-video, yung mali ang magagawa.” Dance notation is also out of the question. “There are still some who are doing it, but it’s so hard. Masyadong mabilis and takbo,” she added.

National Artist for Dance and Ballet Philippines co-founder and artistic director Alice Reyes

For their 48th season, Ballet Philippines runs under the banner, “Quintessence” and welcomes back Reyes as artistic director. “I’m using this season to start our progress towards the 50th. My idea is to tell the story of Ballet Philippines, which has such an incredibly rich repertoire. We can maybe release 10 seasons without doing any imported works,” said the visionary.

The new season kicked off in August with A Gala Celebration, showcasing the companies’ choreographic range and its dancers’ ability to execute any movement. The next production, called Exemplar, is slated for October. Featured here are the classics that came out during the company’s first decade, including Reyes’s Amada.

Ballet Philippines is giving us the chance to catch internationally acclaimed but long-unseen works. And they’re relying not only on traditional but social media to spread the word. Reyes very well knows that ballet isn’t accessible. Still, one of her goals is to drive more people to the shows by cutting down ticket prices — a tall order, considering that live dance and orchestra are expensive to produce. “That’s why dance always needs patrons. Patrons of the art,” Reyes laughed. “That’s THE problem.”

So here’s an invitation. Take a chance on ballet. Experience it now. Because tomorrow, it’s different. Or worse, gone.

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