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Encantada opens to standing ovation—gripping, powerful

Premiered in 1992, Agnes Locsin’s work brings to the fore the exceptional standard of PH ballet

Scene from ‘Encantada’ (Photo by Patrick Uy)

The ‘Guardias Civil’ in ‘Encantada’ (Photo by Patrick Uy)

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

Carissa Adea as Babaylan Encantada (Photo by Darrell Sicam)

National Artist for Dance, Agnes Locsin

National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin’s Encantada opened to standing ovation Friday night at Samsung Theater (Circuit, Makati)—it was powerful and gripping, the ensemble performance bringing back to the fore the exceptional standard of Philippine ballet against all odds, the live music overpowering, the staging highly polished.

(Encantada runs April 14-15, 2023 at the Samsung Theater and April 21-22 at the Metropolitan Theater, with evening shows at 7:30 pm and matinees at 2 pm. All evening shows will have live music performed by Ayala and Ang Bagong Lumad with the Philippines’ World Music Siren, Bayang Barrios.)

A collaboration in 1992 with Joey Ayala for music, Al Santos for the libretto, and National Artist for Production Design, the late Salvador Bernal, Encatada features the artists of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Professional Artist Support Program and Alice Reyes Dance Philippines (ARDP).

Joey Ayala

Al Santos

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

The Encantada cast after the premiere performance in February 1992, with National Artists Lucrecia Kasilag (second from left) and Leandro Locsin (third from left), then First Lady Amelita Ramos, the creative team, and CCP officials led by CCP president Bing Roxas and artistic director Nick Tiongson

It is a showcase of Locsin’s Neo-Ethnic Dance Style, which she masterfully utilizes to explore Filipino folklore, history, and culture, while at the same time bringing awareness to the consequences of man’s destruction of nature.

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

Creating Encantada at the CCP Rehearsal Hall in 1992

“Agnes Locsin’s Encantada is not just dance for the sake of dancing, but in truth, it stands on solid research where Philippine history, folk religion, traditions, and practices are painted into the creation of the whole,” says Tats Manahan, president of ARDP. “Adding to that, this showcases the uniqueness of her movements which she herself conceived in creating her own dance genre, the neo-ethnic style. Thematically, she touches on many themes, but most especially, the destruction of the environment; an issue that is still relevant to this day, 31 years after she conceived this masterpiece. It’s well worth a restaging as well as a rewatching. It’s a learning curve for the younger generation.”

Recognized as the pioneer of the neo-ethnic style of dance, Agnes Locsin is a brilliant force in the Philippine dance scene. Together with contemporary Filipino music composer Joey Ayala, and award-winning playwright Al Santos, they premiered Encantada in February of 1992.

Locsin explains, “Encantada was the brainchild of Al Santos. Our threesome was a given prior to the conception of Encantada. We had first collaborated on a rock opera back in 1977 at the Ateneo De Davao. In 1991, we decided to come up with another major project. It was also a given that the new work would tackle environmental issues. Al came up with Encantada. Joey and I agreed and Al, being the writer, started with the libretto and the lyrics. Thereafter, Joey composed, then I choreographed.”

Drawing inspiration from Philippine tribal dances, practices, beliefs, and stories, Locsin reworked and reinterpreted these into the framework of existing classical ballet and modern dance techniques, resulting in a unique dance form suited for the Filipino’s physical frame, temperament, and culture. This neo-ethnic dance style, coupled with Ayala’s rhythmic music, Santos’ libretto, and Bernal’s remarkable production design brought the story to life.

Presented by the Metropolitan Theater, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and the Carmen D. Locsin Foundation, the production was last staged in 2011 to critical acclaim, garnering 10 Gawad Buhay Awards, including Best Modern Dance Production, Best Choreography, Best Musical Composition, Best Production Design, and Best Lighting Design by John Neil Batalla, who returns to light the 2023 production.

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

Encantada 2011 Production (Photo by Darrell Sicam)

Other citations include Georgette Sanchez-Vargas for Female Lead Performance and Carissa Adea for Female Featured Performance. Both of them will reprise their award-winning roles for the 2023 production.

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

Georgette Sanchez-Vargas as the Encantada (Photo by Darrell Sicam)

Joining the cast is Kris-Belle Paclibar-Mamangun, a highly acclaimed Filipino dancer and former member of Cirque du Soleil, who will be alternating the role of Babaylan with Carissa Adea.

ENCANTADA WAS NO FAIRY TALE
By Agnes Locsin

Encantada had its roots in 1977, the year Joey Ayala, Al Santos, and I first joined forces to collaborate on an original dance production. I’m talking of Al’s rock opera Sa Bundok ng Apo, which we put up at the Ateneo de Davao University campus. An attempt to restage this musical as a production for CCP’s first resident dance company in Manila brought the three of us together 15 years later. When Denisa Reyes, then artistic director, turned down Sa Bundok ng Apo, Al came up with an idea for a totally new production.

