Dancers react to Senate Bill No. 2679

Below are the reactions of Basilio Esteban "Steve" Villaruz and Myra Beltran to Senate Bill No. 2679 Philippine National Ballet Act 2011.

A National Ballet Company—Or NO! 
By Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz
May 17, 2011

With the arduous and challenging work of dancers, it is understandable that there are benevolent forces which wish to assure them of stability and security. Like most performing arts, dance demands unremitting devotion--in ballet with six to eight hours of training and rehearsals per day, often followed by performances late into the night.

Not known to most of us, this also occurs in active contemporary (modern) dance here and worldwide. So it is not only ballet folks who work hard. I used to meet free-lance dancers in New York who still rehearsed after their part-time jobs—into past-midnight. And to cite an academic dance program with its own dance group, the students do training (technique) classes each morning, and then convene again as a company for another training class, straight to rehearsals in the evening. And when required still perform late into the night.

The Alice Reyes and Modern Dance Company was founded as a contemporary dance group. At first, it was really a pick-up company rehearsing at UE Fine Arts building in the dance studio of Joji Felix Velarde and Eddie Elejar in Santa Mesa. Alone by herself but to put up her show, she had two dancers from Bayanihan, three from UE Dance Company and 10 from Dance Theater Philippines, led by Elejar himself who was a founder—with Julie Borromeo and Tita Radaic—of DTP in 1968. These dancers became the core of the CCP Dance Workshop and Company, later CCP Dance Company.

DTP was the first ballet company to perform at the CCP in 1969 with Mir-i-nisa (music by Eliseo Pajaro, story by Jose Garcia Villa, choreography by Borromeo and Radaic). Also born in 1968 as another professional company was Hariraya Ballet. In 1970, it also performed Ibong Adarna (music by Rodolfo Cornejo) at the CCP, in a shared program with Reyes’ group. Thereafter the National Music Festival’s annual ballets were only fielded out to CCPDC, later Ballet Philippines.  

In 1987, with the now open doors of CCP after the Edsa Revolution, these active  ballet companies (DTP and Hariraya) consolidated themselves into Philippine Ballet Theater—with as active Dance Concert Company (Vella Damian and Eric V. Cruz), as active Manila Metropolis Ballet (Elejar and Tony Fabella—who had long left CCPDC) and dancers from other ballet studios active long before CCP was built. Later PBT dancers formed Ballet Manila—today’s most active/number of performances as a ballet company in the Philippines—also often in foreign festivals. They also have the most number of winners in national and international ballet competitions, starting with Lisa Macuja Elizalde.

Lisa herself came from DTP and from there went to study in St. Petersburg and was briefly a member of the Kirov (now St. Petersburg) Ballet. Her homecoming performance was supported by several of the companies mentioned above—I “impresario’d” that production at the Metropolitan Theater. After that, she became resident artist of the CCP (not of BP) but as such danced for Ballet Philippines. Thereafter, she became ballerina of PBT and later founded BM with Eric V. Cruz.

Rather than clarifying, this enumeration of names may even make more confusing the formal establishment of our dance companies! Ballet Philippines itself used to be called the CCP Dance Company, and earlier the CCP Dance Workshop and Company. If the Alice Reyes and Dance Company was a pick-up company, does this warrant BP’s founding in 1970? Much of that time, whether as AR and MDC or CCP Dance Workshop and Company, the dancers were paid per performance, plus rehearsal fees.              

May it also be said that PBT’s birth was also augured by DTP, Hariraya, and DCC—which saw their births before CCP was around? Or even way back when Hariraya was de Oteyza’s Ballet or Manila Ballet Company? Elejar himself danced with Anita Kane’s professional Pamana Ballet—before DTP and Hariraya. Nicolas Pacana and Noordin Jumalon were from Fe Sala Villarica’s Queen City Junior Ballet in Cebu, touring the country like Kane’s group did.

So HISTORY is really fluid, only made hard-facts in pronouncements, brochures and books. In this case, “What’s in a name?” When the same bodies danced before and after groups got their so-called names? We often make of history “a hard coconut” –then that of agile folks who “climb the trees”!

This naming of “hard nuts” arises due to this Senate Bill 2679 proposing that Ballet Philippines be named the ballet company. 

Wait a minute! In turn yet another story needs to be told. In the late ‘90s, there was also House Bill 9205 that proposed the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company also as national. So this was way ahead. When approved, Bayanihan gained an endowment fund. The enacted bill itself promised it would name other folk dance companies as national. Which so far has not happened, after eleven years.

