Passions and Obsessions

Dancers come together for the vote—the story behind it

From ballet to hip hop to cheerleading, companies of various genres film a video that’s catching on

Photo from Dancers for Leni Facebook page

Credit: Myra Beltran’s Dance Forum/YouTube

Rehearsal and blocking of grand unison with Myra Beltran (dressed in white, with fuchsia cap) on first day of rehearsal

It was an unexpected burst of palpable energy that hit social media early this week, when onto the digital screen exploded an army of dancing bodies.

Starting off with a close-up on a phone screen of presidential candidate Leni Robredo declaring her fearless stance against the powerful opponents, the music slowly fades in, as the camera zooms out, focusing on two young people seated, a male and a female dancer, feet tapping at first, then stretching their legs with flexed feet. As they slowly rise, they are joined by three others for full dance moves to commence.

Another group of dancers marches in, passing by a pink mural, with other bodies executing contemporary dance moves with pas de bourreés and wiggling tushes. As the marching group moves on, it passes another group of male and female ballet dancers doing port de bras and double rond de jambs en l’aire—various dance genres coming into play.

Shooting the introduction

And soon enough, whole companies of dancers take turns at their eight counts to a dance phrase in their respective dance genres to the tune of the Leni campaign song by Nica del Rosario, with additional music arrangement by Krina Cayabyab and Stephen Viñas.

Throughout the pandemic, one of the more inactive groups of performing arts were the dance artists, simply because dance studios closed down. Despite the occasional dance videos shot on Zoom, with dancers performing in their kitchens or living rooms, there were hardly any dance performances on the big stage until recently. And even then, the rigorous classes and rehearsals undertaken by dancers were far from realized, save for a handful of online classes. And then out of this dearth came this surprise video, participated in by more than 129 dancers and cheerleaders, propelled by energy and enthusiasm that radiated and reached out from the screen.

It all started from the pin drop of wishful thinking of Myra Beltran

Beltran (leftmost) ready to shoot the intro with dancers Merveen Lozano and Abbey Carlos

It all started from the pin drop of wishful thinking of Myra Beltran, a multi-awarded independent choreographer and contemporary dancer, whose pioneering work led to the formation of an independent dance community in the country. Now taking a Master’s course in film, she had envisioned a dance film, even before the pandemic. This idea was not impulse-driven, but rather, a long thought-out process that gestated through conversations with filmmakers, fellow dancers, and even some foreign choreographers she had met in international dance festivals. Thinking as a dancer and a filmmaker at the same time, she employed the film production process, logistics, and aesthetics, aside from the choreography.

By Myra’s own admission, if there was anything good to come out of the pandemic for her, it was the realization that she had garnered enough working knowledge to do a dance film, now driven by the heating-up climate of the forthcoming elections.

Still, she didn’t make a rush job of it, despite the seeming urgent circumstances. Going through the protocols of proper film making, the idea translated from thought to clear objectives, visualized in a hard copy storyboard which she drew herself. In her own words, there was no message defined. “We don’t have to go outside of ourselves,” she explained to her working team. “It’s the fact that we are coming together with our different genres.”

Assistant director Sasa Cabalquinto with choreographer Buboy Raquitico rehearsing the grand unison

Pre-production coordination started in early February with a choreographic ensemble under her direction, composed of six choreographers and a cheerleading team which included Von Ace Asilo (hip hop), PJ Rebulida (ballet), Matt Manalaysay (jazz), JM Cabiling and Buboy Raquitico ( contemporary), Jed Amihan (ballroom) and Arczael Enriquez (cheerleading), with Ruelo Zendo as lead filmmaker, who was joined by other volunteer filmmakers for a total of seven cameras in position.

Recruitment of dancers for each genre became the respective choreographers’ area of responsibility. There was no blanket participation of specific dance companies, but rather individual dancers and cheerleaders volunteered as voters. Coordinators of the whole undertaking were volunteers from the Live Events group for Leni.

Director of photography Eric de la Cruz

Shooting plans were carefully laid out from the shot list for the two shooting days, assessment of available natural light in the venue, camera positions, adjustments, and revisions of specific choreographed dance phrases to create an effective and continuous movement flow from one section to another.

Then there was the post-production work which included color grading and editing schedules. Unlike dance concerts on a theater stage, the coverage went beyond the steady positioned cameras shooting the dance frontally. This production number was shot specifically for the moving camera, as in the case of filmed musicals, shot on location utilizing ample space, requiring the shots to be done in sections while re-positioning cameras or following the action. In short, it was not quite a simple tape-as-live process.

The biggest ‘problem’ of the production was containing the enthusiasm of the dancers

The lyrics of the Robredo campaign song and the buzzwords used by Leni in her speeches were, as Myra describes “tactile and easily translatable to dance language.“  Visual references were made, like in the sequence where the dancers play Tug O’War, which was meant to recall “kapit bisig,” the arm-linking done during People Power to show solidarity. In the Tug O’War sequence, the reference made was a scene from the popular K-drama series Squid Games, where one of the strategies employed in winning was to bend over backwards while standing still. Other inspirations came from music videos, iconic dance films like West Side Story, and the ending dance move utilizing a top shot of the circular blocking of the dancers, reminiscent of Busby Berkley’s use of geometric patterns shot from the top in his dance spectacles of the  ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

In all, the project proved “a testament to the spirit of the campaign,” as Myra expounds, as exemplified by the mass action of volunteers. The biggest “problem” of the production was containing the enthusiasm of the dancers, whose energy as a group resonated with all those who were witnessing the filming. It also succeeded in highlighting the visibility of the dance sector, whose voice finally came to the fore. For dancers, whose language is expressed through their bodies, and whose bodies at the time of the shoot would, under ordinary circumstances, be deemed out of shape, their energetic unison in moving as one synchronized breath, a quality that is usually achieved by constantly dancing together, was ever so present, despite the fact that this was the first time they had ever danced together outside of their respective genres, and with limited rehearsals.

First time the group gets together after online rehearsals, with Myra Beltran briefing the group

The volunteerism went beyond the efforts of the performers and production crew, as doctors came on board to administer daily antigen tests and oversee health protocols. Antigen tests were donated, just as daily food, masks, gloves and all things necessary to safeguard everyone’s well being flowed in. The supplies were overwhelming, such that the excessive surplus after the shoot was donated to the campaign’s volunteer center.

The call to perfection—the kind of volunteerism where nothing in return for the effort is asked for.

This is just one of the many united efforts for one cause. The message is a shout-out loud and clear.

About author


She is a multi-media writer, a strong advocate of the conservation of Philippine heritage and culture, and actively pursues restoration art.

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