Then Al said the goddess he had in mind gets raped. I liked that and was all ears

He suggested we do the story of Mariang Makiling instead. I wasn’t interested because I felt that this particular mountain spirit was too sweet. Besides, everybody knew it would just be another love story. Then Al said the goddess he had in mind gets raped. I liked that and was all ears. Al promptly came up with a project description, and Denisa bit. This was in the first quarter of 1991. We were then given a slot in the 22nd Concert Season. We had to come up with the dance narrative-cum-musical on February 1992.

The rape of the Kababaihan and Kalikasan in ‘Encantada’

During our first production meeting in February 1991, Al said he was going to combine the spirits of the legendary three Maria mountains: Makiling, Sinukuban, and Kakaw. He also mentioned that he intended to use the various Philippine rituals in telling the story, quipping that, for instance, the Moriones of Marinduque would be the inspiration for the guardia civil (the colonial police during the Spanish regime in the Philippines).

Obviously, Al was already very excited about the project, which he titled ENCANTADA (Mountain Goddess). For my part, I decided to devote all my creative energies towards preparing for ENCANTADA between May and December that year. This meant that my other projects during this period would have to be studies for this major work of choreography.

At the time I was commissioned to do new short pieces for the junior company (of which I was artistic director), and two of Iloilo’s dance-theater ensembles, Teatro Amakan and Dagyaw. For the junior company, I created Moriones, which was really my movement study for the Guardia Civil. For Teatro Amakan, I did Apik, wherein the goddess Apik, was, in fact, the springboard for the flowing movements of the Encantada. For Dagyaw, I choreographed Hinilawod, an exploration of the dancers becoming nature and being in one dance—a signature device in Encantada.

Aside from these preparatory studies, I soaked in Joey Ayala’s commercially released music, using it in my modern dance classes, to get myself tuned to the pulse of his music.

Embarking on a collaborative creative endeavor is, well, much like going to war

In July, Al submitted his first draft, and we had our first argument. Whatever it was, let me just say now that I do not wish to romanticize the creative process. So allow me to admit that embarking on a collaborative creative endeavor is, well, much like going to war. Al was very makulit (needling), I was high-strung, and Joey was as cool as a cucumber. We were a perfect creative team, but highly volatile.

With these three strong personalities, each one with a distinct artistic vision and drive, the potential problem at the outset was this: Who was to be the artistic director? Joey dared to bring this issue up by posing the question, “Who’s going to direct this project?” In the silence that ensued, Joey was compelled to answer his question. “Since this is a ballet, Agnes will be the director/choreographer. She has the final say.” There were no objections, and we proceeded to discuss the libretto.

In October, it was time for Joey to start composing the music. But the libretto at the time had yet to be finished! So Joey called for an instant brainstorming session. Al and I obediently trooped to Joey’s place so the three of us could thresh out and finalize the script in one go. We started to work at 9 a.m. and ended by 7 p.m.

We went through the dance scenario, scene by scene. We would identify the scene, decide what ritual went with it, how long the scene would be, and what kind of tempo the scenes should have. For example, the opening scene would be that of Encantada and the Kababaihan. Joey asked how I saw the dance. I replied that I saw the Encantada dancing alone in the beginning. Joey asked, How long? Two to three minutes before the women join in. How long would the group dance be? Seven to eight minutes. What tempo? Slow to fast. And that was how we got ourselves an opening scene.

The first important aesthetic quandary was how to stage the beheading of the townspeople by the Guardia Civil. This was a crucial moment in the narrative, for it led to the capture and beheading of the Estranghero. Somebody suggested huge heads flying overhead to lighten an otherwise morbid scene. We liked it. Joey asked how many heads. I imagined the scene using sound patterns—whack, whack, swish, boink, boink—and I decided there should be seven heads, including the Estranghero’s.

The beheading scene (Photo by Patrick Uy)

Next quandary: the enactment of war. When I asked Al how he envisioned the battle scene, he answered, Make it a realistic depiction of an epic war. Joey added environmental concerns must be included. How? I asked. They replied, “That’s your problem.” Thanks, guys.

The rage of the Encantada was to be enfleshed in the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, complete with its dramatic aftermath of devastation. In fact, Al’s script ended with an apocalyptic flood ending all life while the Encantada stands alone drowned in utter grief. I objected to this sad ending, concerned that our audience might not be ready for such an overpowering dead-end. Besides there had been so much grief and pain all throughout the Second Act: beheading, bloody battles, destruction of communities, volcanic eruption, and a cataclysmic flood. I felt I could not end the production in a mood of sheer hopelessness. Joey agreed with me, and Al had to add a rebirth scene as a finale, something inspired by the rousing cheerfulness of the Ati-Atihan, Sinulog, or Obando.

