View From The Wings – 10
NEW NATIONAL ARTIST FOR DANCE TO PINOY: ‘GIVE ARTS A CHANCE’
by Pablo A. Tariman
Three ballet companies are all set for opening nights this month starting with Ballet Manila’s Swan Lake on November 14 to 16; Philippine Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker on November 15 and Ballet Philippines’ Cinderella starting November 28.
Ballet companies in this country are lucky if they break even in their season attractions and earn a little profit enough to tide them up for the next season.
But like most classical performing artists in this country, dancers survive on sheer love for their art plus audience adulation and nothing else.
The audience applause are enough music to their ears, good reviews assure them they are on the right track but at the end of the day, they figure out how long they can last in a profession that exacts a deep toll on their bodies and yet they get barely enough to own a house or buy a car. They are of course better off now than their earlier contemporaries who used to dance for a song with dance costumes donated by supportive parents and friends.
A classic case of art not sustaining the basic necessities of life is found in the documentary, “Mananayaw” directed by Rafael Froilan who happens to be the son of former Ballet Philippines premier danseur, Nonoy Froilan.
Many years back after a star-studded gala night, the older Froilan went home with his proud family only to find their abode literally in the dark. It turned out they failed to pay the month’s electric bill.
Whether they failed or just overlooked it because of the hectic rehearsals, it is a fact that artists don’t earn enough to meet the basic necessities of decent living.
To this day, Ballet Philippines doesn’t have a presentable dancer’s lounge and a decent washroom and CCP just doesn’t have the budget to meet that need. For this reason, they mobilized former company dancers and asked them to chip in to help the dancers and their mother ballet company in distress.
“We turn adversities into positive challenge,” said BP artistic director Paul Morales.
“Sometimes it can get frustrating constantly looking for funds and sponsors for coming events,” said BP president Margie Moran Floirendo. But seeing the young dancers do their best and bring honors to the country, you just have to do your best effort to be of help to them. Because they are national assets and they did the country proud in their recent overseas tour.”
The status of some ballet dancers like these members of the Philippine Ballet Theater is enunciated by pioneer dance mentor Julie Borromeo: “These young people all love to dance. It’s their passion; the small pay they receive is just incidental. A few of them never dreamed of learning or dancing ballet. Their parents put them in our school because they were having problems—drugs, relationships. Learning ballet took them away from all that trouble.”
Even as the country’s artists and musical ensembles continue to bring honor to the country, it is sad to note that no less than the country’s president has no love lost for the arts.
It took President Aquino nine months — after getting the official recommendations of the CCP and NCCA — to proclaim the country’s latest National Artists.
To make matters worse, he left out the most awarded actress in the movie industry – Nora Aunor — who got the highest votes among the artists recommended for proclamation.
Almost five months now after that proclamation, the date for the official tribute for newly proclaimed National Artists has yet to be decided.
Three months after that proclamation, one of the newly proclaimed National Artist for Music — conductor-composer Francisco Feliciano — died without getting his medallion he was supposed to get in the official tribute.
Among those waiting for the official honors is National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes who – along with other newly proclaimed National Artists –is planning to see the President and ask him why it is taking so long to give them their official state recognition.
“My life has not changed since being named National Artists,” said Reyes whose “Cinderella” opens at the CCP on November 28. “Like the other newly proclaimed National Artists, I still don’t have the medal. And like any other artists, I hang on to my obsession with dance regardless of whether my work does well or not in the box office. Our passion keeps us alive. Is it too much asking the President to be around during opening nights? Even with no financial support in sight, artists thrive on moral support and I think the President can very well do that. What the award triggered in me is that the more I wanted to give back. Nobody can live on choreographing in this country. But just reflecting on the dancers I have mentored and the choreographers I have inspired makes me want to give more after this award. Just seeing the young dancers do very well leaves me in tears. They are the reasons why artists like me are still alive.”
Asked what she would tell the President given a chance to have an audience with him, Reyes said she would gently ask him why it is taking so long to officially recognize National Artists many months after they were proclaimed. “I will also invite the President to come in one of our rehearsals and see for himself how dancers live and what they aspire for and the struggles dancers have to go through for their art. I suppose the other National Artists have questions at the back of their heads. Of course it gives us jitters to know that one of us had passed away without the official confirmation from the state.”
Told that the President has yet to be seen at the CCP, Reyes added: “I will probably tell him to give the arts a chance and that by avoiding the arts, he is actually missing a lot that is exciting in the cultural sector. I know he is a busy person and attending to the heavy burdens of the presidency. But all presidents of any country acknowledge the role of artists in national development.”
Artists and their art are deemed the soul of any country, progressive or not.
The heart and soul of Russia are its People’s Artists.
Excellence in the arts — as exemplified by its dance icon Maya Plisetskaya — had its leader Vladimir Putin handing out a bouquet to the artist in one latest tribute.
Pianist Cecile Licad was given a Presidential Medal for Excellence in the |Arts by no less than the late President Cory Aquino.
President Obama paid tribute to pianist Van Cliburn before the latter passed away; Obama was seen congratulating the Philippine Madrigal Singers in his first Philippine visit.
In 2003, Filipino baritone Nomer Son was congratulated by no less than Malaysia’s Mahathir after enjoying Tosca at the Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur.
President Joseph Estrada hosted a concert of the Cebu Philharmonic in Malacanang and donated a substantial amount to help the musicians.
President Arroyo took off from her busy schedule to attend the farewell concert of Canada-based Filipino soprano Eleanor Calbes at the Philamlife Theater.
Five years into his presidency, President Benigno Aquino III has yet to be seen in the country’s leading temple of the arts. It took ages to proclaim National Artists and now it is taking a longer time to honor them with a proper Malacanang ceremony.
It is said that the President’s favorite pastime is pistol-shooting and he was spotted in a gun store before leaving for the airport on the way back to the country.
Reports – unverified as they are — have it that the President turns to computer games at the Pangarap House for his relaxation.
A poet quipped that if the President has no time for Yolanda survivors in Tacloban on the first anniversary of that cyclone that killed thousands, how can he be expected to even bother with an evening at the ballet?
With no first lady to balance whatever is left of the presidential taste, indeed we cannot expect the arts to have a place in the Palace.
A ballet official once invited the presidential sister to the opening night and got a tactless answer, “Sorry, we are not into culture.”
Not all Presidents are expected to swoon over Mozart and Beethoven much more enjoy the stage magic of Swan Lake or Giselle.
But to our mind, it is essential that the President learn to acknowledge cultural and intellectual excellence even as he is always quick to congratulate Filipino boxers at the expense of Filipino artists who made history in the world’s toughest dance and music Olympics.