Alice Reyes, National Artist for Dance, has been looking forward to February 21, 2020 for years. On this exact date, she would be celebrating the 50th year since her show, Alice Reyes & Dance Company in a Modern Dance Concert, made its public debut at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
In 1969, Reyes, together with Eddie Elejar, founded Ballet Philippines (BP), of which she is currently the artistic director. Ballet Philippines is a resident dance company of the CCP.
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For this momentous day, a Friday, Reyes’s dream had been to re-stage Itim Asu, a one-act modern dance piece, based on Virginia Moreno’s award-winning drama, The Onyx Wolf. In the ‘70s, Reyes had a leading role in the same play, which was then directed by the late National Artist for Theater and Literature, Rolando Tinio.
But Reyes’s dream was not to be. Last February 12, BP announced on it’s social media accounts that the show Itim Asu and Other Dances had been cancelled. The statement cited the NCOVID-19 outbreak as the reason behind the cancellation, adding “Tickets of Itim Asu and Other Dances may be used for our next show, Rama, Hari.”
Talks have been going around in society and culture circles that this decision by the Ballet Philippines Board of Trustees may have something to do with the current controversy surrounding the appointment of the Russian dancer Mikhail “Misha” Martynyuk as the new artistic director of BP. He will be replacing Reyes, whose term as artistic director will end on March 31, 2020, the end of BP’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Martynyuk’s new role in the Philippines’ national cultural flagship in ballet and contemporary dance was announced on February 8. The appointment has sparked the ire of local ballet dancers, artists, and patrons of Philippine arts and culture. Others say it is inapt to have a non-Filipino taking on the role. Still others believe that choosing Martynyuk over Reyes’s nominees—Adam Sage and Ronelson Yadao—is a sign of disrespect to Reyes.
A close friend of Reyes, who requested anonymity, is aghast over the cancellation, and the excuse the ballet company is peddling: the NCOVID-19 virus. “There have been concerts going all over the Metro Manila,” says our source. “CCP is even showing The Kingmaker. Then, they cancel Itim Asu—after the protests. You think that’s a coincidence?”
Fortunately, someone rattled people’s cages to make the show happen. According to our source, this might have been CCP chairperson Margie Moran Floirendo. “BP is a resident company of CCP,” the source reiterated. “The BP Board cannot intervene.”
Ricca Bautista, a former scholar and artistic assistant of Ballet Philippines, worked as a researcher for the book, Alice Reyes & Ballet Philippines: A 50-year Legacy. Via email, she says she believes the CCP is pushing through with the Reyes show “because it is a historical work that premiered in their theater 50 years ago. At least courageous people will be able to see it despite the virus.”
The show has now been renamed, Alice & Friends, and will be shown today, Friday, February 21, 2020, at the CCP Main Theater, at 8:00 p.m. The concert will be free and open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis.
“They couldn’t move it for her?”
According to the ANCX source, Reyes only found out about Martynyuk’s appointment after she had discovered a request for plane tickets for a Russian passenger. “The Board knew she wasn’t available for the meetings about the successor,” the source recalled. “They couldn’t move it for her?”
Reyes had already expressed to the Board that she wanted Sage, an American, and BP’s associate artistic director, for the position. Sage came to the Philippines in the ‘80s, and has performed for BP many times in the past. Yadao, on the other hand, is a Filipino and BP’s associate artistic director. He was being groomed by Reyes to become a co-artistic director to Sage.
“When the Board called Adam and Ronelson for an interview, they [Adam and Ronelson] were given, what, two days to prepare?” the source said. “It’s really unfair.” The two men didn’t make it to the interview.
Bautista, who is currently taking her PhD in Anthropology, at the University of the Philippines (UP), spoke in agreement with many of her fellow dancers: “I think they chose him [Martynyuk] thinking that for them to go global, the company needs him to take the lead. But I am with the BP community statement that maintains the company is Filipino, and I think the best way to ensure that is to listen to the Filipino dance artists working in the company, especially with what they have to say about the future of Philippine dance.”
Bautista was shocked to find out about Martynyuk’s appointment through an online news article shared on social media. “I was taken aback because it felt like such a huge break from the company's history and where it seemed to be going,” she wrote.
“As I revisited the BP history, Martynyuk seems to come out of the blue. If you look at the careers of past artistic directors, they had already choreographed or danced at least one piece for Ballet Philippines before being appointed. (An exception is Alan Hineline, but he shared the directorship with Max Luna who had already worked with BP by then.)”
In the past few weeks, more people have made their voices heard, mostly on social media, against the BP Board’s decision—among them former CCP president Nes Jardin and professor and author Cecilia Manikan.
On February 9, Jardin posted on his Facebook account how valuable the role is of an artistic director. “As president and administrator of Ballet Philippines, I fully supported the decisions of all the artistic directors who worked with me because I believe that in a performing arts organization, the soul of the company is the artistic director.” Jardin added, “When the board of trustees exercises its legal power over artistic matters, it is bound to kill a performing arts company. I do hope this doesn’t happen to Ballet Philippines.”
On February 13, on her Facebook page Manikan published her thoughts on the importance of having a Filipino artistic director: “All foreign artists are welcome to collaborate as ballet masters, guest artists, what have you…but the company's soul cannot be relinquished to another nationality. How can foreign nationalities dig deep into our own literature, our own historical past, or immerse themselves into the life and culture of indigenous tribes so as to derive inspiration for a new dance that expresses culture or heritage? Artistic Directors do that.”
In the end, Manican said this issue is not a personal quarrel. She and the rest of her fellow dancers are merely fighting for the future of a company, which they still call home.
“Ballet Philippines, we all cried, we fought one another, bitterly at times, but in the end the passion that binds us together will make us fight together for you! New breed of administrators, listen and take heed.”