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The Filipino woman comes alive in Limang Daan

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Ballet ReviewLimang DaanBallet Philippines

By Brontë H. Lacsamana, Reporter

THE CLOSING production of Ballet Philippines’ (BP) 54th performance season was held on International Women’s Day, and there was no better way to mark the occasion than with Limang Daan. It’s an ambitious ballet — full-length, completely original, and spanning 500 years of Filipino women’s history.

It is “a gritting tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Filipina, the women in this country, in honor of their journey, their triumphs and adversities, their joys and their struggles,” said BP president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein in a speech during the March 8 gala at the Theatre at Solaire.

“Limang Daan is our way of celebrating our long-gone as well as our modern-day heroines who made the Philippines the most gender-equal country in Asia and the 16th in the world,” Ms. Lior-Liechtenstein said.

She also thanked the audience for continuing to support BP in this world premiere, right before it turns 55 years old in April.

Loosely inspired by a short dance film that BP produced with Salcedo Auctions in 2022, Limang Daan marks the triumphant milestone. The two-minute source material showcases stunning art and culture representing the Philippines’ colonial history, and this full ballet builds on that.

It follows several women and their individual struggles over the course of 500 years, drawing parallels between their oppression and their attempts to fight back.

There was a modern-day Filipina nurse in a foreign country, working tirelessly while facing sexual advances from a male doctor. There was an Igorot woman, an unwilling participant in the 1904 St. Louis’ World’s Fair which inhumanely put people on display at their “human zoo.”

Then there was a babaylan (shaman), represented by a masculine body in feminine robes, a figure of faith and non-conformity. One of the most moving numbers in the entire production was hers, as she tried to endure being stamped out by the Spaniards bringing Christianity to the Philippines.

A stroke of genius was how colonization was depicted through the priests brainwashing the locals by using a golden mirror. They thrust the mirrors in front of the native Filipinos’ faces to show them how barbaric they are, causing all of them, even the babaylan, to visibly recoil from their own reflections.

Three Cordillera women, full of joy and energy, come after that harrowing scene. They appeared to be from within the last 50 years as the outsiders they deal with are also Filipino, gesturing to the land as theirs to mine, to which the women express outrage and drive them away.

Finally, there was the typical Maria Clara figure, at first shown in a romance with Ibarra despite the disapproval of the controlling Padre Damaso. Later there was a nun, reminiscent of her character nearing the end of her life, being repressed in a convent ruled by a cruel Mother Superior.

The ballet begins with all these characters in boxes, and it ends with them all leaving these boxes and interacting, expressing their thoughts and feelings with each other through dance.

A first-time librettist, filmmaker Moira Lang was able to pick out specific female perspectives to effectively paint vivid brushstrokes of colonial history.

The original score by Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez was transportive as it incorporated traditional instruments, orchestral music, and electronic sound to signify the changes in time and place.

JC Buendia’s costume design was stunning, allowing the graceful, powerful dancers full mobility. Most importantly, the designs evoke the right looks and silhouettes from the time periods they were meant to represent.

The choreography by BP’s artistic director Mikhail “Misha” Martynyuk left the audience in awe. Limang Daan explores many feelings — anger, faith, despair, strength — and he choreographed all of that to be evident to the naked eye, even as we jumped back and forth from one story to another.

While these women’s struggles came across as disjointed vignettes, the way the dancers were writhing in pain yet trying to resist outside forces in their respective situations highlighted a visceral underlying thread — one of colonial history.

All the audience had to do was listen to the raw emotions spoken through dance.

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