THE BODY DOES NOT LIE
Ballet Philippines’ former artistic director Paul Alexander Morales wears this season’s loose and easy shapes.
PERCHED ATOP A BARRE inside the near-empty Ballet Philippines practice room, Paul Morales appears light as a feather. He’s telling a story—the former artistic director of the country’s flagship dance company explains the path he chose with a smile: “I thought I could escape politics.”
Morales is that proverbial prodigal son. He hails from a Davaoeño clan known for their political influence, beginning with his great-grandfather Anastacio Campo, the city’s provincial commander during World War II, up to his mother, Maria Virginia Morales, who authored a book about these wartime exploits, among other relevant historical texts. His father, Horacio “Boy” Morales, was a young technocrat of the Marcos regime, but went underground and joined the National Democratic Front. He was arrested and tortured while under military detention, freed after the EDSA revolution, and then appointed as Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform in 1998.
The younger Morales, in the meantime, found his calling by way of Old Hollywood: Bob Fosse’s semiautobiographical All That Jazz; The Red Shoes, a drama about an aspiring ballerina torn between two loves; and Singin’ in the Rain with Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, and Donald O’Connor. Old Filipino movies, notably those that star Nida Blanca, who spoke body language with a native proficiency. He points out,
“It was a time when film had more choreography, when all movement is related and advantageous for an artistic purpose.”
He entered the University of the Philippines to earn a political science degree, but he already loved dance
in its entirety: the body, the mastery of technique, rhythmically moving to music, using any given space. “When I first saw a big open space, my mom said I jumped around as if it was a stage,” he recalls. “During the most difficult parts of my life, I always found dance to be a solace.”
Two years later, he shifted to theater. In a class production of
Hair, he was unable to fight the urge to move his body. It led to his first involvement with Ballet Philippines as a scholar. With their help, he became a scholar in Advanced Dance Theater Performance at the Laban Theater in London. Backstage work led him to establish Dulaang Talyer upon his return home in 1994. In 2008, he directed and independently released Concreto, a film based on his family’s wartime stories where their love of music blossomed. It was in 2009 that he went full circle.
Morales’ Ballet Philippines was a combination of his interests. By juxtaposing choreography (wherein he encouraged artistry among dancers through collaboration) with videography, from its modernist set to promotions, he added dynamism. In Swan Lake, unobtrusive moving scenery simply imbued a sense of place and time, while some were more intrinsic to the production.
But politics was inescapable; in the art world, it was a sneakier creature. It was there among the country’s ballet companies, but no longer, as the top three— Ballet Philippines, Philippine Ballet Theatre, and Ballet Manila—united for a dance festival, complete with Morales’ selfie with Ballet Manila’s Lisa Macuja Elizalde. Social media, which Morales used to draw a diverse audience, was his secondary source of frustration, the free-for-all space overtaken by keyboard predators hungry for morsels of half-truths.
Where does dance stand amid all this? “Every piece of art is either for or against the status quo,” he says. Ballet Philippines’ direct contributions last year were a gala destigmatizing HIV and a twin bill of Simoun and Crisostomo Ibarra. Then there was Swan Lake, a classic fairytale ballet in every sense of the word that satisfied the unrelenting human search for love and purity. “Even that has its purpose,” he muses.
“We can hope to inspire. After the shows, kids jump about because it gives them a different sense of the possibility of the body,” he adds. “We try to showcase diversity on the stage. I’ve been chided for having dancers with different sizes but dance companies are really communities. Here, we practice tolerance, respect, diversity.”
“The thing about the body,” he says, “is it doesn’t lie. Have you ever seen a fake dance? In a post truth world, dance is a bastion of that truth.”
Now, the practice room is silent save for the hum of ambient electronica. The smoke machine creates a cloud that dissipates moments later into a fog, rendering Morales’ lithe body as no more than a silhouette to the naked eye, a tongue that flicks and twists, speaking the thesis of his nonliterary art where the choreography of words are not. What is he trying to say? He holds onto the barre, supine, taking his time, and dismounts into a pirouette.
DENISE PARUNGAO SARAH ALEJANDRO KATRENE SAN MIGUEL MONICA GANA
HAIR AND MAKEUP
MURIEL VEGA PEREZ
HAIR AN D MAKEUP ASSISTANT
IGNACIO GADOR Pocket square (around neck) by Hermès, Greenbelt 3
The new shape begins below: As trousers loosen up, jackets become fuller. Suit by Givenchy, Greenbelt 4