Weeping over Agnes Locsin’s book

I take inspiration from the Philippine ethnic and folk dances. Through choreography, I aim to create movements derived from dances in the history of my beloved country. I am a Filipino who is proud of my heritage, and my work is my tribute to Philippine history.

– Agnes Locsin, in the postscript of her Philippine Neo-Ethnic Choreography (UST Press 2012)

It is 1:30 in the morning and I have work tomorrow (in a few hours) and I am weeping over this book that I bought tonight, written by Agnes Locsin, important Filipino choreographer. This is not a review so much as my wanting to remember how important this moment is to me, as a dance scholar in a country with misplaced priorities. Often, I feel so lonely in my dance scholarship; most of my mentors have retired or are moving into retirement, most of my peers are concentrating on dancing and making dance over scholarship. Ang yabang ko lang, but it’s a heavy burden to be the one expected to document the dance, to critique the dance, to explain it to the people who don’t understand. Such a big responsibility. I need to get it right; I can’t just say anything I want. It matters because there’s not a lot of us to go around; I have to get it right.

Philippine Neo-Ethnic Choreography is a wonderfully engaging book about an important choreographer’s important works and the process she undertook to create these works, written by that choreographer herself. As much as she is a genius with her choreographic work, she is also in her writing. As a dance critic and scholar, I have become more interested in writing about what is going on in the dance, and how I interpret what the dance is, what it means. Often I wonder if my interpretations are on the money, so you can understand my glee to have the choreographer discuss these things, and some extra.

And Agnes writes incredibly well. She says somewhere in the book that she’s not very scholarly when she writes, but that’s one of the great things about the book, she writes as she would speak. I can actually hear her speaking while I read. I recently interviewed her for Runthru (for her Alay sa Puno series), and she emailed me after I published the article, surprised that I quoted her verbatim. Which I did because she was so eloquent, I couldn’t reword her answers, they wouldn’t have the same impact.

Finally, I am weeping because the works that she discusses are works that I know, and have touched me when I saw them in performance, or when I was in performance – I’ve only ever danced in 1 Agnes Locsin choreography (Intermediate Modern summer workshop recital piece in 1991 does not count), and I’m extremely grateful for the privelege of being cast as Kalikasan in her Encantada. Reading about her decision on how to douse the fire that the Guardias Civil set on the mountain by having the Encantada grab the dancers limbs and press them to her teary eyes gave me goosebumps all over again, as it did when Cecile Sicangco would grab my arm and press it to her cheek, signalling me to silence my frenzied body and melt into the floor.

Reading about how the Moriones boys started to do jogging to raise their stamina made me giggle, as did reading about how Joey Ayala’s suggestion of Agnes doing a dance about walking on the beach accidentally materialized in her Paglalakbay. I sighed as I read about how Agnes assigned characters to Bonifacio, Mabini and Aguinaldo in La Rev, how she described Bonifacio as explosive and larger than life, which was what her original Bonifacios were in both Gerald Mercado and Dwight Rodrigazo, and how I had seen an inspiring Ronelson Yadao in rehearsal and found it a shame that he got injured before the show.

I nodded vehemently when Agnes described Camille Ordinario’s Taong Talangka to “(get) better the angrier she gets.” Shortly after, relating how Agnes tells Camille after finishing the choreography for Salome, that it is how she feels after Elias leaves her and she will never see him again, and how “Camille danced with her heart, and we all cried,” made me cry again too.

I had never seen Elias (it is sometimes impossible to watch the productions of other dance companies when you’re in one yourself and have to rehearse or perform 6 nights a week), and I always did wish I had seen it, but reading about it in this book has really made me regret never seeing Gerald Mercado’s reported awesomeness.

My undergrad thesis was about the works of Denisa Reyes (framed in a feminist perspective), and since then, I have always planned to write a series of books on important Philippine choreographers. I have actually forgotten this plan, as I’ve gone into other areas of research, when I find the time to be all dance scholarly. This book is reminding me of where I should be headed.

I was weeping because while I still have mentors coaching me what to do, where to go, here was Agnes Locsin, inspiring me in a totally different way. And this blog entry is to remind me how important this inspiration is.

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