(Written as an introduction to Agnes Locsin’s book on neo-ethnic dance)

INTRODUCTION: how to describe a flow

Mea culpa  Agnes Locsin asked me to write this introduction because as far as we both know I am responsible for coining the term “neo-ethnic” – an adjective for a work that is contemporary, or of the present, with elements characteristic of local cultures.

This term has come to be closely associated with Locsin works that fuse ballet, jazz and modern dance with gestures from cultural enclaves all over the country.

Lineage  “Neo-ethnic” was minted in the course of working on a musical entitledSinalimba

[1]It was the answer to the question “how do we describe what we are doing?”.

We needed a snappy in-a-nutshell word to help people grasp the concept of fusion and artistic evolution that was an integral part of Sinalimba.

It was “new” (neo-) and was flamboyantly colorful in an ethno-linguistical way.  It had rock music and trance gongs, earth-rooted movements and balletic leaps.  It had a magic boat that took “tribal heroes” up to the sky.  For lack of anything more appropriate to put in the show’s poster, Sinalimba came to be promoted as a “neo-ethnic musical”.

This was how the term “neo-ethnic” came to be.  Before this, however, were many works in the same spirit, maybe most being more “neo” than “ethnic”, but I don’t think anyone thought to describe their work as “neo-ethnic”.

Just a word  Please bear in mind that “neo-ethnic” is just a word that points to an aspect of reality – that we as a people and species have a collective past of many dimensions and colors, and that we are here, now, in present time and place, which turns even as we speak, into the past, as the future emerges unnoticed by most, like a fine morning dew.

Freeze-framing  Art, as well as other human endeavors not classified as such,  freeze-frames this passage of life and space-time, this blooming and wilting cycle of energy and form.  In all that we do we crystallize past, present, and future.

The neo-ethnic freeze-frame occurs at the point where “contemporary” global-urban-westernized-mediafied-market economy art and artists meet their “traditional” counterparts – art and artists from clearly-rooted local cultures.  One influences and inspires the other and neo-ethnic is born.  In one direction the contemporary is informed by the traditional.  In the other direction, the traditional is informed, or deformed, as some might say, by the contemporary.

Agnes’ choreography freeze-frames for us this meeting of the past-present-future that is unique to Philippine reality and, simultaneously, is a global phenomenon – neo-ethnic.

Dimensions  Music is sound and structure in time, dance is movement in time and space, painting on canvas is three-dimensional image in two-dimensional space, sculpture is form in three dimensions, architecture is functional structure in space, writing is speech frozen in two dimensions, etc., etc. …  and all these “disciplines” marry, divorce, and re-marry with alarming promiscuity.  On one end of the spectrum you have a single voice lamenting the absence of a loved one and, at the other end you have the latest animated song-and-dance spectacle from Hollywood.

You will see all the different dimensions of neo-ethnic dance in this book from conception to the integrated arts and sciences of the stage – writing, musicing, designing, building, marketing, management, research, etc.

Welcome  Thank you for picking up this book, this crystallization of dance-as-she-sees-and-shapes-it by choreographer Agnes Locsin.  Her painstaking and patient detailing of movement and process I find inspiring.  She is a good giant on whose shoulders we might stand.

Agnes, I know you would much rather move and choreograph than sit still and freeze your speech on paper for us readers, so, thank you for making energy for this book and for letting me be part of your art.

A-five, six, seven, eight . . .

Joey Ayala, May 24, 2006

[1] Neo-ethnic musical play drawn from Mindanaon myth and legend.  Script by Don Pagusara, Fe Remotigue, Nestor Horfilla.  Directed by Nestor Horfilla.  Music by Joey Ayala, Popong Landero, Don Pagusara, Eugene Villarino, et. al.  Toured nationwide with the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Outreach & Exchange Program, 1987.