The History of the Philippine Contemporary in Agnes Locsin and Alice Reyes' Pulso Pilipinas

The production is a grand retelling of heritage, expression, and revival. What a time for dance.

National Artists for Dance are a rarity. We've only had six of them since the idea of National Artists came about in 1975. And two of them have recently blessed us with some of Philippine Dance's most emblematic pieces, restaged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) on the final day of September.

Agnes Locsin and Alice Reyes's Pulso Pilipinas II, in many ways, is a grand retelling of contemporary dance and heritage. It's an oblation in honor of both. These are only as ephemeral as they are timeless, a flowing, weaving, and configuring of the past.

Ma. Celina Dofitas as the Priestess in Agnes Locsin’s “Igorot.”

Photo by Cultural Center of the Philippines.

From September to December, the CCP presents the CCP Dance Series (Live!). It's a reintroduction to the public in a post-pandemic, post-modern world. The production, in its entirety, is a symbol of the creative collaboration the artist requires to thrive and provoke.


Expression in dance, much like the intersectionality in history, hopes to free viewers by inspiring them to feel, think, and act for themselves, instead of marinating on the who, what, and where. More than the portrayal are the overtones that frame eras and identities. Expression can mean emancipation, after all.

Of course, Locsin and Reyes are no strangers to these things; Locsin, with her dancers' (at-times controversial) neo-ethnic performances, and Reyes, with her vision for Filipino contemporary dance, are trailblazers. And on this new trail, their dance vocabularies persist.

Renzen Arboleda, Tim Cabrera, Dan Dayo, and Erl Sorilla as ‘The Centurions’ in Agnes Locsin’s “Moriones.”

Photo by Cultural Center of the Philippines.


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Stories were aplenty at the September 30 premiere of Pulso Pilipinas II, too. It had an audience that included four National Artists, Locsin, Reyes, BenCab, and Kidlat Tahimik, among other pillars of the Philippine contemporary. Then came those of us who are on the outside looking in, each surrounded by ghosts of modernists past.

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Locsin’s “Igorot,” “Moriones,” and “Elias at Salome,” as well as Reyes’ “Carmina Burana" were staged. These pieces mark the transitions of our people. This production comes during a time, we may observe, of great cultural upheaval.

Biag Gaongen as Elias in Agnes Locsin’s “Elias at Salome.”

Photo by Cultural Center of the Philippines.

In the case of Locsin's works, she leads the viewer to reexamine our ways of life, taking from Igorot knowledge systems first by fusing ethnic and neo-classical ballet. It is followed by the festive nature of "Moriones" and then by a coming together of desire, desperation, and revolution in "Elias and Salome," lifted from Noli Me Tangere's so-called "missing chapter."

Set to the acclaimed opera of Carl Orff, "Carmina Burana," on the other hand, is reconceptualization of the magnum opus (we may know this more as the old-timey cantata composition). It's haunting, to say the least, in both motion and fervor. So much so that is has become Reyes' most important pieces since its debut in 1974. Reyes, who had registered the newly minted Alice Reyes Dance Philippines earlier this year, navigates through the uncertainty of our time with one of her most self-assured renditions.


AL Abraham and the men of the company in Alice Reyes’ "Carmina Burana."

Photo by Cultural Center of the Philippines.

This kind of poise was seen in Reyes' "The Company," as well. It's an age-old icebreaker of sorts for audiences, which opened Pulso Pilipinas I last September 23 and 24.

The production was staged to highlight the diversity of our local dance culture, both regionally and stylistically; from Locsin's award-winning "Moriones," a production inspired by a Marinduque Lenten festival, to Lester Reguindin's "We Men," a story of self-evident truths in an untruthful society. These performances serve as a reminder of the cadence and grace of Filipino nuances in gesture, sound, and form. Included in Pulso Pilipinas I is Reyes' "The Company," as well,

Up next later this year is the CCP's collaborative effort with the French Embassy. It's part of the 75th anniversary of our two countries' diplomatic relationship. On October 28 and 29, we get to watch pieces by French choreographer, Redha Benteifour, as well as works by 21st-century Filipino choreographers like John Ababon, AL Abraham, JM Cabling, Lester Reguindin, and Erl Sorilla.

National Artists Alice Reyes, Benedicto Cabrera, and Kidlat Tahimik.

Photo by Cultural Center of the Philippines.

In December, there's Puso Ng Pasko, the first full-length, all-Filipino Christmas ballet. The production is an expansion of Tuloy Ang Pasko in 2020.

Conceptualized by Ronelson Yadao, with musical arrangements by National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab, the production features inherently Filipino elements. Think basic, think classic: Simbang Gabi or Bibingka and Puto Bumbong or Parols. Of all things, it's about the power of remembering and the intangible aspect of it that connects us with our most authentic selves. We'll learn more about this from Lolo Val and his Angelita from December 2 to 4.

This is a year of revivals for Filipino dance culture. Hence, the nostalgia. For now, Pulso Pilipinas catches us reading between the lines—or rather, the spaces between us, the performers, and Locsin and Reyes' eternal theater. 


The third and fourth parts of CCP Dance Series (LIVE!) will take place on October 28 and 29 and December 2, 3, and 4 at the CCP Main Theater in Pasay City. For more information on ticket sales, call the CCP Box Office at 8832-3704 or visit its website here.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is a Filipino cultural critic, editor, and essayist. He writes about art, books, travel, people, current events, and all the magic in between. His past work in film and media can be found on PeopleAsia Magazine, The Philippine Star, MANILA BULLETIN, and IMDB.
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