In transforming ethnic dance to neo-ethnic, it is a must to first align the mind to the fact that the creation of a new work, even though ethnic inspired, is simply that—a creation. And, since it is to be neo-ethnic, its intention as an artwork should pay tribute to the source of origin.
Authentic ethnic dance loses its magic when performed away from its natural environment. Its very essence is endangered when it is haphazardly pulled out by its roots and the dance, at its purest form, is brought to stages, streets, basketball courts and gymnasiums in urban settings. The dances are often made to wear colorful sequined costumes and, at times, even pretend to be the real thing.
It is the responsibility of the choreographer to delineate what is ethnic and what is neo-ethnic. The term “neo” signifies a current or modern choreography. When depicting indigenous rituals, myths and legends, it is best to be considerate in stylizing ethnic movements to come up with a new form. It must remind, inform as well as enthrall not only you, but also the dancers and the audience, on the beauty and dignity of Philippine ethnic traditions.
In the past twenty years, the marriage of two different dance forms has resulted in several successful unions that are now within the realm of neo-ethnic. Major ballet companies in the Philippines have, in their repertoire, dances that have combined classical ballet and ethnic dance. Philippine Ballet Theater has Gener Caringal’s Vinta; Ballet Manila has my Sayaw sa Pamlang, Ritwal and Arachnida – and Ballet Philippines Igorot.
The most productive union is that of modern dance and ethnic dance. Being more progressive as it allows more freedom of expression through movement exploration, modern dance can easily absorb and adopt the demands of ethnic traditions. This has resulted in my being able to choreograph Bagobo, Moriones, Hinilawod, Encantada, Paglalakbay, Babaylan, Taong Talangka, Elias and La Revolucion Filipina, all of which are ensconced in Ballet Philippines repertoire.
In Mindanao, the line between ethnic and neo-ethnic is sometimes so thin that many folklore-inspired dance dramas are often mistaken for authentic ethnic dance. It is always good to remember that when performing to a wider audience, movements become exaggerated and thus ceases to be ethnically authentic. They are stylized in varying levels. Several Mindanao theater groups have explored this near-authentic ethnic dance explorations and have successfully come up with informative and entertaining productions. Dance being integral to Philippine Theater, groups like Davao’s Kaliwat Theater Collective, Iligan’s Integrated Arts Guild (IPAG) and Marawi’s Sining Kambayoka have used near-authentic ethnic dances in the telling of the life and culture of Indigenous Peoples as well as modernized folklore and tales.
This is an excerpt from Agnes Locsin’s forthcoming book, Philippine Neo-Ethnic Choreography: A Creative Process.