Dwight’s Great Leap: A Successful and Rewarding C-MAP International Choreographers Festival

C-MAP Choreographers Festival 
Dwight Rodrigazo, Festival Director
August 14-15, 2015
University of St. La Salle Coliseum, Bacolod City

Review by Joelle Jacinto

The C-MAP International Choreographers Festival was initially a culmination of the Composition and Movement Analysis Program, which Dwight Rodrigazo devised as a progressive workshop for choreographers in the Visayas and Mindanao. It grew in scope when initial plans were laid out and financial backers were enthusiastic. The reality of funding an international festival away from the city centre proved to be too challenging, however, and many of those who pledged support conveniently disappeared as August rolled around. Still, Rodrigazo pushed through with as open a mind and heart as he could.

While he initially planned for three programs, he ended up with two jampacked evenings of dance at the University of St. La Salle coliseum. One evening was obviously the original reason for the festival – to present applications of what the participating choreographers learned in the workshops held in 2014 and early 2015.

A second evening was planned to include international groups (because funders will always find an international festival more appealing than a national one), and Rodrigazo invited several of his friends with whom he had worked with in the past, who were now based in other countries. Of the initial 6 that were invited, only 4 were able to confirm attendance – Ernest Mandap-Candice Behlert Project, France; Northwest Classical Ballet, USA; UMa Dance Company, Malaysia; and Airdance, Philippines. Ernest Mandap of the EC Project had been Rodrigazo’s co-dancer in Ballet Philippines before Mandap left for France in 1992, and they remain good friends. Maricar Drilon of NCB had been a principal at BP and a strong inspiration for Rodrigazo. He was also fortunate to have been selected by former artistic director Denisa Reyes for an Asian Cultural Council project collaborating with Ramli Ibrahim and his artists, which is where Rodrigazo met Malaysian dancer and choreographer Rathimalar Govindarajoo. When he saw on Facebook that Rathi was creating work for UMa Dance Company, managed by another former BP co-dancer, Joelle Jacinto (this author), Rodrigazo quickly gave the latter a call. And of course, Rodrigazo was one of the co-founders of Manila-based contemporary dance company, Airdance. To complete this program, he included his own Dance Pull Project.

As Mandap and Behlert were willing to choreograph for local schools while in the Philippines, a third evening was inevitable – and enriched the representation of the Visayan region at the festival. Behlert choreographed Nowhere Else for Cebu Centre for Dance (CCD), Cebu City; Mannequins for Colegio San Agustin Kagayon Dance Troupe, Bacolod City; and The Hand for Sol Fernandez School of Dance, Iloilo City. Mandap choreographed Hommes for School for Theatre Arts N Dance (STAND), Cagayan de Oro; Les Sentiments for Garcia-Sanchez School of Dance, Bacolod City; and Tribu for Annie Divinagracia-Sartorio School of Performing Arts, Iloilo City. Three rich evenings of dance would have been ideal, but the producers had to cut corners so that the festival would at least push through, and the EC Project France-Philippines Collaboration lab was distributed between the first two programs.

Not your typical dance school festival
Usually, a dance school festival doesn’t present exciting repertoire because of the limited capacities of the performing students, but Behlert’s and Mandap’s respective choreographies do not dumb down movement for the young, inexperienced performers. They are both able to give steps that are challenging enough yet not impossible to execute, and then arrange them creatively, making for very satisfying work. It is actually a shame that the original intention to give these works an evening of its own had not been fulfilled.
Sol Fernandez School of Dance in The Hand, choreography by Candice Behlert. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Sol Fernandez School of Dance in The Hand, choreography by Candice Behlert. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Behlert has a very good understanding of the group dynamic and manages to wield each of the large groups of dancers in intricate patterns without the pieces looking like each other. Most impressive is how she is able to take different classes of dance students and create the illusion that they are all at the same level of technique. In The Hand for Sol Fernandez School of Dance, the illusion was so successful that when Anna Mae Militante and Angela Tan broke out from the group as soloists, it was only when you could see the contrast of their more complicated movement that you understand the craft Behlert had imposed on the students.
School for Theatre Arts 'N Dance (STAND) in Ernest Mandap's Hommes. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
School for Theatre Arts ‘N Dance (STAND) in Ernest Mandap’s Hommes. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.

