The National Artist for Dance’s award-winning dance masterwork returns to the stage this April for Earth Month.
Thirty-one years after its conception, National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin’s Encantada returns to the stage for a limited engagement this April. Locsin will be reunited with her original collaborators, Al Santos for the libretto, Joey Ayala for music, and National Artist Salvador Bernal for production design, to bring the dance to life once more.
“Encantada was the brainchild of Al Santos. Our threesome, Al Santos, Joey Ayala, and myself, was a given prior to the conception of Encantada. We had first collaborated in a rock opera back in 1977 at the Ateneo de Davao,” explains Locsin. “In 1991, we had decided to come up with another major project. It was also a given that the new work will tackle environmental issues.”
Artists of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Professional Artist Support Program and Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARDP) will be bringing to life Locsin’s signature neo-ethnic style of dance in this staging. Performers will be accompanied with live music by Joey Ayala and Ang Bagong Lumad with Bayang Barrios.
“The main narrative of Encantada is on the environment: its destruction, its restoration, and its preservation,” says Tats Manahan, president of Alice Reyes Dance Philippines. “Its disturbing message regarding the environment remains relevant to this day, even more relevant than it was in 1991.”
Today, she adds, the current state of the “environment slowly collapsing is relevant and this is why the message of Encantada comes at an even more opportune time.”
CCP and ARDP also partnered with the Heritage Preservation Society and the International Society of Monuments and Sites Philippines to highlight the message of nature conservation.
“Agnes’ works further contextualize these issues using symbols and narratives peculiar to Spanish colonial history in the Philippines, thus marrying Philippine history with current events where environment is concerned,” explains Manahan. “It is for this reason we have also partnered with conservation groups, and through Agnes’ work, the art of dance will deliver a message of environmental concern.”
Preserving Philippine Culture
“I see to it that every restaging of my works, I found the style, the manner of how the movements must be done because tribal siya,” (because it’s tribal) Locsin shares with Vogue Philippines. “‘Pag palitan ang quality, magiging ballet na siya” (If we change the quality, it will become a ballet).
For Locsin, her neo-ethnic dance is her heritage that she must preserve and prepare for future audiences.
“It’s the quality, the intensity of my movements that makes the dance distinct, so I go for that because I figure one of these days, I will be gone. Ang matitira na lang, mga sayaw ko. So tina-try ko na lahat ng maka-experience ng sayaw ko will try to remember how it felt and to pass it on,” she says. (What’s left will be my dances. So I try to see to it that everyone who will experience my dances will try to remember how it felt and to pass it on.)
Locsin admits that originally, she did not think about the implications that her style of dance would have on the preservation of Philippine tribal culture.
“In the beginning, freestyle ako nun. Ballet, and I studied in the States [for] my master’s degree. And there, we were given devices to develop movements” (I was freestyle then), she shares. “And when I learned the devices, I thought, ‘My god, I have wealth, I have a treasure trove in the Philippines.’ So I started using my knowledge of developing movement, ang root movement, tribal dance kasi wala sila niyan e. I was only thinking na wala sila niyan e” (the root movement, tribal dance because they don’t have that. I was only thinking that they didn’t have that).
Today, the esteemed choreographer accepts that her work is her legacy. “It looks like it’s gonna stay, it will live longer than me. That’s what I’m preparing everything for, because it will change,” she says.
She cites seeing her Igorot dance prior to training the dancers herself as an example, noting that it was more of a traditional ballet at the beginning. “Sabi ko ‘Okay that’s interesting, this is what my dance will look like when I’m dead. Okay, let’s get to work,'” she narrates.
“I know I talk about death lightly, but seriously, I’m prepared. You know, we’re old, we’re all gonna die one day. We don’t know when. But I prepare my dances for my disappearance. That’s why I’m so demanding in [the] proper way.”
On Nature Conservation
Locsin’s love for the environment is evident in the way she takes inspiration from nature in her choreography, especially for her work in Encantada.
“Even formations, pag-structure ko ng mga, based on “Ah kasi ito, itong path na ito, parang yung winding road going up the mountain, yung mga ganun, yung mga paths. Ah ito ang puno parang nagru-rurstle because of the wind, malakas ang wind” (Ah because this one, this path, is like a winding road going up the mountain, just like that, like the paths. Ah this tree rustlers because of the wind, the strong wind), she explains. “Tinanong ko pa ang dancers only yesterday, ‘Halikayo dito. Kasi hindi pa ako masaya. ‘Are, ‘are, ‘are, may puno dun e. Look at the leaves. See? ‘Pag malakas ang hangin, ang lakas. Bumabagal ang hangin, [makes gentle waving motions with her arms] Look at the anahaw. Look at the narra.’ Ganyan ako.” (I asked my dancers only yesterday, ‘Come here. Because I’m not contented. Over there, there’s a tree. Look at the leaves. See? When the wind blows strongly, it’s strong. As the wind blows more gently… Look at the anahaw. Look at the narra.’ That’s how I am.)
In fact, Locsin shares that her home in Davao reflects her love of nature–and her disappointment in the fact that nature is paying the price for progress.
“Progress sucks. But the country is progressing,” she admits. “Marami nang nawalang puno. I rely on Davao kasi may mga bundok pa e, maraming puno.” (because there are still mountains, there are many trees).
“I live in a compound in Davao, when you enter the gate, you kind of think you’re in a different world. Daming puno! And [it’s in the] city proper,” (So many trees!) she adds.
Had Locsin been younger, she reveals, she would like to head a bureau that focuses on tree-planting and mandating that every household have at least one tree in order to bring back nature into the developed cities one home at a time. Ultimately, she hopes that Encantada will open conversations that get the ball rolling on nature conservation.
“That’s a hope. My works have always been significant to one, to 12, meaning I can only hope that it will affect and influence. One or two, okay na, sana mag-forward,” (I hope it moves forward), she says.
Encantada featuring artists of CCP’s Professional Artist Support Program and Alice Reyes Dance Philippines runs from April 14 to 15, 2023 at the Samsung Theater and April 21 to 22 at the Metropolitan Theater.