The ballet tradition of “reverence” has been thrown out of the window as far as the future of Ballet Philippines (BP) is concerned. With neither a curtsy nor a bow to the venerable 50-year-old company or to its founder and outgoing artistic director, no less than National Artist for Dance Alice G. Reyes, the BP board chaired by businessman Antonio O. Cojuangco and headed by Maymay Liechtenstein recently set aside BP associate artistic directors, the American Adam Sage and the Filipino Ronelson Yadao, whom Reyes had been training to replace her, and chose Russian dancer Mikhail Martynyuk as BP’s new artistic director.
Alumni and BP’s current corps of dancers are aghast at the shabby treatment that Reyes and her associate directors got, and have made known their displeasure loudly. Generations of BP dancers have come out on social media to denounce the disreputable move, but Cojuangco and his board said they were standing by the decision, and he invited “the dance community to join us in taking our country’s premier ballet company to new heights.”
But there’s exactly the rub. The achievement of Reyes and BP has been to make classical ballet and contemporary works serve the ends of Philippine dance. It could be said that they have developed a distinct Philippine idiom in dance. But how could a Russian, who has never worked with BP before, who does not know — or much less has immersed in — its history of making classical ballet and modern dance a vehicle for exploring, expressing, and defining Philippine identity, take it to “new heights”?
It is suspicious that Sage and Yadao had received very short notice from the search committee. Sage said he was given only 48 hours to prepare for the interview on Feb. 3. He was told to prepare the paperwork and his choreographic portfolio on a flash disk. The American dancer asked that the meeting be reset to Feb. 4 because of a prior appointment or to any day after that, but the board turned him down. Both Sage and Yadao didn’t show up for the rush interview — their absence eventually cited by the board as leading to the choice of Martynyuk.
Also suspicious is the BP board’s decision to cancel “Itim Asu,” one of Reyes’ acclaimed original choreographic works, at the CCP on Feb. 21. The date is significant since it would mark the 50th anniversary of the public debut of the Alice Reyes Dance Company, the forerunner of BP. The board cited an advisory from the Department of Health about the coronavirus outbreak as reason for the cancellation. To be sure, CCP itself didn’t cancel the show because as its resident company, BP is entitled to a venue grant and first priority in the use of its theaters. And CCP obviously would not cancel the show since it was the work of a National Artist for Dance. (National Artists are elected by the joint boards of the CCP and National Commission for Culture and the Arts.) And what DOH advisory was the BP board talking about? CCP has again set commercial screenings of the Imelda Marcos documentary, “The Kingmaker.” The screenings do not seem to have been affected by the DOH advisory.
All this only shows that the BP board has been treating Reyes and her legacy in the BP cavalierly. It is the company’s history and identity that have been carefully nurtured and developed through the years by Reyes and her students and collaborators that the board has chosen to dump in its eager rush “to further enhance their (BP dancers’) skills” and “widen their repertoire to an international community.”
In forming a search committee for a new artistic director without a clear grasp of what BP stands for and what it has achieved and developed for the past half-century, and eventually settling for a foreign artist with absolutely no grounding in the company’s distinctly Filipino heritage and history, the BP board has simply proceeded along the lines of ruthless globalization and capitalism. That obliviousness can be gleaned from BP vice-chair Maan Hontiveros’ instrumentalist and mercenary defense of the choice of Martynyuk: that, according to the Sunday Lifestyle Inquirer report on the controversy on Feb. 16, he “has excellent ideas on the use of multimedia instead of sets, which can lower costs… he has a network of choreographers and teachers whose fees are negotiable.”
What all this may indicate is that the BP board is dancing a pas de deux with the cash register as partner. Ultimately, this may prove to be a danse macabre, a dance of death, for “the country’s premier ballet company.”
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