Teatro Ambahanon: Brave and Braving Manila

by Joelle Jacinto

Photo by Thea Monica Tiongco.

▶︎ I had first seen Jodel Cimagala’s Numb at a convention space in SM General Santos, not a conventional stage, and the lighting was perfunctory, at best. But I already saw the potential in it, as it was set up as if in a club and the dancers were mindlessly writhing together in rapturous ecstasy. It was not the first work I had seen that was set to resemble the clubbing experience, but I still felt it was creative and courageous in its experimentation. In the Tanghalang Huseng Batute/blackbox of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, with gorgeous, more fully-realized lighting by Doods Lozano, Numb transported us to another realm, delivering a much greater impact, making us first question why weren’t we out there, joining this euphoria (pardon the pun, if you get it, Gen X-ers)? And then making us realize, oh thank the lord we were able to snap out of that.

It starts with Hearthy Panlaque moving in the darkness, illuminated only by millions of tiny blue and greeen lights. Her lethargic movements slowly raises her up to standing, and she starts to... well, dance. Like in a club. Bobbing her head, shifting her weight from one leg to the other, slowly swaying her shoulders as her chest moves to the beat of the electronic music that surrounds her. She is soon joined by another dancer... then another... and another... until the stage is filled with them; they dance to the same beat, but seem unaware of each other’s presence. They dance as if in a trance, as if they cannot help themselves. Then suddenly, the music stops, the lights come on and Michaela Yeban trains a red light on the clump of dancers, who are transfixed towards this new variable in their lives, as if not kmowing what it is and how to move forward. The next sections are a series of manipulations that Michaela subjects the crowd of dancers to, and they follow her, as if they had no choice.

Other than the work’s ability to mesmerize the viewer, I am impressed with the dancers’ full commitment to the work, never breaking out of their trance nor their focus on Michaela, not even breaking character when the audience giggles as Michaela points her red laser on Eldie Gabo Jr.’s crotch. The dancers are all quite young, and yet already very professional in movement and performativity, a testament to their teachers, choreographers, and to their artistic director, Bing Cariño.

Teatro Ambahanon, the official performing arts company of the Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Colleges in General Santos City, has evidently been such a force to reckon with for quite some time now. I had noticed a sampling of this each time they come to Manila to visit, but have never been fully aware of their full potential until I saw them at Last Quarter Intensives 2018 last November in Gen San.

Go to Runthru Magazine for the rest of this piece.

Joelle Jacinto is a dancer, teacher, and dance scholar.