Edna Vida Froilan: Beyond ballet's legacy
MANILA, Philippines - Fresh from a 6-month stint as a fellow of the Asian Cultural Council, Edna Vida Froilan comes back to the Philippines filled with observations of American dance culture, notably in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
“I saw a diversity of approaches and ideas in theater, the visual arts, music and dance which opened my mind to new possibilities. It empowered me to be more daring, to create movement and direct with a new perspective and to find various ways of creating out of the box.
"It also showed me how successful Filipino artists are in their craft abroad and how proud we can be of their immense talent and drive.”
While in the US, Edna was able to get in touch with other Filipino artists: former Ballet Philippines dancer Elizabeth Roxas (former principal dancer of the Ailey Dance Company), independent choreographer Kristin Jackson, theater actress Lydia Gaston, school director Malu Rivera-Peoples, director and choreographer Enrico Labayen.
Edna is currently preparing for a new choreography for Ballet Philippines' “A Christmas Carol” to be premiered in December 2013.
Born on November 14, 1954, Edna is the youngest of 3 Reyes sisters who also made distinguished careers in Philippine dance: Alice Reyes and Denisa Reyes. Alice founded the CCP Modern Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines), while Denisa rose as one of the modern choreographers and artistic directors of the dance company.
They were born to artistic parents: mother Adoracion Garcia-Reyes was a soprano in UP, while their father Ricardo Reyes was a Bayanihan dancer.
Edna's first ballet teachers were Greta Monserrat Aguilar, Joji Felix Velarde, Cesar Mendoza, and Eddie Elejar. Starting ballet in grade school, Edna stopped and returned after high school. She then continued with Ballet Philippines, then known as the CCP Modern Dance Company. She considers her sister Alice Reyes and mentor Tony Fabella as the major influences in her dance training.
Edna opines, “I wanted to be a journalist but fate intervened. I took the summer dance workshops in CCP under Alice Reyes in the early '70s and found myself pursuing a dance career instead.” Edna started out as a dance scholar and worked her way up to the top of the ladder by becoming principal dancer, resident choreographer, faculty, associate director, and co-artistic director of Ballet Philippines.
With Ballet Philippines, Edna was given the chance to dance second lead roles with ballet luminaries such as Natalia Makarova, Fernando Bujones, and Yoko Morishita.
Despite her successes, Edna shares that it was already late when she decided to make it as a professional dancer. “I was 18 when I decided to be professional. It was quite late for me to pursue a career as a ballet dancer since I began my serious training only after high school.
"The other girls in the company started very young but I was strong-willed and determined. I was lucky that the company was still young. If this happened today I don’t think I’d make it. There is just too much competition and the dancers are a lot stronger nowadays.”
And though Edna started late, her determination paid off. She worked doubly hard than the rest. “I worked hard each day in class and improved and, like all dancers, started to breathe, eat, and live dance. I was the only Reyes girl who could be a ballerina so I worked even harder to merit the coveted roles in classical ballet.”
“My biggest break came when I became a member of the company and joined the Australian/South East Asian tour in 1974. Alice made me her alternate in many of her lead roles in the program. This was a big honor and challenge for me.”
Edna also essayed lead roles with danseur Nonoy Froilan, with whom she is married. They have two children, Michaela and Rafael, who are into theater and film.
As a choreographer, some of Edna's works of note are Pagsamba, Vision of Fire and Peter Pan.
Of her choreographic style, Edna shares: “I am dancer-oriented. I choreograph to show off the dancers more than myself as a choreographer. I am also movement-oriented and let the music dictate ideas to me.
"I like telling stories in dance, I like creating movement for the sheer pleasure of dancing, and I like to interpret music with its sheer harmonic and rhythmic beauty as opposed to some choreographers who prefer to make statements in their works.”
Besides dance, Edna has also worked in theater, appearing as Lady Macbeth in Tanghalang Pilipino's Macbeth and in Gilda Cordero's Luna: An Aswang Romance. As a visual artist, she had two solo exhibits at Megamall’s Gallery Y and the Penguin Gallery Café.
As a writer, she has contributed to Philippine Star, Manila Times, Business Daily, the CCP Dance Encyclopedia, Sanghaya 2002, and the Indayog Dance Magazine of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
She has also started writing her memoirs, which include experiences with various foreign and local artists.
Coming back to the country that practically nurtured her artistic life, Edna now plans to delve more into theater, whether as a plawright, a director, or actor. She also plans to continue drawing, which she finds therapeutic.
“I have always believed that the fields of art are connected and I want to encourage artists to dip their hands in as many fields as possible to further their growth.”
Edna, the multi-gifted artist, continues to carry the legacy of ballet and all the other arts as allied disciplines, highlighting the fact that the collaborative nature of the arts make the lifeblood of any culture alive. - Rappler.com
(Rina Angela Corpus is an assistant professor of Art Studies at the College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines. She survived Sandy while on special detail in New York in October 2012. She practices the healing arts of shibashi-chigong and Raja Yoga meditation. Her poems have been featured in Mad Swirl, Philippine Collegian, Philippines Free Press, and Tayo Literary Magazine.)