Film review: Documentary “Mananayaw” explores why men dance

 
Dancing men are beset by dilemmas: one is their suspect gayness or effeminacy for entering a largely female-populated art form. Then there is the reality of the lack of economic viability in the dance profession. Another would be the high physical demands of dancing that heavily tax and often bring injuries to the dancing body. 
 
These are the main issues put to fore in “Mananayaw,” a documentary by Rafael Froilan on the male dancer, which received the special jury award in this year’s recently-concluded Cine Totoo.
 
Four danseurs, one passion
 
Zooming in on the narratives of four male dancers, who were produced by Ballet Philippines, one of the country’s top professional ballet companies, “Mananayaw” teases out the dance careers of four generations of Filipino male ballet dancers namely: Nonoy Froilan, JM Cordero, Biag Gaongen and Victor Maguad.
 
JM Cordero, current principal dancer with BP, insists that dance is his sport, and this is his way of setting aside comments of dance being a feminine, or even gay, art form. 
 
“I have to learn from my body every day, “ he said of the sensitivity needed in working with the body as one’s medium for this physically expressive aesthetic. And like any other sport, dance for him demands that the dancer be fit, strong, and healthy. 
 
A graduate of theater arts from the Philippine High School for the Arts, Cordero chose to embark on a career in dance, putting to use the acting skills he learned that are vital in fleshing out his dance roles.
 
Biag Gaongen for his part shared how dancers have to become “sincere storytellers.” His artistic commitment to dance continues to this day despite his experience of surviving a knee injury from dancing, for which he has had five surgical operations. He lamented how there are very few opportunities for professional ballet dancers in the Philippines, what with only three legitimate professional ballet companies in existence. 
 
After his stint with Ballet Philippines, he opted to dance in Europe, where he saw dance well-funded and thriving in every state. However, he had to cut short his career due to his condition, also called a “dancer’s knee.” Gaongen has now chosen to be based in the Philippines, this time as a choreographer and dance teacher.
 
The youngest of the four dancers, Victor Maguad, speaks of his prudent stance towards joining dance competitions, even as he is thought of and recommended very highly by his mentors to join international ballet tournaments. 
 
Hailed by his senior mentors as a young male virtuoso in the ballet world today, Victor nevertheless shuns such opinions, saying that it was never really his dream to be a dancer. Yet he persists in the art form, as he knows that a dancer’s career span is very short, and that he can embark on other things, such as formal academic studies, much later.
 
Meantime, the oldest and most seasoned of the four, Nonoy Froilan, shares how it was never his plan to become a dancer. “I’m not flexible. It took 15 years before I could do a full split. It just happened I was tall and have good looks. I have the stance so that’s a plus,” the retired premier danseur recalled of his early years in the field.
 
His wife, former Ballet Philippines dancer Edna Vida, also shared how Nonoy, as a dance partner was very supportive, with whom she felt very secure. Froilan has partnered with the best of ballerinas who have graced Philippine stage: Dame Margot Fonteyn, Lisa Macuja, Toni Lopez Gonzales, and Yoko Morishita, to name a few. 
 
Appalling conditions
 
Interspersed with interviews with the four are personal stories and opinions shared by a number of local dance luminaries. 
 
One of them is Luther Perez, artistic director and choreographer of the Quezon City Circle Performing Arts. Perez ruminates on the reality that among the roster of artists, it is the dancers who are the least paid. 
 
Besides these appalling conditions, a few brave men still choose to inhabit and thrive in the field. Apart from these voices, shots of a recent Ballet Philippines provincial tour were shown, as well as snippets of dance rehearsals in the BP studio. 
 
In between the voices of these four men, short, exquisitely rendered solos by Maguad and Biag were shown. And finally, a dance of the four danseurs capped the ending, showing the generational ties that continue to be passed on: the artistry and commitment of men who choose to survive and contribute to the rarefied field of dance. — VC, GMA News


"Mananayaw" was an entry at Cine Totoo, which ran from Sept. 24 to 30.