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BEHIND THE STAGE: DANCING MANILENYOS

BY PATRICK ALCEDO

Dr. Patrick Alcedo is a director, writer, and producer of six documentary films. His multi-awarded film, Dancing Manilenyos, lenses the lives of notable personalities in the local dance industry, namely Luther Perez, Victor Maguad, Monica Gana, and Gilbert Enfestan. The film tells tales of their experience in the field of ballet amidst Metro Manila’s social realities, as well as of their tenaciousness that is fueled by their love for dancing. Below, Alcedo discusses his work.

I will never forget the day when Basilio “Steve” Villaruz, my mentor in dance studies, showed me an article about the admirable work Tony Fabella, Eddie Elejar and Luther Perez were doing for the vulnerable children and youth of Quezon City. Through the Quezon City Performing Arts (QCPA), they were empowering them, giving them a chance in life. And they were doing it by teaching them ballet and Philippine folk and contemporary dance! “Wow, that’s phenomenal!” was all I could say to Steve at that time. 

 

If I were not in a rush to go to California for my graduate studies, I would have begged Steve to introduce me to Tony, Eddie, and Luther, three close dance colleagues of his. I was already a huge fan of theirs, even though I had not met them yet. Their phenomenal project for the underserved had never left me; it gently followed me as I moved from place to place to pursue my own dream of becoming a dance ethnographer and documentary filmmaker. 

Decades later, when I was an Associate Professor at York University, I had the good fortune of having Regina “Ricca” Bautista as my supervisee for the MA in Dance. Through her, I got reacquainted with the QCPA. When we both went back to Manila for research, she brought me to the Amoranto Complex, QCPA’s old dance studio. By that time, Tony had unfortunately passed away and Eddie was no longer actively teaching.

Their phenomenal project for the underserved had never left me; it gently followed me as I moved from place to place to pursue my own dream of becoming a dance ethnographer and documentary filmmaker.

However, Luther was there, proudly at the helm of the beautiful legacy that the incredibly gifted dance maker, Tony, and the pioneering danseur, Eddie, helped build with so much pride and hope. Luther immediately welcomed me and my production team, generously giving us permission to document his inspired and inspiring world. It is in his world, where we met Gilbert Enfestan, whose plight and struggles in life ground the film — powerful reminders of class disparity in Philippine society and the role that dance could play to redress that.

 

Again, through Ricca, I got to meet her fellow dancers from the Ballet Philippines: Victor Maguad, Luther’s former student, and Monica Gana. Filled with prowess, their dancing that choreographed who they are as artists and individuals became one of the film’s anchoring narratives. Victor and Monica and their families opened their doors for us to document their lives. They defined those not only through industriousness and perseverance but also through genuine humility.

Intersecting in this film are the joys, pains, hopes, and dreams of Luther, Victor, Monica, and Gilbert. Rooted in their passion and love for dance, their persons take the film forward to heights of inspiration and to places where dance is deeply valued — the teaching of it, the discipline that has to partner it at all times, and the valuable life lessons dance can offer to anyone who seriously embodies it. 

 

The making of Dancing Manilenyos was truly a labour of love. Of course, behind every film is an incredible group of people who shared their time, effort, and talent. This film would not have been possible if not for the beautiful camerawork of Rodrigo Michelangeli and Alex Felipe and for the sensitive musical scoring of my brother, Peter. I truly believe that one of the reasons behind the success of this film is the extraordinary post-production skills of Alec Bell. I was fortunate that the making of this film received generous support from the Early Researcher Award of the Government of Ontario. To all these individuals and institutions, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Intersecting in this film are the joys, pains, hopes, and dreams of Luther, Victor, Monica, and Gilbert. Rooted in their passion and love for dance, their persons take the film forward to heights of inspiration and to places where dance is deeply valued.

I hope that the message of resiliency, altruism, selflessness and the importance of hard work that the film is trying to bring out will resonate with you — and will perhaps even partner you as you navigate your own challenges and journeys in life, whether as dancers or whatever vocation you have chosen for yourselves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

An Associate Professor in the Department of Dance at York University, Dr. Patrick Alcedo is the director, writer, and producer of six documentary films. He is the recipient of the President’s University-Wide Teaching Award and the Early Researcher Award from the Government of Ontario. Dancing Manilenyos received numerous awards and recognitions. Selected from among 347 submissions from 35 countries, it was an official selection at the 2019 Diversity in Cannes Short Film Showcase. It won an Award of Recognition from the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Film Award and premiered at the famous Raleigh Studios in Hollywood, California.

Elaine Forsgate Marden

Fernando &  Kit Zobel de Ayala