While organizing my files, I found two term papers I wrote for classes I took 20 and 10 years ago:
Kissing the Frog: Men in Philippine Ballet, (type)written for Dance History class (DCPMA Dance, UP College of Music) under Prof. Steve Villaruz in 1993, for which he gave me a 1.5. His notes were, “Very well written, even if in informal style. Could have had a better bibliography.” It took me 15 years to really develop a passion for bibliographical accreditation.
Ballet and A New Philippine Society, written for Philippine Art and Society class (MA Art Studies, UP College of Arts and Letters) under Dr. Brenda Fajardo in 2003, for which she gave me an A for the paper and a 1.25 for the final class grade. Dr. Brenda is notorious for her anti-elitist positioning, but I just didn’t get that vibe when I was taking her Art and Society class, so I was surprised at people’s “So ayaw niya sa ‘yo kasi ballet ka,” comments when I mention I had studied under her. Though this paper was inspired by a conversation I had with her about the Quezon City Performing Arts program where street kids were taught ballet class, and she said, “So what happens when they go home to their shanties? What do they do with their ballet then?”
What strikes me about these discoveries is they’re both talking about ballet in Philippine society, illustrated by the role of male dancers in them. So, the male dancer is my go-to issue poster boy, so to speak. “Kissing the Frog” focused more on the phenomenon of the male dancer, and explaining their existence in the Philippines required commentary on the status of ballet in Philippine society. This is on page 2 (please excuse my poor ingenue writing of 20 years ago):
In Philippine ballet history, the men have been few. The number of the earliest Filipino male dancers worth mentioning could be counted with one hand (not true – present me). The first important male dancer was Eddie Elejar, one of the early princes. There were some princes after him, but none, not even Elejar held a candle to (yes, I dared aaaah – present me) Nonoy Froilan. He is legendary. … Nonoy Froilan is very close to retirement, and the question often raised before is now asked again: After Froilan, who next? There are so many articles written about it. Dancers and balletomanes have never stopped speculating. And yet, do people really care if there is no one to replace him? Do they know that in order to find a prince, we have to kiss a thousand frogs?
There are a thousand frogs, even in the Philippines. It’s the male dancer that we don’t have much of.
No, I don’t know what the hell I meant by that last sentence hahahaha.
“Ballet and a New Philippine Society,” meanwhile, discussed ballet’s place in society, but framed by Tom Pazik’s Romeo and Juliet, which I danced in that year with the Philippine Ballet Theatre. These are my first few paragraphs:
As Tybalt’s page exits stage right, Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo mock him behind his back and proceed to dance, as if to say, we Montagues move better than you Capulets. The corps de ballet in the background fall into a hush as they all train their eyes on the three men. This dance ends with Mercutio performing a chain of leaps around half a circle, which is continued by Benvolio until he stops just in front of the wings; he pretends to fall on his knees to find himself at the feet of an irate Tybalt, and the dancing stops as the story continues. However, Benvolio, played by Jared Tan, has a hard time falling at the exact spot Tybalt enters. Because of this little problem, he can only do simple elances in his menage. In contrast, since he doesn’t have to end at exactly a crucial point, Mercutio, played by Nino Guevarra, plays around with the steps in his manage, inserting difficult turns in the air in between his elances. Romeo, played by Lucas Jacinto, chides him that he makes the two of them look bad. Nino merely breaks into a wide smile.
Nino, Jared and Lucas are ballet dancers in the Philippines. Lucas is 27; he is currently the most watched premier danseur in the Philippines, having taken over Nonoy Froilan’s title of Prince of Philippine Ballet (honestly, 10 years ago me had forgotten the paper that 20 years ago me had written and what I had said about Nonoy Froilan – present me). He won scholarships to study ballet in the States, and while there, was offered spots in different companies. But he missed his family and opted to go home. He had been dancing since he was 7, being part of an upper-middle class family who ran their own ballet school.
Jared is almost ten years younger. At 16, he is just barely starting to get into the technical roles and he is getting less and less “totoy” with every production he performs in. He started dancing at the age of 12, because his parents were always dragging him with them to wait for his sister at ballet class. He is also from an upper-middle class family; his father is a lawyer.
Nino is 20 and is being groomed to take on lead roles. Already, he has his own fans… Nino started ballet when he was 14, but unlike Jared and Lucas, Nino did not go to an exclusive catholic school nor took up ballet because his family was into it. His friends had left their bum lifestyle at the prodding of Tybalt’s (Stephen Canete) older brother… Instead of looking for another gang to slack off on the streets with, Nino accompanied his friends to ballet class and found himself soon scraping money together to buy ballet shoes. Today, he lives on his own, and ballet is is means of living.
And then I go on about ballet as a product of society, the social position of the artist and the role of the artist in society, and finish with society as a product of ballet, and go back to the male dancers leaving the streets and participating in this art form.
So, I’m wondering if there’s any relevance to me as a dance scholar today, trying to decide what I really want to write about for my PhD dissertation. I mean, maybe I should stop analyzing repertoire already, I think I’ve said what needs to be said about ballet as a Philippine tradition. And the Male Ballet Dancer in Philippine Society already sounds so Philippine Socio-Cultural Studies. Problem is I’m so over gender studies (the Kissing the Frog essay and then my undergrad thesis which was a feminist analysis of Denisa Reyes’ works), which I suppose I must go into when I discuss men in tights.
Recently though, I’ve been thinking of the concept of the Philippine hero replacing the ballet prince in Philippine ballets; I actually wrote a paper on Dancing the Hero and the Filipino, discussing PBT’s Andres KKK and Ballet Philippines’ La Revolucion Filipina. And soon, in love with the hero concept, and wanting to write about PBT’s Darangen ni Bantugen, and thinking of the frame of an epic, or dance as a narrative. Maybe this makes sense then, to put these together?
While I’m stewing in my giddy PhD dissertation plans, my final reaction to finding these papers is, “Oh ballet boys. I just can’t quit you.” Hahaha.