My personal favourite was Mandap’s Hommes, but also partly because given these older, more experienced male dancers, Mandap was able to really unleash his creativity. Not to say that he was not creative with his other work, my favourite sections of movement actually come from his Les Sentimentsfor Garcia-Sanchez School of Dance, whose students all seem to move like their director, former BP principal dancer, Georgette Sanchez-Vargas. Mandap shares in conversation that he tries to give movement that fits the dancers’ personalities, and you do see the distinction between the works (Tribu’s youthful energy vs Les Sentiments’ hipster cool vs Hommes’ foreboding sense urgency), but at the same time, note that Mandap requires a high level of intensity from all his dancers, regardless of piece.

Internationality 

Candice Behlert and Ernest Mandap in their Va et Vient. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Candice Behlert and Ernest Mandap in their Va et Vient. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
It is an intensity that you will also see in his own duet with Behlert in their Va-et-Vient (Comes and Goes), despite how he begins his solo with a quiet, almost passive demeanour to a soft-spoken French text. He moves fluidly but deliberately, and you cannot take your eyes off him. The mystery intensifies and he starts throwing his head forward repeatedly, expelling a loud yell at each thrust. Behlert enters, and Mandap is forced to acknowledge another presence, another person, other than himself. But, apparently, it is too late. With a backstory we are not privy to, Mandap advances – is she the answer to his problems? – and Behlert evades his grabbing arm that seems more violent than loving. They dance together, the same steps in unison, representing that once upon a time, their systems were in tune. She vaults toward him and he lifts her, manoeuvres her body around his easily. He tries to capture her in an embrace, kiss her, and she pushes him away. She has had enough. The last tableau, where he falls and all she saves is his jacket, speaks of how this relationship ends.
Arwen. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Arwen. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
At the Philippine premiere, the couple add a solo by Behlert’s daughter Arwen, before their duet starts; it is a winning competition piece inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The solo ends with Arwen running to Mandap, who catches her and holds her in an embrace as he slowly turns in place, then sets her down before starting his own solo. This adds another dimension to the work, as if Mandap had abandoned the child, and she returns, grown up, as Behlert. This is probably not intentional, but still a welcome evolution. After the festival, Ernest and Candice continued their France-Philippines collaboration in Manila with ACTS Manila, Academy One, and Airdance.
Northwest Classical Ballet in Jenifer Livingston's Intrigue. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Northwest Classical Ballet in Jenifer Livingston’s Intrigue. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
The festival participants were also given the opportunity for cultural exchange with the young dancers from Northwest Classical Ballet and UMa Dance Company, and of course, vice versa. NCB’s program included a reinvention of the Nutcracker pas de deux performed by Fil-Am Claire Evangelista Patla and Drilon’s talented, son Derek, both of whom seemed happy to declare their Philippine heritage to their co-festival participants. The rest of the dancers seemed also enamoured of the whole experience and the friendly Filipino contingent, easily making friends from Day 1, when Ms. Drilon gave her first warm-up class. They performed Intrigue, by Jenifer Livingston, an interesting neo-classical work highlighting all the dancers, as well as soloists Drilon and lovely Claire Sturtevant. The young Drilon shows a lot of promise, with natural extensions and lines, and would be more exciting to watch as he matures.
Chan Kean Yew in Rathimalar Govindarajoo's Sync. Photo by Jenny Lee from backstage.
Chan Kean Yew in Rathimalar Govindarajoo’s Sync. Photo by Jenny Lee from backstage.
As UMa Dance Company’s delegation head, I could see how my students from the University of Malaya’s Dance program got their fill of Philippine culture and were impressed with the wealth of dance talent among my countrymen; they were particularly quite awed by the fact that “everybody is ballet-based here!” which is not the case in Malaysia. They performed four pieces; we originally prepared two – Rathimalar’s Sync, a 10-minute contemporary work based in classical Indian dance, and Jack Kek’s Safety in Numbers, a comic portrayal of confidence and individuality (and lack thereof), whose signature movement motif was a big hit with the Filipinos. In a brilliant move, Rodrigazo requested we add Indian classical dance to our repertoire, because Filipinos don’t see a lot of that (if at all), and as he predicted, the Bacolod audience fell in love with the short 3-minute Alarippu, featuring alumnus Chan Kean Yew, and about-to-graduate Rozilah Abdul Rahman and Bai Jin. The three are quick to dismiss the attention as due to Filipinos not having seen Bharatanatyam before, but even Angela Baguilat, who learned Bharatanatyam in India, and Jeiel Hernandez, who studied under Baguilat as a dance major in University of the Philippines, shared with us that they were very impressed with their technique and rasa. These three pieces were performed in Program A, while an excerpt from my Concerto was performed in Program B to feature the dancers again in the final gala.
Airdance's Rhosam Prudenciado Jr in his and Mia Cabalfin's At the Foot of the Mountain. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Airdance’s Rhosam Prudenciado Jr in his and Mia Cabalfin’s At the Foot of the Mountain. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Representing the Philippines was Airdance and Dance Pull Project. Airdance featured a world premiere by Rhosam Prudenciado Jr. and Mia Cabalfin, a solo after the struggle of Sisyphus performed by Prudenciado. Titled At the Foot of the Mountain, the work displays Prudenciado’s technical gifts and sinewy command of his body. However, it is not clear whether he had reached the heights that he was aiming for, or am I just complaining because I felt it ended sooner than I wished? Perhaps the choreographic duo could extend this work further.
Dwight Rodrigazo's Pamatdan. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Dwight Rodrigazo’s Pamatdan. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Dance Pull Project featured Rodrigazo’s Pamatdan (which I describe as the short version of his Karga Tapas, although it is clearly a different work and wow, Dwight, get off your ass and make a full-length version already, it is so good), and the long version of Xiao Mitchao’s La Elle S’en Va (There She Goes). Both pieces are so very physically demanding that you wonder where Mitchao and Akira Lydia Abao get their reserve energy. And then Mitchao still has to dance in her own, equally energetic, work, Transit, as part of the C-MAP Choreographers Festival.
Akira Lydia Abao and Xiao Mitchao in Mitchao's La Elle S'en Va. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Akira Lydia Abao and Xiao Mitchao in Mitchao’s La Elle S’en Va. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Program graduates/Choreographers

