“My moral compass was always about integrity,” says the dancer and National Artist.
“I had one colleague in the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company who never looked at me. During our whole year, she never looked at me during the tour,” Alice Reyes recounts. “When I became National Artist, she joined a dinner the Bayanihan gave and wanted to have a photo with me. It depends on each person, how they look at you.”
Nobody, however, can doubt Reyes’ talent. She studied ballet at a young age and joined the Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company. She founded Ballet Philippines. She created the Alice Reyes Dance Company. The list goes on. She has been dancing for over half a century after all. “I had parents who were both musicians and artists,” she says. “I grew up in that, so I took for granted that this is what everybody did. I didn’t have to have earth-shattering discussions with myself. I just went. That was an advantage in a sense. I didn’t have any deep turmoil about it.”
She says that the way she has shaped her life and achieved to get where she is today is mainly due to persistence. “It’s been about knocking on doors, forever and ever. It’s about putting many ideas down, sharing them, and asking people to come with me. ‘Let’s do this.’ I keep plugging away. If I have an idea, I will go for it. And because I’m persistent, sooner or later, it will happen. Some don’t, but you just take that in stride. That’s part of the learning, growing experience,” Reyes says. “And I share that with all the members of Alice Reyes Dance. I’m mentoring them, pointing out this didn’t happen, and why, what’s the lesson we can learn to become our best selves and go on.”
There are many places where Alice finds beauty. “I live in a six-bedroom home, but I keep it because I wake up to birds singing,” she says. “Then there’s a dancer who has come up from a bad knee surgery and can work and work and work and finally do something amazing. I say wow.”
There have been many challenges in 80 years of life, she shares. “The lack of government financial support for the arts is one. It’s not just for me. It’s for all the arts. Because of Congressman Toff de Venecia and Congressman Kiko Benitez, we now have this creative law, which is amazing. It has to be funded,” she says.
This September, a rare collaborative work, the rock opera ballet, Rama, Hari by five National Artists namely, composer Ryan Cayabyab, librettist Bienvenido Lumbera, production designer Salvador Bernal, translator Rolando Tinio, and, Reyes herself as the director and choreographer will be restaged.
When asked if she was a “national compass,” National Artist for Dance, Reyes says that she “would never claim that. That’s major and massive. I feel that each individual has his or her own compass. Some get to it earlier, some get to it later, but we all have our north star. At some point, we know what we want for ourselves. For our world, for our families.”
She continues: “Thinking back, that my moral compass was always about integrity. You need to live with yourself, you need to be able to sleep, you need to be able to look at yourself in the mirror, see yourself. Integrity to me is, because I’m in the arts, excellence. There’s no middle ground. Either it is good or not good.”
Meet The Ladies Who Launch
In thoroughly exploring their passions, honing their skills, and continuing to be beacons who inspire a whole nation, these five women show a life well-crafted and well-lived.
According to the World Economic Forum Report Global Gender Gap Report from June 2023, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Australia have the highest gender parity among East Asian and Pacific countries. If young Filipinas today have an edge, no doubt that this was carved out by the many trailblazing women who came before. Heroines in their own right, these revolutionaries are educators, scholars, writers, and artists.
Here, we pay tribute to five pioneering women who have paved the way and showed us how to live a meaningful life. They are our national treasures. Literally, too, as Alice Reyes is a National Artist for Dance and Dolores Ramirez is a National Scientist.
These women traversed challenging waters and anchored themselves on the world stage. They achieved tremendous milestones over 250 years combined, in the fields of Culture, the Arts, and the Sciences, helping shape Philippine society and influencing future leaders for generations to come.
By Ria De Borja. Photographs by Artu Nepomuceno. Beauty Editor: Joyce Oreña. Fashion Director: Pam Quiñones. Makeup: Gery Peñaso of M.A.C Cosmetics, Ting Duque. Hair: JA Feliciano, Mong Amado. Art Director: Jann Pascua. Production Design: Justine Arcega-Bumanlag. Producer: Bianca Zaragoza, Anz Hizon. Multimedia Artists: Gabbi Constantino, Tinkerbell Poblete. Production Assistant: Zofia Agama. Photographer’s Assistants: Choi Narciso, Jordon Estrada. Stylist’s Assistant: Ticia Almazan. Production Design Assistants: Gabrielle Mantala, Geber Cunanan, Jan Abal, Olderico Bondoc. Makeup Assistants: Charisma Contaoi, Leilani Samson, Lorrine Villamayor. Interns: Jean-Jacques Girod- Roux, Sophia Lanawan.