Two sides to every story

The start of “Ang Sabi Ko Sa Iyo” (What I Said To You) from Eli Jacinto’s Mga Sayaw Mula Sa Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (Dances from The Dance of Two Left Feet), his ballet suite of the choreography he did for the film Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa. Performed at the Pasinaya Open House Festival at the CCP in February 2012.

angsabikosayo

The same moment, from a different angle (and slightly different cast). Performed at the Asian Translation Traditions Conference last October 2014, at the UP Theatre.

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The best work is work that never gets old.

Happy new year!

Yes, it’s February. Almost mid-February. I’ve been busy. But, yay!

Not supposed to pointe my toes in Jack Kek's Strasse, Stadt in Dancing in Place, a site specific festival at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. This is an excerpt from his full length show, A Wanderer in Berlin, premiering in Damansara Performing Arts Centre on March 20, 2015.

Not supposed to pointe my toes in Jack Kek’s Strasse, Stadt in Dancing in Place, a site specific festival at Rimbun Dahan, Malaysia. This is an excerpt from his full length show, A Wanderer in Berlin, premiering in Damansara Performing Arts Centre on March 20, 2015.

The Quick Change Between The Kingdom of Two Seas

On Tour With Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Darangen ni Bantugen

by Joelle Jacinto

My sister, Jacqui, in the office-cum-dressing room in Victorias' municipal hall, waiting for our final entrance. This is after my Fairies costume fiasco. Note the mess. :D

My sister, Jacqui, in the office-cum-dressing room in Victorias’ municipal hall, waiting for our final entrance. This is after my Fairies costume fiasco. Note the mess. 😀

We are in an office in the city hall of Victorias, doing the quick change from Water, or the girl’s section of the Elementals that attack Prinsipe Bantugen while traveling to find the princess in his dreams, to Fairies, who help him on his journey, especially since he’s by then really beaten up and near death. I successfully zip up my blue costume by myself as I make my way to the chair right outside in the corridor, where I keep my props, headdresses and face towel. As I push the Fairies’ silver ribbon onto my head, I feel the zipper coming undone, a terrifying creeping down my back.

I try not to scream.

My sister, Jacqui, with a crowd of half-naked boys (either in their Earth or Air unitards peeled down to their waists, or in their warrior shorts, the breastplates flopping loose on their chests) plus company manager Joel Matias gather behind me, in an attempt to fix the zipper. The other fairies are about to enter and look at me worriedly because I’m supposed to enter with them. The entourage behind me tries to zip me up again, but the clasp has dislodged.

“Ate Joelle!” Tracey calls from outside, because we’re about to go on soon. Very soon.

I curse; I don’t remember what I say exactly, but Jacqui kind of swats me, reproachfully.

One of the boys produces safety pins (it may be interesting to point out here that the big sewing kit for the tour is never carried by a girl from Cebu to Roxas) and they help each other hold my back together as the pin me up. Photo finish! As soon as they’re done, it’s time for my entrance. I whirr outside, all giddy and breathless, and have the best Fairies dance of my life.

Fairies dance from the first staging at the CCP, with Abigail Tan as the Diwata

Fairies dance from the first staging at the CCP, with Abigail Tan as the Diwata

“Fairies” is my favorite part to dance in Philippine Ballet Theatre’s Darangen ni Bantugen. If you see the ballet, you’ll know what I mean. We are the “spirit protectors” of Bantugen, played by Jared Tan. The fairies are led by a queen fairy whom the programme notes call Diwata, played by Jared’s sister, Faye Abigail Tan. She’s in a pretty purple dress with sheaths of cloth for a skirt; the rest of us wear similar dresses but in blue and green. The ends of this skirt actually catch themselves onto tights, cutting them up so badly, so the company girls decided, at the premiere last year, to forego wearing of tights for this entire ballet.

The sleeves are again swathes of cloth draping over our arms; they usually get in the way of dancing, and some costumes are so worn out that the sleeves slide off some girls’ shoulders. It may sound like this costume is more trouble than it’s worth, but I absolutely love it. I think it is the prettiest costume I’ve ever seen, and I wish I had a picture of myself wearing it. As it happens, the quick change from Water to Fairies is super quick, zipper mishaps notwithstanding, and there’s no time for pictures. After Act I, we automatically change back into our Maidens costumes and I’m always so preoccupied by how I’m going to repair that stupid zipper.

