by KRISTOFER PURNELL
It may already be a new year—a new decade even—but the celebrations still continue for Ballet Philippines for its 50th season. Having staged such classic materials such as Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Cinderella, the company is going back to one local ballet that has a special place in history.
For its fourth offering of the season, Ballet Philippines will be restaging Itim Asu, based on the three ritual scenes in Virginia Moreno’s award winning play The Onyx Wolf. Itim Asu first premiered at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1970, just a year after both the company and the center were inaugurated. At the time Alice Reyes had just established the Alice Reyes Modern Dance Company and worked on choreography for Itim Asu. The resulting ballet paved the way for modern dance in the Philippines, and the company’s ability to dance in various styles.
This local ballet will be accompanied by a series of dances in order to demonstrate how the art form is the country’s true social and historical barometer—thus the official title of the offering is Itim Asu and Other Dances. These dances include Adam Sage’s Glinka’s Valse, Erl Sorilla’s The Weight on Our Toes, Augustus “Bam” Damian’s Carmen Pas de Deux, Lester Reguindin’s We Men, and David Campos’ Ne neh le dej.
Itim Asu centers around the vengeful Luisa, whose husband the Governor-General Bustamante is assassinated by a hooded mob in Intramuros because of his attempts to stop the Galleon Trade corruptions by religious and influential people. In the 1970 premiere, it was Alice who essayed the role of Luisa. Edna Vida took up the mantle in the 1984 performance, while in 1990—the last time Ballet Philippines staged it—Luisa was alternated between Sofia Zobel and Tina Fargas.
“Itim Asu made Ballet Philippines what it is now,” says the company’s president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein. “I don’t know if we would have journeyed to what we are now, well-balanced between classic and contemporary.”
Making Itim Asu and Other Dances all the more special is Ballet Philippines marking it as a mixed bill production, and will be focusing on issues faced by the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, Queer) community such as “coming out,” acceptance, and being true to oneself. “The very essence [that] we’re a group of artists, we all have personalities that transcend what we want to be. We want to be true to ourselves,” continues Kathleen. “A lot of the members of the company are part of the LGBTQ community, and we want to do justice for them.” She even shares how one of the dances is so angst, it had her in tears.
Virginia herself has promised to be in attendance when Itim Asu goes on stage, 50 years after its first production, and will be in the company of Alice who is now a National Artist and Ballet Philippines’ artistic director. The stories these dance have told over the years have remained intact and now they will mean so much more to the community, still growing in both passion and compassion.