Kiefer Ravena

[Books] Defiant Daughters Dancing

Agnes Prieto

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This book is a statement that goes beyond the conventional definitions of dance

BEYOND DANCE CONVENTIONS. This book shows that there is a deeper process to dance than meets the eye.

MANILA, Philippines – Defiant Daughters Dancing by Rina Angela Corpus is an important voice from the realm of quarter life — that time which brings on the quest for meaning beyond the conventional routine of the accepted, a midlife concern in the past.

Corpus is a trained ballerina steeped in the classical and active in the academe.

Her book is bravely feminist, highlighting the dance practice of 3 contemporary “dance makers” — Myra Beltran, Kristin Jackson and Agnes Locsin — and Corpus who sees herself as a co-performer as she documents how they traipse beyond the bar of conventional and traditional dance to new personal spaces and unexpected   expressions.

Corpus documents the dualities of mind VS body, reason VS emotion, thinking VS feeling, culture VS nature, masculine VS feminine. Dance makers challenge the traditional patriarchal logic to come to a sense of self-empowered expression.

Myra Beltran, the first dancer in focus, was presenting a self-choreographed piece entitled “Becoming,” an austere minimalist number which documented movement from struggle and angst to freedom in discordant and conflicted movement. This captivated Corpus and led her onto her journey of documentation of the emerging energies.

Beltran started out as a conventional dance student, and her struggle to overcome the challenges of a brown-skinned neophyte danseuse led her to much questioning and angst which eventually shaped her own independent dance path when she returned home.

She took to heart the necessity for cultural grounding, exploring in depth issues of women in the Philippines, among other topics. Dancing would become Beltran’s mode of self-empowerment, transforming her personal angst into an expressive piece of art, a fresh language with which to communicate social concerns and community issues with her highly-individualized movement expression, or dance.

Beltran would evolve in empathy with other artists as she began to improvise free body movement for installation works of art icons such as Bencab, Robert Villanueva and Kidlat Tahimik, creating ritual around their expression. Her presence added dimension and movement to their collaboration.

Technically, Beltran uses the rudiments of ballet work — but with improvisations on basic ballet steps to get in touch with the body and not so much to show off form. It is introspective, bringing dance deeper in an understanding of her own bodily gestures and expression.

Kristin Jackson, another dance maker in focus, exemplifies the Filipina in diaspora, having settled and created a dance career in the US. She makes her mark with a clear definition of style characterized by stillness and repetitive movement amidst the culturally-diverse environment of New York City where she dances.  

Her influence is clearly Asian: minimalist with compositions of bare and basic movements, says Corpus, distilling her movements to “the core or the essence,” “paring down a story to a few key phrases or words.” The cleanliness of dance movement complements the simple, non-linear approach used in her group choreography known as the “chance method” in contrast to the linear logic of most Western work.

“The challenge and struggle is to stay honest and express myself simply (and) clearly. The risk of failure is always present, yet, like life, it is through adversity that knowledge is gained,” Jackson says.

Agnes Locsin is best described in the Ballet Philippines logo showing an Igorot priestess performing “balletic legwork of a la seconde attitude, her arms outstretched and hands flexed in a Cordilleran bird-mimicking attitude.”

Locsin is best known for her neo-ethnic productions such as Igorota which impacted on the “independent dancing” scene as part of the “Philippine Movement Transformation” in tandem with the Filipino search for a national identity. Her vast body of work is characterized by ethnic-inspired dances, many of them reflecting her roots in Mindanao.

Locsin’s dancing career had an early boost as she helped in her mother Carmen’s dance studio right in the family living room.  

Eventually, she would teach and take on choreography, capping this with an MA in Dance abroad. As artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines for 15 years, she would gift her audience with wondrous repertoire of such works as “Babaylan,” “La Revolucion Filipina,” “Igorot,” “Taong Talangka,” “Moriones” and “Salome.”  

A Filipino dancer — that is her identity as she easily integrates the classical with the indigenous seamlessly. Her early grounding in dance and intensive research work on Philippine culture has ensured her place in the Philippine dance story.

History unfolds events, helping us understand the present, and who we have become because of what was. 

Corpuz brings delicate shifts in dance to our attention; mirroring us, and gifting us with understanding and acceptance. –

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