EXPERT lessons and premiere performances in dance are exclusive to the rich no more.

Manila’s Dance Scholars proved that money should not keep from experiencing the art of movement after a display of their glimmering routines in “Hiyas,” the Manila Dance and Cultural Center’s dance series, which started April 21 and runs every Friday at the outdoor stage of the Museong Pambata compound. Spearheaded by premier dance icons Tony Fabella, Eddie Elejar, and Luther Perez, the show’s company of danseurs is composed of talented but financially challenged Manila children aged 7 to 14. These children had been training since the center was organized in 2000.

According to Perez, “Hiyas” is the most fitting metaphor, both for the precious Filipino legacies and for the young stars of the show. The events boasted Filipino artistry in the native dances blended with stunning routines of ballet, jazz, lyrical, and folk genres, accompanied by a rondalla.

A fusion of ballet and jazz by Perez scored with rapid drum beats was the opening salvo. With the performers in orange and gold outfits, they graced the stage with a range of high leaps and broad arm stretches forming a sun dance choreography, portraying the beginnings of our Filipino forefathers. A lyrical routine interpreting Gary Valenciano’s hope-inspiring “Reaching Out” followed, featuring four girls in red shirts with labels endorsing the center’s dance scholarship for poor, Manila children.

“Both performances proved how professionally trained the dancers are and how poise and posture are stressed in their practices. We also made the repertoire heavy on the folk dances to promote Philippine tourism,” Perez said.

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The show’s repertoire was divided accordingly into four regional dances. The first revealed the indigenous rituals of the Cordillera mountain tribes. With the boys in loin clothes and the girls in tapis, two of the dances embodied mountain activities like ensuring bountiful harvests, shown in “Banga”. The warrior dance “Manmanok” meanwhile, featured conflicts between tribemates. The performers’ animal-like maneuvers, incorporating the plume fabrics and clay pots illustrate the mountain inhabitants’ pagan lifestyle as they try to appease their Gods with their ceremonies and harvests.

Elegance, royalty, and prestige were elucidated in the sophisticated portrayal of the Muslim array. “Singkil,” the recount of the Maranao epic Darangan about Princess Gandingan’s flight from an earthquake-stricken forest, highlighted this suite. The rhythmic clapping of crisscrossed poles embodies the falling trees, which she gracefully evades with her umbrella-bearing servant. Maintaining solemn faces and a dignified pose, the dancers began on a slow pace which soon progressed to a faster tempo while skillfully manipulating “apir”, or fans, representing the auspicious winds.

Magnifying the Spanish influences in our culture, the Maria Clara group interpreted classic Filipino courting customs. Wearing customary, flower-embroidered gowns and barong tagalog, they danced in the linear routines of the bamboo-castanets clapping the “La Jota Manileña” and the skirt swaying “Polkabal.”

Upbeat, fiesta-like rhythms courtesy of folk-string orchestra colored the performance of the Rural suite, which engaged most of the audience to reminisce on the contagious atmosphere of town fiestas. The mimicry of flapping ducks in “Itik-itik,” a varied version of the coconut shell-tapping in “Maglalatik,” and the challenging steps assimilating bamboo poles in “Tinikling” amused the audience. A refreshing, comical version of the “Sitsiritsit” medley by the Hiyas ng Maynila Youth Choir completed the rural impression.

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“Hiyas” and the new Cultural Center are both ideas of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, an art patron (he and wife Evelina are both former members of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe). The two projects personally prioritized by the mayor serve as platforms of dance enthusiasts that advocate and promote our culture.

“What we do here in the center is to empower these kids with the mastery of their skills so they can use this for their own good in the future and this show is one way of showcasing that mastery,” said Perez. A. I. P. Bonifacio

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