Now it was time for Joey to work, and so he did—from October to December. I remember that the first piece of music Joey handed over to us was the Encantada’s lament in Act Two. By the end of November, he gave me most of the music of Act One so I could begin choreography by the second week of December.

December came: Now it was my turn to do the choreography.

Having done three short choreographies earlier in the year, where I experimented on possible themes, I was ready for the Encantada and the Guardia Civil. I had yet to flesh out the character of the Kababaihan, so the rehearsals for the girls I devoted to movement studies towards this end.

In the meantime, production designer Salvador Bernal submitted his sketches of the set and costume designs. These enabled me to plot out the dances against the set-to-be. It was ingenious how he positioned the band: He provided a somewhat hidden space at the foot of the mountain, making it appear as if the band were part of the mountain. The sound emanating from that space would then seem to be the mountain itself breathing and pulsating. Beautiful!

I was inspired by the production “look” I began the actual choreography work on the first week of January. By the end of the month, the full-length choreography was finished.

Up next: Cleaning up the dances. Part of this process was coaching the dancers to find the proper motivation behind the movement. One rehearsal time with Cecile Sicangco was spent by the two of us just talking about what Encantada felt at every point and step of the entire neo-ethnic ballet. Each of the dances was explained to the dancers because they needed to understand all that they were doing. Along with the motivations, precision was also required for those sequences requiring unison in dancing. For the parts where each dancer did different steps, a common aura was required of the dancers. All these required lots of rehearsal time.

Since Joey was performing in the production, we relied on Al and other friends to watch rehearsals and give comments and criticism. Changes were promptly made each time a critique made sense to me.

More changes were incorporated once we got onstage on production week. Even though we had been working with the set for a week before the production week, group choreographic formations were adjusted to the huge space of the CCP Main Theater stage: dance steps were added and deleted as needed. All technical requirements needed were tested and set. All these in merely four days!

On February 21, 1992, ENCANTADA had its world premiere.

ENCANTADA: BRINGING ENVIRONMENTAL AWARENESS TO THE FOREFRONT

Encantada’s theme on environmental protection is both very timely and relevant, especially at this time when our natural environment is under siege from rapid and uncontrolled urban expansion. Our towns and cities are growing too fast and this growth is not being managed well by the government, thus resulting in the increasing encroachment and destruction of ecosystems which human life depends on. Encantada’s message to preserve our natural environment must reach as wide an audience as possible, not only as an artistic expression, but as a reminder of our dependence on nature.

– Nathaniel Von Einsiedel
Consultants for Comprehensive Environmental Planning, Inc.

The message behind Encantada is clearly one that emphasizes the sanctity of our natural resources and the importance of environmental preservation in the Philippines. This advocacy is what we intend to uphold and strengthen in the public’s consciousness, especially through the organizations I am affiliated with: the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Philippines, the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), and the Philippine Green Building Initiative (PGBI). Agnes Locsin’s work truly highlights the devastating losses we would experience if our environment’s conditions continue to degrade and suffer because of external threats, and we see this portrayed in such a visceral way. It is an apt metaphor for what is at stake. Our natural resources serve as an inspiration for numerous cultural phenomena and art forms – this ranges from the visual arts, performance arts, music, architecture, culinary arts, and More.

Our natural and cultural heritage ties closely to these resources we see in our environment, and informs the way we should build and progress around this. It is our organizations’ mission to contribute in various ways to sustainable development goals. This entails the protection of both our built heritage and natural sites. The way we progress in architectural design, construction, urban design, environmental planning, and many other practices we are involved in, must be in service of this initiative. We hope that we could successfully communicate the importance of projects that cater to the sustained improvement of our environmental conditions, and continue to spread this advocacy to more stakeholders in our community. We look forward to seeing this manifest in various platforms, especially through impactful mediums such as this presentation of Encantada, among many others in the future.”

– Gio Abcede
Vice President, Heritage Conservation Society
Member, Philippine Green Building Initiative (PGBI)


National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin, Joey Ayala, Al Santos and the cast acknowledge the standing ovation at curtain call.

Encantada runs April 14-15, 2023 at the Samsung Theater and April 21-22 at the Metropolitan Theater, with evening shows at 7:30 pm and matinees at 2 pm. All evening shows will have live music performed by Ayala and Ang Bagong Lumad with the Philippines’ World Music Siren, Bayang Barrios.

Future shows include Alice Reyes’ Ramahari on Sept. 15–16 and 22–23, 2023;

Carmen and Other Spirits, a mixed bill featuring Alice Reyes’ Carmen and new works by young Filipino choreographers on Oct. 20–21 and 27–28;  and Puso ng Pasko, the celebration of Paskong Pinoy on Dec. 1–2, 22, 2023.

Agnes Locsin’s Encantada

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