No effort, no entry

What follow are traces of diachronic coincidences of two unrelated dance performance events that have taken place along the MRT and LRT2 lines of Manila within the period of two years. In no way should this be mistaken for an attempted synchronic comparison of aesthetic tendencies in local contemporary dance practice nor a summation of its trajectory, nor a fool-proof guide in making things happen. What is presented here instead, is an ambitious diptych of digressive dance anecdotes told from the varying positions of insider and outsider–an exercise in tenure in which one must deploy the skills of performing while at the same time occupy the role of an observant spectator.

Event 1 is a post mortem, short of regretful, self –referential recollection of a dance hijack organized by The Lovegangsters back in 2008. Event 2 is a differential outsider’s take on the recently concluded International Dance Day celebrations organized by Contemporary Dance Network Philippines in collaboration with the Light Rail Transport Authority last April 29.


Event 1 [14.06.2008 on the MRT line]

One hot summer evening, two years ago, in one of ’em secret hiding places along the by-now gentrified strip of Maginhawa we foolishly drew up a plan to salvage what was left of our optimism; a guerilla-motivated disco takeover of the metro. Possibly fueled by a then ongoing obsession to make a difference via hallucinations of Debord, the Paris commune, anarchist utopia, pretentious post-Berlin wall fascinations, tactical interventionist actions, revivalist disco night parties or just a nostalgia for all things pure and authentic we drew up a plan to dance hijack the MRT line. We should have known better. Youthful recklessness aside, hijacks are only fit for those mad enough to even bother with any plan or utopic takeovers masked as art. We were not even young anymore then. In fact to be precise, we were approaching what was to be the end of our decadence. And now in hindsight it’s easy to think that what had transpired was merely an excuse to hold-off any impending submission to sobriety befit of nasty next-day hangovers. Or a sentimental persistence to hold-on to adolescent excess and frustrated mis/adventures mediated by cosmopolitan romantic aspirations of a free-bordeless, brave and tolerant world. Nothing to do with dance. Nothing to do with art. Just some silly hope in the future and dreaming.

We should have known better. Hijacks are of course only possible in so far as any plan for recklessness, subversion or disturbance must immediately concede to nullifying its own means and ends. In that any public site specific performance or intervention must first and foremost yield to the same insipid, careful, deliberate, studied patience and tedious consideration suitable for conventional “indoor” theater/dance performances. There is no avoiding the sober because it has and will creep in each of us. Even the most irrational violence of terrorist attacks or emancipating of revolutions undergoes the same weighty consideration of procedure. And even the fetish for intricate gestures of subversion is complicit to the “very logic it denounces.”

The plan was simple: indiscriminately ride the train in full disco dancing garb, with big boom box in tow, in small groups of five or seven, starting from Ayala Station all the way to Cubao. In trickles, we imagined ourselves growing into a collective of dancing freaks, overtaking the train with our infectious display of energy, rowdiness, charm and that internal rhythm that makes one dance, devoid of any compositional/choreographic end. No other agenda or purpose. Who needed one? All we wanted was a hijack–the means justified the end. And So we thought. We were soon to realize that it was one of those conceptual meanderings better written (and talked about) than executed. We should have known better.

Yet we still found the perfect excuse to push through aboard Carlos Celdran’s funky MRT tour/ride from Ayala to Cubao to launch Groovy Manila Map and Guide, which culminated at counterculture underbelly Cubao X where a party and program of performances awaited its guests. Celdran willingly agreed to carry our hijack plan in the frame of his tour. Never mind the differing views on ‘disco.’ We were dead set. Lo and behold; a flurry of text messages, email spam invitations, friendly word of mouth enticements sent, play list in hand only to realize the train we rode had been cordoned off to the rest of the ‘ordinary’ commuters for the exclusive enjoyment of tour. From Ayala, the train breezed through all the stations near empty except for the group of weirdly dressed hippiefauxhemians and some artist-types dancing to the fascination (and probably disgust) of the people waiting by the platforms who watched in disbelief as the train just passed through with complete disregard of it’s riding public.Maybe some of them were amused, we were not. We wanted to be lost among the crowd of commuters. We should have known better.

