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?


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

In the Starlit mountains of the Himalayas lie the Kingdom of the Shades…

Erica Marquez-Jacinto as Nikiya the temple dancer, and Jacqui Jacinto as Gamzatti, the Rajah's daughter. Photography and poster by Kerwin Kaiser Yu. Good stuff.

Erica Marquez-Jacinto as Nikiya the temple dancer, and Jacqui Jacinto as Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter. Photography and poster by Kerwin Kaiser Yu. Good stuff.

The Long version of my Restager’s Notes for this year’s recital 

For our annual ballet recital, I restaged La Bayadere, or The Temple Dancer. It’s a story ballet with a love triangle, an assassination, and karmic retribution . It’s also loosely based on Asian, particularly Indian culture. Of the ballets I’ve restaged before (and I’ve restaged a LOT), this was definitely the most challenging. Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty are all peanuts to restage, in comparison.

La Bayadere originally has four acts, but I left out the anticlimactic fourth act which follows The Kingdom of the Shades for two practical reasons: it is boring as it only serves to wed Solor and Gamzatti, and we cannot afford to stage an earthquake that destroys the temple and kills everyone in it. Additionally, I have come to think of the second act pas d’action as Gamzatti’s Wedding, and is more festive than the “actual” wedding, so the rearranging of the story still stays true to its original purpose.

As a dance scholar doing serious dance research, I am quite aware of the ironic orientalism that pervades this ballet. It is as if Khudekov and Petipa were picking out little Asian tidbits from everywhere, stirred it up in a pot, and whoosh – La Bayadere. Being Asian, I wanted to right the othering of these Westerners, but having grown up in a country that often orientalizes itself, and understanding that everything is beautiful at the ballet anyway, had to concede that we are not presenting a truly Asian drama, but a Western ballet inspired by exotic myths, and therefore not based on real cultures. Also, I think only a dance scholar such as I would be bothered by such personifications.

In trying to understand where “Shade” comes from, I was amused to discover that the Himalayas is their inspiration for the Kingdom of the Shades, though to me that’s where Hugo the abominable snowman was found by Marvin the Martian. So near Hugo’s home, in the starlit mountain peaks, is the Kingdom of the Shades. “Shade” is from the Greek/Hebrew mythological term for death shadow, or underworld spirit, and though not an Asian allusion, was probably exotic enough for Marius Petipa.

Unlike Swan Lake or Giselle, where the lead ballerina is surrounded by other swans or wilis, Solor’s first glimpse of the Shades are multiplied versions of Nikiya’s Shade; this hallucination is brought on by his guilt  – because if he hadn’t been sneaky with her behind the temple, Nikiya would still be alive – and by certain hallucination-inducing substances. But I thought a shisha might not be PG enough for a ballet school recital, and decided to exchange it for wine. But poisoned wine.

The poisoning of Solor through the High Brahmin’s wine is my own addition to the story, but it’s a liberty that I feel is justified. The High Brahmin wanted Solor dead, and although he gets his revenge, it is the hero who gets to live on with his Nikiya in the afterlife, in the starlit mountains of the Himalayas, and not with an indulgent princess he did not love. I didn’t want to kill Solor with an earthquake, nor did I want a hallucination from illegal substances. In this case, poisoned wine works just fine.

My dad, I believe, had fun choreographing the orientalized “Asian” dances, especially Nina’s solo as temple dancer in Act I. A lot of orientalized ballet steps looks like Arabian Coffee from the Nutcracker, with hand flexing as the main orientalization. As La Bayadere is supposedly an Indian story, the solo (originally the Dance of the Persian slaves, according to Minkus) has many elements copied from Bharatanatyam that we’ve seen, so it’s more Indian than Persian. Luckily, Nina was quite up to the challenge of her new solo.

Me (a bit off center) as a temple dancer in Philippine Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere, 2004. Jacqui and Erica are somewhere in this ring around the sacred fire. Mama Joel Matias also plays the High Brahmin in our upcoming production.

Me (a bit off center) as a temple dancer in Philippine Ballet Theatre’s La Bayadere, 2004. Jacqui and Erica are somewhere in this ring around the sacred fire. Mama Joel Matias also plays the High Brahmin in our upcoming production.

I first performed in La Bayadere with Philippine Ballet Theatre when I was employed with them in 2004, was cast in the corps of all four acts, but notably as a divertissement girl in the Act II pas d’action, and having danced the pas d’action several times after, I know it even in my sleep. Restaging from memory is funny because when someone asks “How do you do this?” my body has to do the steps before my mind can remember.

Although it is not as popular as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, or even The Sleeping Beauty, La Bayadere has always been one of my big favorites, both to watch and to dance. Hope you can come see in this Saturday, so that it can become one of your favorites too.

7:00 PM
Sylvia P. Lina Theater, Center for Performing Arts
De La Salle-Santiago Zobel, Alabang, Muntinlupa

Conference time: Cultural Pluralism and Philippine Dance

I’m reading a paper tomorrow about how Cultural Pluralism can solve some of the problems of Philippine Dance at the 2nd Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple Conference on Humanistic Buddhism and Cultural Pluralism. Phew, that was a mouthful. This will be my second ever conference that I’m reading in my own country, and wouldn’t it be nice if you could come and listen to what I’ve been working hard at the last couple of years? 