When that was proposed, the national dance committee of the NCCA was alerted—a little too late. Chairman of the committee then was Corazon Generoso Inigo. With her, the committee formulated its position paper—which I later quoted in my March 1, 1998 column in Manila Standard.

(That was actually part of a series in my column: “Are National Artistic Companies Necessary? Parts 1 and 2; and “The Bayanihan Bill” after it was passed anyway. Authors were Miguel Romero and Jose Carlos Lacson.)

To make this long story short, the following was the dance committee’s position:

  1. The setting up of a national dance company (ballet or folklore) creates a hegemony that monopolizes influence and at the end homogenizes the aesthetics and practice of dance;
  2. A national dance company privileges one over, above and against all others—which may just as well contribute to our national culture in their respective and respectable ways;
  3. A national dance company is counter-productive, namely because it will: a) provide the most bounty to one and deprive the rest equal regard, opportunity and support; b) put all other artists not so privileged as second-class and therefore lose out at the start by a predetermined handicap; and c) at some point in time, such “unrivalled” company may atrophy which happens even to the best and best-endowed companies;
  4. A national dance company is born out of an alien or colonial viewpoint, promoted by foreigners (such as was espoused by a helpful but non-Filipino diplomat, seconded by another foreigner who married a Filipino ambassador), or by our own authorities who wish to colonize our people and artists by their autocratic will and ways; and
  5. A national dance company goes against the historic cry of artists to be helped out after the EDSA Revolution, where in fact one compromise-company was established in dance, so that to move again against that call for reform and again perpetuate the privileged will be received once more with the hew and cry of the rest, in order to protest the arbitrary game of naming, promoting and patronizing only “the best” at the expense of “the rest”—a most injudicious and injurious hegemonic move against the creative nature and future of Philippine theater.
Felicitas L. Radaic, CCP Philippine Centennial (1999) and CCP Gawad (2008) awardee, has already made out her own position, quoting from the Constitution’s provisions on social and artistic equity, equal access and opportunities in Philippine cultural life.

She also quotes me from a conference paper I read soon in Kuala Lumpur: “Nationalization of groups is a throwback from colonial times, imitating the proclamation of royal institutions in monarchical governments. Such were royal trading monopolies like in the old colonies.”  I wrote this from our history where we really had no kingdoms; if few they were small, isolated and never consolidated themselves as a “nation”. Around us in Southeast Asia there were real kingdoms, making possible their royal theater or “ballet”.

It is really a meaningless and wasteful use of energy to keep resuscitating this kind of “dead horse” in now free and independent states! But with dead horses you can still money—at the expense of others—even in one’s own country!

Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz
Professor Emeritus, University of the Philippines
President, World Dance Alliance-Philippines
VP for Southeast Asia, World Dance Alliance-Asia Pacific
Awardee: City of Manila, NCCA (Dangal Haraya), National Research Council of the Philippines, UP Artist Productivity (2010-12), National Book Award (cultural studies), External Examiner-University of Malaya, Congress of Research in Dance (CORD-USA), Videodanse-France (2x), Association of Ballet Academies-Philippines, British Council, Goethe Institut, Asian Cultural Council, USSR Ministry of Culture, etc.                                                      

I thought (answer and in protest to Senate Bill No. 2679) 
by Myra Beltran
Uploaded June 4, 2011

Transcript of voice over: 

I thought … that we had reached a point where what mattered was one’s pure heart for dance

I thought … that there was not anymore one standard for beauty in dance and that beauty was measured only by our real commitment to the dance

I thought … that each of us could be allowed to speak in our own unique voice in dance and it was this uniqueness we celebrated

I thought … that if I worked hard enough, opened my heart enough, I could lead others to do the same

I thought … that my generation had put away the ghost of the past through our hard work and commitment and that it is this which the dancer of today enjoys

I thought … that the sacrifice of my generation would inspire this generation to honor the same with as much of a sacrifice

I thought … that dance was its own reward and that all that mattered was the sincere passing on of dance

I thought … that we all thought that if we truly served the dance, the dance would, in some way, take care of each of us for that service

I thought … that we were allowed to speak of the mundane because the mundane was just as important

I thought … that everyone understood we were all equally a part of the struggle for dance

I thought … that legacy in dance was found in the heart, to be shared through a more magnanimous heart to the next

I thought … that we all knew that the dance must be left to dancers because it is they who will preserve it out of love

I thought … that greatness was achieved through the taking of many small steps, patiently, thoroughly, with kindness, courage, without arrogance and rancor

I thought … that the only honor that mattered was the one not actively sought but the one which was collectively and freely bestowed

Tell me, was I then horribly, horribly wrong?

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