Event 2 [29.04.2010 on the LRT 2 line]

photo credit: Paolo Picones


One hot devilish, body and mind-numbing afternoon around 40 dancers from the Contemporary Dance Network Philippines (CDNP)gathered at the Legarda Station of the LRT Purple Line to disprove any doubts that doing anything under this damned heat wave is anywhere near impossible. Pleasure and wholesome fun can be achieved minus the intoxicating high that mostly accompanies such routinely cathartic releases. And it can be achieved through the permissible acknowledgement of authority that our forebears once rejected, that those foolish retro hopefuls of present are so stubbornly resisting without regard for the systemic indicators that mediate their own subversive gestures. But not without ambition–the task for the afternoon entailed peculiar perseverance, not to mention physical endurance and enormous amount of energy because dance/ing is not at all for the faint hearted and shy. Besides, dancers know how to take heat, they’ve been trained for this all their lives. No it was not a collective ritual to induce rains from the stale skies of our megalopolis. Though the rains did come a few hours after, offering a well-deserved refreshing respite from the long extended Manila summer. Neither was it a collective demonstration of dissatisfaction. Neither was it to be mistaken for a nostalgic invocation of guerilla performances meant to disturb the sensuous guarantee of the society of spectacle.

Yes, the afternoon was boisterous as the infectious shoots and cheers of the dancers who danced, swung by every pole in sight, jumped over turn stiles, leapt through empty spaces of the moving train filled the otherwise somber mood of an ordinary commuter train. Both to the surprise and fascination of the people riding the train. Still one could not deny the alienating sanguine that was invisibly (and performatively) drawn between those who were doing and those watching. A necessary distance even more meaningful in lieu of attempts to break the ordinary and everyday. And like many conventional performances, this one still had to concede to the obvious: the dance, dancers, stage and its audience.

Moving Dance @LRT Dance Express organized by CDNP in cooperation with the LRT Authority, dovetails the yearly Contemporary Dance Map (CDM) series celebrating the International Dance Day. Initiated in 2005, the series seeks to increase the profile and awareness for contemporary dance practice in the country by consolidating the individual creative efforts and endeavors of leading independent practitioners and makers of contemporary dance. Under the leadership of Myra Beltran, the series began as a tour of alternative performing spaces for dance in Quezon City and Manila. Five years in, the platform has since served as fertile ground for young emerging talents in contemporary dance, many of whom are now developing their distinct dance vocabularies and aesthetic trajectories.

Moving Dance comes at an opportune time. It was after all, only a matter of time before Manila joined the rest of the public art bandwagon already taking place elsewhere. Halfway through a decade, the network’s work has grown to bear fruit for a wider appreciation of contemporary dance. Proof is the popular growth of enthusiasts turned practitioners coming from varied dance backgrounds like street dancing, ballet, hip hop even pole dancing and what-not who have all by now found their way into the “legitimate network” of contemporary dance practitioners. Proof is the unnerving raw energy of the dancers who battled the high afternoon heat, exhaustion and repetitive emptiness of rowdy improvisational free dance compositions aboard the train. Proof is the blessing of the LRT administration to accommodate what would otherwise be just “too strange.” Never mind the differing and sometimes disparate views on dance and public engagement. The International Dance Day was a fitting occasion to be united in dance. Where boundaries such as differences, form, style, aesthetic inclinations, political agenda, and body are put aside for the common aim of the festive. Where everyone complied with the universal language of dance.

…And now what?

What do these two isolated dance events have to do with each other? Nothing. Except for their overt musings on public spectacle, optimistic claims to challenging the liminal frames of dance and tendency to make spectacle out of their own gestures clamoring for change. Both attempts that propose to reclaim the place of dance not in society, but the place of dance in dance. To wretch it out of any context other than its own propagation. To marry the means for its own end. To declare the autonomy of the body in dance or the autonomy of dance which in Alain Badiou refers to as a self-rotating wheel where dance is “like a circumference which represents its own principle, a circumference not drawn from the outside, a circumference that is drawing itself.” Risking that which they do not know because it is only by “linking what one knows with what one does not knows” that emancipation of theater from its gripping sterility and stultificationcan be meet. And there is no other way to carry this out but through the ambitious, for what point is it to plan anything less of ambitious anyway?

[* this essay first appears published online at Philippine Online Chronicles, 20 May 2010,]