Me as the Bird, on the China tour of Darangen ni Bantugen. I learned this role the day before opening night.

Me as the Bird, on the China tour of Darangen ni Bantugen. I learned this role the day before opening night.

Actually, all the costumes in Darangen ni Bantugen are gorgeous; which is just right as they were designed by National Artist Salvador Bernal. The Maidens costumes are sleek and sexy dressy pants attached to a corset. When Princesses Datimbang and Magimar are thrown to the floor at different sections in the ballet, people don’t just gasp because of the injustice and violence, but also because you just don’t throw down gorgeous women in gorgeous gowns to the floor. The red Bird costume is majestically awesome, from the large headdress with the beak to the shimmery bejeweled chest to the bright, shiny tights to the monstrous wings. I had the pleasure of putting that costume on and loved every part of dancing it, even the shiny tights (they were stirrup but I scrunched them to under my knee because stirrups are just too 1980s for me) and the monstrous wings that made every Bird cast before me cry in frustration. I also loved the headdress, never minding that it was such a hassle to carry between the two Chinese cities we danced in.

Waiting for the tour bus in China L-R Jacqui, me, Jared (who plays Bantugen) and Stephen (who plays the evil King Miskoyaw)

Waiting for the tour bus in China L-R Jacqui, me, Jared (who plays Bantugen) and Stephen (who plays the evil King Miskoyaw). 

It isn’t just the costumes, though. It’s the entire ballet, the entire experience. Here was a part of our culture that used to belong to just one cultural community in Mindanao. It’s a chant that takes nine days to complete, and none of us in the company would even know it if we were to hear it. Thanks to the UNESCO, it’s now declared as part of our intangible heritage, and thanks to the Heritage Festival, Philippine Ballet Theatre was able to interpret this Maranao epic as a ballet – a medium that will be easier to understand by not just people in the Philippines but in other countries as well. We were told, in Kaifung City in China, that Darangen ni Bantugen was the best ballet they had ever seen and how beautiful our country must be. I doubt they were just talking about the costumes.

When we Maidens exit in the middle of Act 2, just before the dance of the Souls in the Skyworld, we stay copiously beside the stage as much as possible, even if we’re “in the way.” We don’t really care, you see, we want to watch – the dance of the Souls, the rescue of Bantugen by the Bird, Magali and Mabaning, and the courtship dance between the Angel of Death and Mabaning dressed as a woman, played so brilliantly by Anatoly Panassiukov and Peter San Juan respectively. We never get tired of watching this ballet, even if we perform city after city, every other night. The choreography, by Gener Caringal and Ron Jaynario, steps up to the demands of a full length ballet, and is worthy of the Maranao epic, even according to native Maranaos themselves. The dancers, meanwhile, including myself, are just having a superb time performing, that costumes falling apart is really a minor item.

Tracey aka Princess Datimbang takes time out from stage blocking to take pics with the Victorias locals. We were all wearing shades for blocking as it was on an outdoor stage on the afternoon of the performance.

Tracey aka Princess Datimbang takes time out from stage blocking to take pics with the Victorias locals. We were all wearing shades for blocking as it was on an outdoor stage on the afternoon of the performance.

When kids visit the dressing rooms after the shows, I always ask them, “Aren’t you glad that they got Bantugen’s soul back?” They all respond enthusiastically, but one child replied, “Oh yes, it means we are all safe again.” It seems then that the love the Maranaos had for Bantugen all this time has transcended borders, giving the rest of the Philippines a new hero. More importantly, he is our own hero, one we already have had for centuries.

I personally hope that they keep this ballet alive, and take it to more places in and around the country, inspiring more and more people with its majestic beauty and noble heroism. If they ask me to dance, I would not hesitate to do it over and over again. But I’ll be ready with extra zippers, though.

Me and Jacqui, after the last show in China, photo by Bianca's mom, Tita Bambi

Me and Jacqui, after the last show in China, photo by Bianca’s mom, Tita Bambi. Please ignore the watermark, my camera reset and I didn’t know how to set it to the correct date haha.