(That’s wishful thinking, I don’t actually expect anyone to come out to just hear me talk. Heh.)

I’m suddenly remembering one of my mentors telling me, “Why are you trying to solve the problems of folk dance for them?” – yes, with the implication that I am not practicing or studying folk dance, being a ballerina primarily writing about contemporary dance forms. But I like to think of myself as a scholar of Philippine dance, and the problems of folk dance are my problems as well, for how can I position ballet and contemporary dance in Philippine dance without considering everything? 

That said, I’m all theoried out. I don’t want to write another paper for the rest of the year. I do not exaggerate this, because although there are only two months left to the year, I have to present another paper at the end of November. Which I haven’t written yet. Oh, kill me. 

Back to the conference, there’s lots happening, such as workshops on tea ceremonies, vegetarian food, Chinese knots and calligraphy, theater groups discussing their processes, violin playing methods, Humanistic Buddhism and everyday life. I’d go even if I wasn’t going to read a paper. Come and join us. 🙂 

Oh, and my group TEAM Dance Studio is performing at the Awarding of Certificates on Wednesday at 5pm. You know, in case you do decide to attend the conference, be sure to catch us there. We’ll be doing a dance that’s 9 years old, yet still a goody. 



My Giselle

Reposting from a Facebook note I wrote two years ago on July 25, 2010. It resonates.

He loves me not

Lucas as Albrecht, me as Giselle, convinced that “he loves me not” during the mad scene in Act I. Besy Carandang as Bathilde stands indignant behind us.

While putting CDs into storage (because who uses CDs in this day and age?) and checking on a bunch of unmarked discs, I came across a DVD of my school’s 1998 recital, where we did Giselle. It was unmarked because it was originally a VHS copy that I had digitized, and it had snow and static from the deterioration of the tape. Still, I went on and watched parts of it (forwarding is easier when digital obviously) and marveled at so many things.

First, I’d like to comment on our choice of a full-length Giselle for a recital. After the show, we (my family who owns and runs the school) all agreed that it wasn’t such a good idea for a school recital – the story was too sad, and almost scary (Erin is caught off cam saying to our videographer, “Daddy, I don’t want to watch ballet na…” while I’m losing my mind in Act I) and the kids only got to be 2 characters: peasants and wilis. Swans are okay, even fun, but wilis? As Lucas put it, it seemed we just wanted to do a full-length Giselle and we forced our students to humor us. Granted that none of them complained at all, and they really got into the story as much as we did, it was still something we never did again.

Secondly, you know how it’s easy to say, oh it’s just a recital? Therefore, not really taken seriously? Given that there were kids as young as 5 who made up the corps de ballet (we simplified a lot of their steps), if you look closely at myself, Lucas (who of course played Albrecht), Quincy (who of course played Hilarion), Jacqui (who of course played Myrtha) (of course, I was Giselle, if it isn’t obvious yet), and even at our Bertha (Mimi) and Bathilde (Besy), we were oh-so-seriously doing Giselle. Very seriously, really.


Quincy as Hilarion grabbing Albrecht’s sword, which I planned to stab myself with during the mad scene in Act I. Lookit my baby bruvvas, so thin and stuff!

This struck me right after I died in Act I, when Lucas and Quincy blame each other for my death – how real they were portraying it. Before that, I was watching the mad scene with amusement – how Ika was just a baby but she was already acting and projecting, how the kids were filed in single line watching me go crazy, how my Capezio pointe shoes didn’t show off my instep at all when I was not en pointe (I hated Capezio, but I only discovered Gaynors around 5 or 6 years later), how fat I was and how super OMG thin both Lucas and Quincy were, and how my hair was giving me such a hard time because it was at the height of being balik-ayos (What I would kill to have that kind of hair again) and therefore falling all over my face at every opportunity. It’s not that I wasn’t doing it seriously, it’s just that, as a spectator being nudged by this distant memory, I was noticing EVERYTHING. There were so many things about it that was so, “Wahaha, school recital!” but there were so many things about it that was very real, too.

Fast forward to where Giselle rises from the dead and tries to make her presence known to Albrecht, who is visiting her grave. I am flooded by memories of all the hard work I put into dancing this ballet – making sure my leg was high enough, the pains I took to make sure that my characterization emanated from each movement, practicing not jumping into the air but evaporating as would a mist. My technique 12 years ago is nowhere near what it is now (or better yet where it was 5 years ago), but I’m really impressed with my then-24 year old self. It’s actually quite inspiring.

Act II

Act II pas de deux, with Jacqui as disapproving Myrtha in the foreground, and VHS snow at the top.

My mom would chide me when I get too emotional over preparing for a performance in one of our school recitals, saying the audience won’t notice if I don’t live up to my standards, that what I do is pretty good already. I love my mom, but this is one case where I’m glad I didn’t listen to her. If I found this video now and my performance was lackluster, I would wonder why I try to dance at all. Getting older and nearing that point where I won’t be fun to watch anymore, I’ve been treasuring each day that I can still dance and the kind of dancing that’s worthy of my time, that’s worthy of me. Tonight, I’m realizing again just how lucky I am, and I’m very grateful.