Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARDP), a dance company founded by the National Artist, is on a mission to transform lives.
Not only is it delivering sublime performances that exalt Filipino culture on different stages across the country, but it is also giving COVID-19 pandemic-displaced Filipino dance artists the opportunity to earn from their passion.
“No matter what happens, may pandemic o wala, darating ang mga bills,” ARDP Artistic Director Ronelson Yadao told PhilSTAR L!fe. “And (Reyes) understands that as dance artists, we need to keep our bodies moving. We need to keep our technique.”
The group has been active since the height of lockdown in June 2020 under Reyes’s tutelage, backed by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) via its Arts Education Program. Under the program, CCP provided a stipend in exchange for producing dance videos, as well as online lectures and workshops about dance.
They were also able to sustain their training, performances, and new works via CCP’s Professional Artists Support Program.
It was a fruitful arrangement where everybody could brush up on not only their craft, but also on their choreography and teaching skills—all while surviving the public health crisis.
There was, however, one catch: They could not carry CCP’s name, as they were not an official resident company.
As COVID-19 restrictions started to ease, Reyes’s mentees started getting invites for small shows outside.
Last May, the group registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and officially became known as Alice Reyes Dance Philippines. But who exactly are they,?
Veterans under a new group, COVID-19 challenges
Though ARDP is relatively new, its members are already considered veterans, having performed on stage for years.
“Ang average age namin is nasa 30s na. In a dancing career, you're getting there,” Yadao said.
Theirs is also the classic case of members dedicating practically their whole lives to the craft, like Katrene San Miguel, 27, who started when she was just a little girl.
San Miguel told PhilSTAR L!fe she has all the support she can get from her family, especially her mother who enrolled her in Effie Nañas School of Classical Ballet, then in De La Salle College of St. Benilde, where she finished a bachelor of performing arts in dance.
“It's a little bit easy for my life to shift to dance and love it so much,” she said.
But while San Miguel has a stable relationship with dance in the past few years, the pandemic proved to be challenging.
San Miguel recalled how her family’s living room had been turned into a makeshift studio. Though her family was supportive, it was still quite unsettling for her to do jumps and turns with them around. She also had to deal with dancing with peers and choreographing others via Zoom—on top of an unstable internet connection.
Such was the case for Erl Sorilla, 30, who pointed out that interpreting movement through the camera could get alienating.
Though Sorilla has over 11 years of experience on stage, and dance degrees at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s College of Music and Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling in Laguna, making do with things online while in their personal spaces such as their rooms wasn’t on par with being in an actual dance studio.
“[Dancing] is a very physical job,” Sorilla told PhilSTAR L!fe. “Right now, sobrang naa-appreciate namin iyong space na nagbalik na.”
In any case, he said the adjustment helped him have a different perspective on movement, as they’ve always tailored performances for stages and auditoriums.
“Lumalawak siya. At the same time, we’re able to support ourselves,” Sorilla said, referring to CCP’s programs. “Naging outlet (din) siya,” taking note of “all the anxieties and frustrations” of being locked up at home.
The lockdown for San Miguel, meanwhile, made her cast some doubts over her long-time romance with dance.
“There was a point that I'm questioning why I should do this,” she said. “Until when?”
In fact, San Miguel took a hiatus and focused on other matters, like bonding with her family, as she’s been mostly away from them especially before the pandemic. She also learned how to drive a car and give a haircut.
Having said that, San Miguel had to pick up right where she left things off with dancing, as she believes it’s her true calling.
“If you would not dance for a day or two, it's like back to zero,” she noted, adding that taking 1:00 am classes is necessary just to make up for lost days.
San Miguel is thankful that the past few months made her reevaluate her love of dancing, which will be stronger than ever moving forward.
“Ano ba itong nilalasap mo every rehearsal, every show that you have?” she asked herself. “Even if it's hard, even if hinihingal every time,” she said, noting a major adjustment when in-person rehearsals returned is always wearing a mask.
Yet San Miguel wouldn’t have it otherwise. “You don't know baka mawala uli iyon.”
The soft skills she acquired during the pandemic also reinforced her being of service to others, whether she’s a dance artist or not.
“I get to do the haircut of my mom. I made her beautiful,” she said with a chuckle.
I think importante na i-embrace natin ang kultura natin. Kasi, doon lang natin malalaman kung saan tayo papunta. Kung di tayo grounded sa mga traditions and nuances bilang Pilipino, di natin mararating anumang gusto nating marating.
Debut season in full swing
ARDP’s debut season is in full swing, with a stacked lineup of shows this year.
On Sept. 23 to 24, ARDP will be staging Pulso Pilipinas I, a production that brings regional dance students and professional dance artists to the CCP Main Theater stage.
On Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, Pulso Pilipinas II: Alay nina Alice at Agnes, the joint forces of Reyes and fellow National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin.
On Oct. 28 to 29, Premieres and Encores, a collaboration between CCP and the French Embassy as part of the 75th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship between France and the Philippines.
On Dec. 2 and 4, Puso ng Pasko, an original production which also features music from National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab.
The overarching theme of the productions, Yadao noted, is the Filipino identity. While they’re borrowing techniques from the likes of classical ballet, the shows will also be highlighting folk dance, noting what the Philippines has to offer is as good as foreign countries.
“I think importante na i-embrace natin ang kultura natin. Kasi, doon lang natin malalaman kung saan tayo papunta,” he said. “Kung di tayo grounded sa mga traditions and nuances bilang Pilipino, di natin mararating anumang gusto nating marating.”
Pulling off a “beautiful fusion” of the classic and contemporary, as well as the Filipino and foreign, is also something audiences would have to watch out for, Yadao noted.
Last July 23, ARDP had its inaugural performance as a dance company in Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte, Mindanao. The company was part of the Dapitan Arts and Heritage Council’s “Revisatamos Dapitan 1892,” a two-week (July 16 to 31) celebration of the 130th anniversary of Jose Rizal’s exile to the city.
ARDP performed outdoors at the Punto del Desembarco de Rizal en Dapitan, where Rizal actually landed. Prior to that, ARDP also gave workshops to local dancers.
Yadao is on cloud nine that they were able to mount a production outside of the traditional theater in the metro that’s oft inaccessible to the general public.
“Funny nga, kasi iyong show namin sa Dapitan, it was in a theme park. Imagine, merong rides and all,” he said. “It's very unusual, pero it worked because andoon ang tao.”
“It showed na may chance at may ways to show the pieces, to put up a production na di kailangang bongga,” Yadao added.
ARDP also opened for the Cinemalaya Film Festival last Aug. 9, and its Awards Night on Aug. 14.
Yadao said they’re looking forward to more theatrical performances, inasmuch as they’re hoping for more backing as inflation is also rearing its head.
With their Dapitan experience as impetus, Yadao also said one of their main objectives as a dance company is to bring the discipline closer to the masa, whether they’re staging a production or conducting workshops.
“We want to reach out the regions and have this wonderful exchange of ideas in dance and techniques,” he said. “We hope to give it back to the community, if we can.”
ARDP, Yadao said, will also continue coordinating with local government units and sustaining the conversation about dance, not only as means to receive funding but also to emphasize how essential the discipline is in our daily lives.
“We're doing what we do best,” he said. “Also, iba iyong nagta-travel ka kasi pag-uwi mo, may baon ka na naman. And then, you repeat the cycle of give and take.”
“I hope na makita niyo ang identity niyo sa mga sayaw na ito,” Yadao told prospective audiences of their upcoming shows. “Kita-kits!”
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