 

I wrote this at Tracey’s behest for the souvenir programme of the restaging of Darangen ni Bantugen at the CCP in 2009. I wasn’t able to dance in the show (as Mac says, “Pang-tour ka lang, Ate.”) but was glad Tracey asked me for this essay. We shortened it for brevity for the programme, this is the original draft.

Came across this while writing my paper, The Universal Embodiment of a Hero: Translating the Darangen as a Ballet, which I am delivering this afternoon at the 6th Asian Translation Traditions Conference at the University of the Philippines. I referred to it, too. Just felt like sharing. 🙂

Anger Management

I have been rehearsing with Ing Fung once a week the last few weeks. It’s a different process, I keep urging her to give me movement, she keeps wanting to talk the movement out of my body. The very first meeting, she said, “What do you do when you’re angry?” So the idea was she was to watch me act out this anger, or rather, revisit this anger as she wanted it to be very “organic,” and then get movement from there. She still dictates, but it’s based on my body, on my anger. Opportunely, something happened to me recently that made me VERY angry, and, well, let’s say Ing Fung got A LOT of movement.

Late last week, I decided I didn’t want to be angry any more, I didn’t want to be constantly upset, or in fear of being hurt. So I did something about it and was very zen ever since. So liberated. I was happy. Nothing pissed me off. I noticed everything around me that I had to be grateful for and I was very grateful.

Then, I went into rehearsal a couple days later and Ing Fung said, “What happened to all your anger? You need to go and get it back.” Hahaha.

Ah, dance. What a difficult art you are.

Photo by Hii Ing Fung, for her upcoming work to be premiered in November 2014

Photo by Hii Ing Fung, for her upcoming work to be premiered in November 2014

When Dancer/Daughter Are Inseparable

In the middle of July, I went home to the Philippines, the same week that Glenda hit, to attend the very last Wifi Body Independent Contemporary Dance Festival. Festival director Myra Beltran put my dad in IndepenDance Lab C: Tono – Voice of the Regions. We presented three of my dads works, two of which he reworked to fit the theme of the festival – Engage with history. Morphemes was a work he did in 1980, which National Artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco had called, “unusual, startling to a marked degree…” Abaniko at Manton was originally a quartet in 1992, with my brothers before they became famous. Imagine Lucas’ chagrin to be told he wouldn’t be in the new version. And then, of course In The Sisterhood. The three works were each a decade apart, and I spoke at the performance, a short essay to explain my father’s process, and to tie the three together. This is the text that I recited before and in between the dances.

Rehearsal shot of In The Sisterhood by Eli Jacinto

Rehearsal shot of In The Sisterhood by Eli Jacinto

When Dancer and Daughter are Inseparable 

Choreography by Eli Jacinto

Dramaturgy by Joelle Jacinto

What is contemporary dance? I am applying for a PhD and my proposal is stuck with trying to answer that question. I can go on and on as a scholar, displaced as a Filipino living in Malaysia, but today, I ask myself, what do you really know about contemporary dance? Are you a contemporary dancer? Am I? I’m here now, and I dance. I mostly dance works that my father has choreographed. Does that make him a contemporary choreographer?

When I was four, my father decided to leave the more metropolitan city of Mandaluyong for a piece of land and a nice house in suburban Las Piñas. In that moment, he became regional, despite the fact that Las Piñas was still part of Metro Manila. Still, it was far. And far removed from what the city was doing. But even before that, he never looked at what other choreographers were doing. He only looked at himself.

Today, he refuses to leave the house for further than our dance studio.

In 1980, he choreographed Morphemes. I watched this curious work as a child and I still remember how it looked. During that time, people were saying how different it was from what everyone was doing, ahead of its time. But actually, Dad was just giving his dancers movements that they could do, as they weren’t very technical back then. The old one had a lot of crawling and, falling. It was difficult because the music was difficult. But that was then. His dancers are different this time. I’m different. By thirty years or so.

The new Morphemes is not technical, not really. The music is still difficult, but I’ve known this music by heart for almost 40 years. While Dad’s first dancers wouldn’t be able to do the new movements in Morphemes, what remains is that elasticity needed to do them, that hagod, and a syncopation that counterpoints against it.

So how is this contemporary? Is it really still stuck in 1980? Is walking too Judson Street? Is counterpoint too 1990? Is the obsession with form too 2000? Is my speaking to you now so last year?

