Disco dancing by the lonesome

A year-ender post for a not so deserving year to post a year-ender for. This post is a sort of regrettable apology for not seeing enough performances during the year and for purposely missing  those that promised the contemporary. In short to write a year-ender on Manila’s dance scene without even the benefit of empirical evidence to substantiate my claim that there is not even a hint of interesting in Philippine dance is surely asking for trouble and perhaps another reason to further alienate myself from peers who toiled and worked hard in their respective studios for the past year. But who said criticism and spectatorship is no hard work.

And yet if an inventory of the invitations, press releases and email invitations were to be made, here is what 2011 amounts to: (1) the routinely  season performances of Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Rome & Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, ad naseaum; (2) staging of neo-classical pieces including the premiere of Filipino neo-classical/modern ballets based on narratives of nationhood, womanhood and identity; (3) “contemporary” rendition of Le Sacre du Printemps, which was not at all publicized save for a few insiders who don’t seem enthusiastic about promoting it; (4) yearly fragmented celebrations of International Dance Day care of National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA) Committee on Dance — who seem to either be working from another country what with their negligence in connecting with the dance country’s dance community or working from another era where ballet and Filipinized versions of it are thought interesting and valuable (come on really?!) — and the Contemporary Dance Network Philippines whose preoccupation for site-specific performances in lieu of bringing dance to the public as in this year’s Hijack Dance and Underground Dance are but haphazard excuses to mount well-made indoor performances; (5) Congresswoman Lucy Torres being appointed as NCCA Ambassador for Dance; (6) and yes, who can miss the overly emotional debate on the Dance Bill (House Bill 4260 and Senate Bill 2679). I’ve just recently heard through the grapevine that the only three major dance companies in the country — who, mind you, have no stake at all in contributing anything phenomenal to the field by way of disturbing the status quo aside from for their almost obscure persistence to restage classics over and over again — are now equally vying for the privileged spot of national recognition. A silly request really, given that there are only but three companies in the country which means declaring all of them as national dance companies, well, misses the point. Prestige fail. Democracy sucks.

Billed as the country's first ever international dance festival organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts' Committee on Dance. One did not need to see the actual festival to feel embarrassed at how incredibly amateurish this festival was.

And still there were some that sounded interesting and important and yet largely ignored by the dance community, perhaps even by organizers themselves who failed to disseminate information in their activities to key stakeholders of the community such as (1) Sayaw Salita: A Forum on Dance at UP Diliman, (2) and a forum on contemporary dance and independent practice organized by Goethe Institut in Manila to celebrate their 50 years of work in the Philippines which was again sadly not disseminated among key stakeholders and attended by a few if not mostly by people who have not a clue about contemporary dance practices in the country.

And the performances I wished I’ve seen were: (1) Airdance’s anniversary show Adarna — I know — a lot of flying perhaps — but, now that the company is being run and managed by the promising generation of the emergent, the show pretty much approximates a picture of what there is to look forward to; and (2) Agnes Locsin’s Encantada, because while I’m not personally a fan of neo-ethnic ballet, Locsin is still the one among the current crop of established Filipino choreographers who has demonstrated a true singularity of vision.

2011 will pass as another uneventful year in Philippine dance.


The most obvious thing in dance is the dance

photo credit: Sam Kiyoumarsi


Wearing the pants or wearing the role is no guarantee that the obvious has clearly been stated. This is because observations of the obvious are too easily dismissed as useless, for the very reason of banality, or being too easy. Even the act of mimicry accedes to certain ideological and historical baggage, that are often overlooked precisely because of their anomalous absence onstage, too deeply imprinted to become unnoticeable. But no naiveté is naïve enough to discount the probability of reason behind, or reasonfor and reason underneath. Almost always, an ontological admission occurs to enact procedure, even if it were unconsciously made. Even self-reflexivity or transparency, almost near absent from the impassioned local performances we see occasionally, is not exempt of agenda, whether it is obvious, self-reflexive or implicit. Sometimes the agenda is disclosure itself. Even if the mirror in the dance studio, the first encounter of approval, guarantees the strict visual adherence to form.

The most obvious in dance is nothing but the dance. So there you go, any attempt at appreciating dance from the lens of even the metaphysical has to concede to its object (and subject). A teacher once said that dance will always be abstract and probably she is right. No matter how much reference to cultural history, popular culture, fragmentation of social order, the mobility of the body, the transience of time, the eloquence of nature, the strength of the female, the frustration of love, post-colonial diaspora, the need for change, anxiety of displacement, the battle of good over evil, the frailty of ambivalence, the fusion of tradition and contemporary, the loss of innocence, nostalgia for the ancient, hope for the disillusioned, the struggle of the poor and disenfranchised, and the search for identity and authenticity is made they will just all have to take a back seat. One can take any kind of dance/ing, or set of intricate movement patterns and situate it in any of the varied contextual readymade options, place some appropriate title and you have a piece — a work that masks form for content and meaning. Or in Barthes speak, the death of the referent, what survives is not the dance, but the signifying relevance we put into dance. Has the dance, or movement then become merely an excuse, subsumed by the bigger agenda of meaning or process?

This can happen of course. And is this not a mark of contemporary, reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp’s readymade or even of Damien Hirstwhere title frames the work, much more important than the actual object? The latest offerings of Airdance and Ballet Philippines for example, or even the last Pasinaya Open House Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, featured a wide array of dances that almost all looked the same, felt the same, sounded the same, moved the same only varying in title, costume, music, and casting. Where difference is a matter of short-circuit tactic pointing out the minimal as if.

So where do we start? How do we appreciate dance? The answer to the first is provisional; there is no satisfying answer to what dance is, neither is there a satisfactory answer to what art is. There are observable aspects of dance that choreographers like Merce Cunningham, William Forsythe, Hooman Sharifi, Anne Therese de Keersmaeker and many others, even scholars like Rudolf Laban have tried to break down: time, space, inertia, energy, momentum, lines, point, shape, volume, density, and rhythm. How do we know if it’s good or bad? We never do. It’s not even important because watching is less an exercise in judgment than reading. How do we appreciate it? We don’t, we just read.