Filipinos win online Martha Graham dance video contest

Pinoys win online Martha Graham dance video contest
By Walter Ang
June 8, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Paul Morales and Myra Beltran recently won third place in the "Clytemnestra ReMash Challenge" organized by the Martha Graham Dance Company. The worldwide contest involved downloading any out of five solos featured in Graham's 1958 masterwork, Clytemnestra, and "in any way imaginable, create a radically re-conceived, re-mashed short video." The video clips available online were from the company's 2008 production of the 50th anniversary of Graham's work based on the Trojan War.

The pair submitted a black-and-white entry titled "Clytemnestra-Manila '58," described as "a cinematic adaptation that delves into the motives and pre-meditation of a woman on the verge of committing a heinous crime ? in a Manila closer to Graham's time." The video (which can be viewed at was shot, directed and edited by Morales with Beltran as the dancer.

Morales is Artistic Director of Airdance and Beltran is Artistic Director of Dance Forum. Beltran found out about the contest through her sister Ida, former Ballet Philippines executive director, who's now based in Canada. "I thought it would be interesting for me to go into Graham's choreographic mind, to get to be in her skin somewhat. I thought that would be very useful to me as a choreographer at this point where I already view things differently," she says.

Beltran had purchased a video projector last year and has since been exploring dance on video or dancing with video. "My questions to myself as an artist, with the virtual world [being] so much the reality of people these days, is: where is the body in technology? Do the performing arts, the live performing body, still have a validity when everyone is virtual? I have been trying to insert myself and my art in all of this and trying to understand it," she says.

Morales, on the other hand, had just finished directing the film "Concerto." "We were into experimenting with video and dance, it seemed logical to enter the contest. But we did it more as a lark, just for fun and to try out my new camera, a Nikon D90 DSLR," he says.

Their use of resources and time management were characteristically Pinoy, done with whatever was on hand with a sense of humor. The video was shot one day before the deadline in Beltran's home with no lighting equipment and with her driver playing the role of Clytemnestra's husband. "He was slightly freaked out in the murder scene because I was using a real knife," Beltran laughs. "The shoot was spontaneous, light, and creative. It had an incredible and indomitable spirit behind it."

The pair note, however, that the process was done with craft. Both worked under certain parameters. "We wanted to create a Philippine presence in the competition. We were not making any pretensions about where we are coming from and what resources we had. We both have a reverence for Ms. Martha and her work and her influence," says Beltran. "Paul is a filmmaker and this is his great advantage, that he is both a dance and film artist. We could do a contemporary reading of Graham's work that was adjusted for the camera's eye."

Morales adds: "We came up with the idea to re-shoot our entry in a 'cinematic' way. It was a bit contrary to the idea of the remash since most of the other entries used the original footage of the dances, but we went with the idea anyway. In that sense it was really a pleasant surprise to win."

Both dancer/choreographers are advocates of contemporary dance and acknowledge Graham's strong influence in this form. "Graham created a modern dance technique which had wide dissemination and was taught in most places," says Beltran.

Both were former dancers of Ballet Philippines and were exposed to Graham's techniques through their teachers. Beltran trained under Norman Walker while Morales trained under Agnes Locsin. "Graham was also a strong influence on Ballet Philippines founder Alice Reyes' work," says Morales.

Morales is the festival director of this year's Wifi Body Festival (the only annual contemporary dance festival in the country) and this recent victory serves to further push his efforts in the use of video in dance. "We always showed dance films in the past festivals, but this year, we have a dance film competition. We believe that the future of dance includes film in a big way, either as an element in live work, as an end product you can easily and readily share to a wider market (through the internet, for example), or as a collaborative frontier where the arts can meet and mix in new ways," he says.

For details on the Wifi Body Festival's dance film competition, visit

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