As prodigy and associate artistic director of Dance Pull Project, Mitchao has the luxury of being constantly under Rodrigazo’s watchful eye. But the mentor cannot take all the credit, as Mitchao is clearly fluent in her dance vocabulary, playing with rhythms, isolations and weight shifts, creating intricate call-and-response sequences between the dancers but through their bodies. From this, and a teaser hip hop number performed at the SM Mall show earlier in the week to help promote the festival, it is obvious that Mitchao has a wealth of moves in her pocket, and she not only has so much material but she knows how to use it.

Xiao Mitchao and Andre Mabaquiao in Mitchao's Transit with Nicolo Yulo, Niall Mabaquiao and Jonee Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Xiao Mitchao and Andre Mabaquiao in Mitchao’s Transit with Nicolo Yulo, Niall Mabaquiao and Jonee Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.

Comparing Transit to La Elle S’en Va, I would say Mitchao learned this much from C-MAP, how to use all her material and arrange them into a complete and satisfying work. And if this is what everyone learned from the C-MAP workshops, then Rodrigazo has clearly achieved what he set out to do. Most of the choreographies were quite well-composed, particularly Transit, Jed Amihan’s Via-Mien, Johanna Mangubat’s Bohemian, and Faith Javellana’s One Size Fits All. I was particularly charmed by One Size Fits All, defying any possible clichés that threatened the choice of prop, and was very lucid, intricate and intelligent. Javellana could still develop the work further, perhaps change the cloth (the patterns on the cloth were too distracting), and choose a better title to match the profundity of concept and content.

