The Exemplars: Amada and Other Dances – Exemplary Beyond the Body

Photos and Article by Hannah Paguila

Exemplar (noun) – one that serves as an ideal or excellent model; considered to be so good that they should be copied or imitated

Recognized as the Philippines’ flagship company in ballet and contemporary dance, Ballet Philippines is considered an exemplar of dance in the country’s world of performance and art. This dance troupe knows more than just a thing or two when it comes to understanding the Filipino body in the context of how it is shaped by art and culture.

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Briséing from their home stage the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ballet Philippines staged for the first time in the University of the Philippines Diliman their showcase “The Exemplars: Amada and Other Dances” on February 23, 2018, Friday. This is in part of the University’s Festival of Culture and the Arts 2018 entitled Kat(h)awan: Bodies, Society, and Culture.

Amada,” the titular dance in the program, is a masterpiece birthed from three exemplars of Philippine arts — based on the literary genius “Summer Solstice” by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin, stunningly choreographed by master of movement National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes, and set to the ornate composition of National Artist for Music Lucrecia Kasilag.

Set in 19th Century Hispanic, Catholic, male-dominated Manila, Amada portrays the dramatic change of dynamic between husband and wife Don Rafael and Doña Amada. Satiating her curiosity, Amada transforms into a woman with a sense of empowered femininity after encountering the Tadtarin, a fertility ritual. Her indulgence in the ritual blesses her with a conqueror’s spirit which grants her the influence to subdue her previously imperious husband. Amada subjugates the patriarchy, shattering one of the ideals and pre-existing structure of society.

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In “Ang Sultan,” the program’s opener, the narrative of ill-fated lovers unfolds with the death of the female counterpart unintentionally but directly caused by the sultan – the ever controlling male authority. The princess performs alternating pas de deux (dance duet), contrasting her relationships between the sultan and the man from a lower caste.

Against the backdrop of pre-colonial Philippines, the piece subverts the struggle between class differences through spotlighting how the rich, in their greediness and haughtiness, will not always succeed in acquiring all that they want. By trying to assert power over the bereaved, the dominant sultan did not only gain nothing but also lost a valuable and irreplaceable part of his life. No one emerges as the victor in this tale of love.

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Ang Sultan and Amada are only two among the many internationally acclaimed classics by Ballet Philippines in their repertoire. Beginning with “Ang Sultan,” the audience is presented with what seems like an inescapable tragedy in the conflict between the upper and lower class. However, with “Amada” as the finale piece, the titular character Amada surfaces triumphant over the domineering embodiment of patriarchy that is her husband.

“The Exemplars” comes not just as a showcase of finesse in ballet technique but also as an astounding piece that challenges existing power structures and dynamics in Filipino society. Originating from a rigid discipline of dance, it is a paradox that underscores what Kat(h)awan as a cultural festival strives for — to understand the Filipino body as a creative realm and breaking the limits it is culturally, socially, and physically bound in.