Virgie Moreno's 'Itim Asu' transforms into dance deconstruction

Virgie Moreno's 'Itim Asu' transforms into dance deconstruction
By Walter Ang
November 23, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Contemporary dance artist Myra Beltran is working with video artist Sherad Anthony Sanchez and sound designer Teresa Barrozo to choreograph her deconstruction of Virginia Moreno's play "The Onyx Wolf / Itim Asu."

Titled "Itim Asu 1719-2009," Beltran's production will "attempt to bring this important work from the 1970s and convey it in a contemporary language." She says, "We are using contemporary dance, video and sound design to convey a slice of history. Fiction and reality blur in the drama, and myth blurs with history."

"The Onyx Wolf / Itim Asu" won the Cultural Center of the Philippines' 1969-1970 National Historical Play Contest. Its first staging, directed by the late National Artist Rolando Tinio, became the inaugural performance of the CCP Little Theater (Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino).

"This drama is a play within a play, and contains the story of La Loba Negra: how the wife of Gov. General Bustamante (a governor general in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial era) avenges her husband's mob assassination supposedly by a conspiracy of friars," says Beltran.

Despite very few historical documents that note Bustamante, his story enjoys a rich lore of related controversies. Accounts of his death are gruesome and violent: his arm being broken by a machete and his head receiving a death-blow gash by a saber.

The La Loba Negra story is from a document attributed to Fr. Jose Burgos, one of three martyred priests during the Spanish colonial era. PDI columnist Ambeth Ocampo has noted that the La Loba Negra story is now attributed to Jose Marco, a forger "who created the most elaborate hoaxes of the 20th-century Philippines ? [passing off] fake historical documents to librarians, scholars and collectors."

Ocampo has also noted that Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo's painting, "The Assassination of Governor General Bustamante," remained hidden for a better part of the last century due to controversies. Hidalgo allegedly titled his work originally as "Iglesia contra el Estado" ("Church against the State").

Aside from Hidalgo's painting and Moreno's play, the mystique and thrill of Bustamante's death has spawned other works like an opera by Francisco Feliciano. A modern dance based on Moreno's play was created by Alice Reyes and remained one of the most performed works in the repertoire of the then CCP Dance Company, now Ballet Philippines.

"This drama is about history but also, it created its own history, with its various incarnations as plays, and as dance ? involving many 'heavyweight' artists who worked on its material." says Beltran. "I feel it is important to look back at these 'landmark' works of art, to ground us more as artists of the 21st century. My interest is how this drama shows the level of complexity with which we, as Filipinos, create meaning in history, how we readily blur fiction and reality, myth and history. I also ask what implication this has to us as contemporary artists."

Presented by Myra Beltran's Dance Forum, "Itim Asu 1719-2009" features the University of the Philippines Dance Company with guest lead dancers Marielle Alonzo and Reagan Cornelio.

Sound designer Teresa Barrozo scored Brillante Mendoza's award-winning film, "Kinatay," while video artist Sherad Anthony Sanchez recently won the Woosuk Best Film Award at the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival 2009, South Korea for his video "Imburnal."

Virginia Moreno was dubbed "The Empress Dowager of Philippine Poetry," by the late National Artist Jose Garcia Villa. She was the lone female member of an influential group of writers in the 1960's who called themselves "Ravens," which included National Artist Nick Joaquin. The Onyx Wolf is listed as the lone Philippine entry in Avant-garde Staging Around the World, published in Paris. Moreno has served as Chair of the UNESCO Culture Committee of the Philippines.

Beltran has blazed trails for independent contemporary dance in the Philippines and her group Myra Beltran's Dance Forum led the way in using alternative spaces for dance. Her dedication has pushed her initially solitary efforts into more than a decade's body of work and her dance studio, Dance Forum Space, has become a performance space that nurtures experimental choreography.

Given the work's historical subject matter and its objective to make audiences re-evaluate the way they process history, Beltran is working on possibly touring the production starting January 2010. "We're inviting organizations and schools to consider having us in their line-up of activities. The show can serve as a good preamble in terms of creating an attitude of critical thinking for the coming elections. Our history is one of resistance, and the present, meaning here and now, is included. What we do today affects our future," she says.

"Itim Asu 1719-2009" is presented by Myra Beltran's Dance Forum with friends and collaborators with the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. It runs from Oct. 26-28, 2009 8pm at Dance Forum Space, 36E West Ave., Quezon City. Call 373-2947.

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