Marco Malait is surrounded by figments of his imagination portrayed by Honneyville Jean Boiser, Pamela Bianca Mangubat and Monica Villarica in Penelop Ong's Quiet. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Marco Malait is surrounded by figments of his imagination portrayed by Honneyville Jean Boiser, Pamela Bianca Mangubat and Monica Villarica in Penelop Ong’s Quiet. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.

Penelop Ong’s Quiet was a fun conceptual work and Ong made the most of theatre actor Marco Malait’s physical capacities and comedic timing. While the three girls were important to the beginning of the work, and kudos to their professionalism as they repeated the work from the top after an unfortunate power outage, I did feel that they need not enter again at the end. Still, it was one of the strongest from the program.

Less realised conceptually were Rean Tirol’s Moshiach, Isaiah Joel Villamater’s Pure Fountain, and Marius Centino’s A Slice of Life, though I must commend all their dancers for their technical skills. I suppose what these three works had in common was the emphasis on technical skill over substantial completeness of the work, and they probably could have done with some mentoring during the choreographic process. This may have been overlooked in the preparation for the festival, but hopefully Rodrigazo can include a mentoring program for the next C-MAP choreographers. I did enjoy Centino’s A Slice of Life, and commend his explorations of marrying hip hop and contemporary dance, and it only makes me want him to push more and explore more.

Jeiel Hernandez and Anna Agawa Senase in Jed Amihan's Via Mien. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Jeiel Hernandez and Anna Agawa Senase in Jed Amihan’s Via Mien. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.

Amihan’s Via-Mien has the upper hand over everyone in the program because this is the third version of his work; version 1 was for Airdance, of which he is a company member and associate artistic director, and version 2 was recently mounted on Taiwanese dancers at the 2015 International Young Choreographers Project in Taiwan. So he has actually improved upon version 3 several times, although this one uses a smaller cast and he is forced to insert feelings. “I didn’t want the relationship element to come out, but I had no choice,” he shares backstage during downtime. Still, I think it is the relationship element that ties the work together, although the movement, which is all that the first 2 versions had going for it, is already gorgeous and fulsome on its own. But the added depth of the emotional baggage thrown around between Prudenciado, Hernandez and Anna Agawa Senase made this version of Via-Mien breathtaking and difficult to forget.

Ready for what’s next 

In her opening remarks, Edna Vida Froilan said that this festival was not about Dwight, “it’s about you,” addressing the audience and the participants at the same time, “It’s about Bacolod. It’s about art flourishing in the regions of the country.” As much as I agree with her, I have to say that without Dwight Rodrigazo, there would be no C-MAP, and we are all the better for his generosity and fortitude.
Jenny Lee, Ang Yiyi, Sia Jau Huei, Hafzal Aziz and Joyce Chan in Jack Kek's Safety in Numbers. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.
Jenny Lee, Ang Yiyi, Sia Jau Huei, Hafzal Aziz and Joyce Chan in Jack Kek’s Safety in Numbers. Photo courtesy of C-MAP.

Accompanying my Malaysian team to Manila before heading back to Kuala Lumpur, they share that the Philippines is so lucky to have such an active dance scene, and were excited to learn that some of the choreographers they met at the festival, including Ernest Mandap, Xiao Mitchao and Rhosam Prudenciado Jr, were eager to work with them in the future. They asked if there was any chance that we would be back for the next C-MAP and I said, yes, in 2017, but most of them would have graduated by then. To which they replied, “If we take Masters, maybe still can?”

Meanwhile, I wish to visit the Philippines more regularly in the next year, and not just Manila, to see where the C-MAP choreographers will take their work, what they can come up with next. And of course, to actually be at the next C-MAP sessions. Rodrigazo is brilliant, and this first festival was outstanding, but if we want more C-MAP festivals in the future, he will need all the help he can get.

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