Defying gravity, 2022: Alice Reyes Dance Philippines

The National Artist for Dance breaks a leg with a new company

Spending an afternoon with Philippines National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes will always be a distinct pleasure. Under her mentorship, since June 2020, a number of pandemic-displaced Filipino dance artists found renewed purpose in their lives and careers, all under the umbrella of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARDP). Granted the opportunity by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), these dancers became part of the Center’s educational and production projects.

A rehearsal of an excerpt from Agnes Locsin’s ‘Moriones’

The result of that collaboration is over 2,000 classes taught, and more than 40 Extensive Educational Materials on the field of dance, extending from classical ballet, to modern and contemporary dance, to jazz and hip-hop—all taught by the nation’s best dance professionals, under the Professional Artists Support Program. And at the center of all these laudable efforts stood Alice: Her fiery resolve, dedication to her craft and chosen field, acting as beacons for the company as it transitioned to online performances and instructional video content.

Now that 2022 has seen a steady return to this ”new normal,” Alice and her Alice Reyes Dance Philippines troupe are taking the next step, one that I know all fans and supporters of the Art of Dance will welcome with open arms and ready applause. The ARDP is set to embark on a PASP 2022 Season. And we can also thank CCP Chair Margie Floirendo, and current President Arsenio Lizaso for this wonderful turn of events.

National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes and Tats Manahan

The ARDP Board is led by Tats Manahan, with the likes of Greg Banzon, Chris Upton, and Nicco Manalo sitting on the Board; and some of them were present on the afternoon I dropped by the CCP Rehearsal Hall, and got a foretaste of how this season will unfold. Said foretaste was an exceptional except from Moriones, as danced by four male dancers.

Exceptional because it’ll be a celebration of two living National Artists for Dance, Alice Reyes and Agnes Locsin (a 2022-conferred National Artist). From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, we’ll be regaled with “Pulso Pilipinas II: Alay Nina Alice at Agnes.” This show follows the Sept. 23-25 opening salvo of “Pulso Pilipinas,” which will highlight diverse dance cultures from the different regions of our country.

Greg Banzon and Anna Periquet

The 2022 Season finds itself presenting premieres and encores from Oct. 28 to 30, a collaboration between the CCP and the French Embassy, as part of the six month celebration of the 75th Anniversary of French-Filipino “Amity.” Renowned French choreographer Redha Benteifour’s pieces will be featured alongside that of young Filipino choreographers John Ababon, AL Abraham, JM Cabling, Lester Reguindin, and Erl Sorilla. Ronelson Yadao, who partners Alice in leading the ARDP, is especially excited about this showcase of homegrown choreographers.

Then the season comes to a close on Dec. 2 to 4 with “Puso Ng Pasko,” an original full-length Filipino ballet. It centers on the reminiscing done by Lolo Val, an overseas Filipino worker caught in his first lockdown Christmas. Conceptualized by Yadao, it’s with music by National Artist for Music, Ryan Cayabyab.

Ronelson Yadao and Alice Reyes

Time for painful honesty. When I entered the Rehearsal Hall, have to admit there were nagging thoughts in my mind. One was do we really need a new ballet company, given that, from what I know, ballet plays to a niche audience and is fueled by the dreams and aspirations of young girls, who often shuck away their “en pointe” shoes when they reach adolescence and/or realize what sort of dedication is needed to excel beyond a certain age. For the audiences that exist, it’s great to have a new option. But can the company financially survive and prosper? I was wondering what Alice would be bringing to the table to give the ARDP a distinct identity and distinguish it from the other big dance companies.

I must confess all these vestiges of doubt or questioning disappeared as I chatted with Alice and Ronelson, and watched the “Moriones” excerpt. Born out of being service-oriented and not just about performing, the company serves a purpose with distinction. And I liked listening to Alice talk about how while they would be performing classics and look outside the Philippines, the primary emphasis would always be highlighting dance by, and for, Filipinos. She was especially proud of how “Puso Ng Pasko” could very well be our version of how “The Nutcracker” is dragged out by almost every ballet company when Christmas comes around, and they definitely weren’t falling into that cliche of a programming trap.

There are definitely exciting prospects for Alice Reyes Dance Philippines, and we can be very grateful that Alice isn’t one to rest on her National Artist laurels, but is seeking new challenges. I know I’ll be in the audience when “Alay Nina Alice at Agnes” is performed, and I’m wishing this company success and longevity. Alice is still in glorious flight, and we should count ourselves lucky to be witnesses to this.