Morphemes

Music: “El Cor Piu Non Mi Sento variations” by Nicolo Paganini
Choreography by Eli Jacinto

Performed by Joelle Jacinto, Jacqui Jacinto and Sol Ogatis

Dad’s aesthetics are different now. There was a time he did a lot of neo-classical movement en pointe, but that was what people wanted to see. He also did a lot of work that was “national,” partly because that was what people were doing, but also because he was very nationalistic himself.

Before the neo-ethnic boom, he was doing a lot of balletified folk dance and ethnic dance. Not very nationalistic, in that 1990s definition of nationalism, but Dad didn’t care and created Abaniko at Manton, which he argued was very Filipino. Spanish? Yes. Filipino? Maybe. Contemporary? Well, again, what is contemporary?

Abaniko at Manton

Music: “36” by Alex de Grassi
Choreography by Eli Jacinto

Performed by Jacqui Jacinto, Erica Marquez-Jacinto and Nina Sayoc

Thirty four years of dancing for my father has made me very physically aware of the kind of movement he wants, even if mentally, I cannot grasp it. The body responds, it gives. The mind says, it cannot. The body scoffs.

My father draws movement from our bodies, from the histories that had been embedded on our bodies from learning dance from him, and from constant practice of executing movement in the exact same way, as required by our profession.

Much of who I am is informed by the work that my father has done, individually and in relation to the dance world at large. Most especially the dancer I am. I am 40 years old. There is a survivor instinct that insists on my contemporaneity, on my being present in the now. The only reason why I am still dancing is my father says I can. I’ll be like, dancers my age should be taking it easy. Very true to form, he would say, “But why look at other dancers? Look only at yourself.”

In The Sisterhood
Music: “What Goes Around Comes Around” by Justin Timberlake and “Chi Mai” by Ennio Morricone
Music collage and choreography by Eli Jacinto

Performed by Joelle Jacinto and Jacqui Jacinto

You are gold! (Gold…)

My dad’s dance group, TEAM Dance Studio, which I have been dancing for all my life, will perform one of my dad’s best works, Giri, in February. It’s to two songs by world/ethnic fusion band Pinikpikan, “Aumoon,” and “Kahimanawari.” We performed Aumoon recently, and haven’t done Kahimanawari in a while so we were watching a video of Giri to recall the dance.

The video was part of a collection of several years of CCP Balletfests. At the beginning of it was the Pas de Trois from Paquita, performed by myself, Lucas and Jacqui, circa 2001. After rehearsals, Lucas replayed the video to watch us perform the pas de trois. I remember when I saw the video back in 2001, I was mainly criticizing everything I did and wasn’t very happy with it. In 2014, I could still see things I could have improved on  (and did, over the years) but I was also (finally) enjoying the performance of my 27 year old self.

Jacqui kept saying, “Wow, ang galing pala natinI Magaling na pala tayo niyan?” (Wow, we’re so awesome! Did we really already dance like that back in the day?) I just nodded. I felt this last year, when I was starting to dance more regularly, how my body already feels its 39 years, especially because I was fighting hard to defy this age. I kept thinking, what was I doing the last 20 years? It felt like I wasn’t dancing at all, and wasted all my youth.

Which wasn’t the case, of course. That’s the problem with dance, as soon as you stop dancing, the dance is over. You do your curtsies and exit the stage, and then think of the next dance. You can watch the video, but you don’t spend all your time watching several years of video footage. You forget. You regret. You always, always think your best dancing is still ahead, has yet to happen.

Which, I guess is why I write about dance, I always feel that I need to get it down and document it and make sure other people know that this happened. Which also explains why writing about dance feels fatalistic as well – I think I’m not writing enough, I think people aren’t reading what I do write, etc. (Or maybe I’m just fatalistic, period. Hehe.)

As I move to a country where ballet companies are discouraged for wearing the short tutu, I wonder if this is the end of my dancing career (but not my dance career – spot the difference). I know I’m always saying I’m going to dance forever, but suddenly that’s just something I like to say. Faced with an uncertain future, I have to gather up my past triumphs and embrace them, breathe them in, let them shine through me like that scene in Neverending Story where Bastian gives the Childlike Empress a name (or for you younger folk, that scene in Frozen where Elsa’s castle materializes around her).

New mantra: You were a dancer, Joelle. You were awesome. You still are, you always will be.