From the stage to the screen, Madge Reyes is this generation’s iconoclast of dance.
But the multi-awarded ballet dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, and founder of the film festival Fifth Wall Fest only speaks of dance tenderly: “I’m a different person when I’m dancing. I might even be my best version.”
Madge is quick to share her favorite dance films, explaining the viscerality of the two mediums marrying. Among her favorites is Pina, a documentary about Pina Bausch, the German choreographer whose work made Madge realize that “there is dancing in the everyday.”
Out of concern to prevent her child from developing scoliosis, Madge’s mother enrolled her in her first ballet class at the age of three. By the age of eight, she had already started competing abroad, where she won gold in Singapore.
All this while her eyesight had a grade of 150, which would exponentially worsen to 1,500 into her teens. In the beginnings of her dance career, Madge would take off her eyeglasses before every rehearsal and performance. People often say when one sense is impaired, the rest are heightened; this would be true for Madge as she developed an intimate awareness of space and the people around her. Space would be a recurring motif in Madge’s life, one which would push her to redefine dance beyond a traditional stage.
It was Steve Villaruz, the artistic director emeritus of the UP Dance Company, who awarded her the prestigious Luva Adameit-Special Award when she was just 16. Madge refers to this moment as a “core memory,” remembering Villaruz approaching her to say she reminded him of Margot Fonteyn, the legendary ballerina who was instrumental in putting British ballet on the international scene.
Madge developed a maddening dedication to the art of dance, even while pursuing a degree in Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines. “The running joke with dancers is ‘I’m sorry I can’t make it. I’m at rehearsals,’” she says. Every day she would balance her academics alongside her budding career, enduring the daily travel from Quezon City to the opposite end of Metro Manila where rehearsals were held, and staying there into the late evening. By the age of 21, she was promoted to soloist in Ballet Philippines.
When Madge injured her foot at Ballet Philippines’ 44th seasonal show, she recalls, “I had to rethink things. I had to pause from dance, but the world just opened up even more as I got deeper into my craft as an artist and designer.”
During this period, Madge gained an interdisciplinary approach to dance and the visual arts. “It’s given me a lot of perspective. [Design] is so different from performance art, but as creative disciplines, there’s always a convergence of sorts. Even in my design work, I would inject dance sensibilities into it.”
For her undergraduate thesis, Madge made a short film titled Improve, which would win best thesis and signal her foray into the art of dance films. In 2017, Madge pitched Lucid, a dance film, to the committee of the newly opened Maybank Performing Arts Theater.
“I had this crazy idea of making a dance film underwater and projecting it against their building façade,” she says. “I wanted to solve the issue of accessibility and affordability.”
In 2019, she went on a research fellowship in New York where she explored the field of dance film. Among the dance films Madge saw was Cunningham, a documentary about the choreographer, Merce Cunningham. “The interesting part is that everyone who queued outside wanted to see it. The energy was palpable! I wanted that for the Philippines.”
At that point, Madge already knew she wanted to put up a film festival centered on dance. By the time Madge had finished her fellowship, she returned to a Philippines reeling from the pandemic. Live performances had ground to a halt and cultural workers of all kinds were left to reconsider what a stage could be.
By October 2020, Madge successfully launched the first edition of Fifth Wall Fest, the Philippines’ first international film festival dedicated to the genre of dance film. The festival’s name is derived from the concept of the “fifth wall,” the state in which an audience member exits an arts venue after a cultural experience.
The team hopes to develop strong patronage and even stronger platforms for the dance and arts community to converge, collaborate, and expand their craft. “It’s apparent that we like collaborating with surrounding creative arts or disciplines,” Madge shares. “We try to welcome anyone and everyone to
Dance will always be central to Madge, but these days, she tackles it from every angle. “I like where I am now. I get to be in front of a camera, behind it. I can even be in-between it, meaning I can produce, choreograph, I direct. It’s 360.”
With its third edition, Fifth Wall Festival 2022 sets its sights on a hybrid event. “Apart from our online presence, we’ll have something on-ground. This would be the year we’re able to show people what it truly means to experience movement beyond the stage and screen.”
Regardless of how dance is presented or felt, Madge Reyes is a believer of dance as essential to feeling human. “There are so many different ways to digest dance. When I’m dancing, I’m so in the moment that I forget everything else. For a split second of time, you’re able to transport yourself elsewhere and come back to reality.”
This story originally appeared in Vogue Philippines’ September 2022 Issue. Subscribe here.
Photography: Erwin Canlas, Sittings Editor: Marga Magalong, Makeup: Janell Capuchino, Hair: Mong Amado, Producer: Anz Hizon, Stylist: Renee De Guzman, Photographer’s Assistant: Christian Manlunas