Alice Reyes’ Rama Hari returns to the stage

The Inbox

By Pablo A. Tariman,VERA Files

In town for a short visit is   choreographer and Ballet Philippines founder Alice Reyes who is re-staging her work, "Rama Hari" which will open at the CCP main theater on November 30.

With music by Ryan Cayabyab and libretto by poet and National Artist for Literature Bien Lumbera and retaining the original set and design of Salvador Bernal, Rama Hari was last seen in 1980 with Kuh Ledesma and Basil Valdez as the singing voices of the pop ballet's protagonists.

For its 2012 revival,  Christian Bautista and  Karylle have taken over the singing roles of Rama and Sita while the dancing parts will be essayed by Jean Marc Cordero and Richardson Yadao and Carissa Adea and Katherine Trofeo.

With humor, she likes to think that her 1980 opus was once her baby and rehearsing it once more after 32 years felt like seeing a favorite grandchild come to life again.

"It is exciting for me because it's like rediscovering something dear to you and now you are suddenly confronted on how to make it fresh and relevant for the new generation," says Reyes who earned a BA in history and foreign affairs at Maryknoll College. "Nevertheless, it is interesting to see the same piece now being interpreted by young, if somewhat, different bodies."

In the initial rehearsals, she was overwhelmed by young energetic bodies.

"The new breed of dancers is just amazing. I was just stunned by what they could do with the little studios that are available. When we started here 43 years ago, the offices and resident companies were just us and we had the basement rehearsal hall to ourselves. Now, they are cramped in those little studios but otherwise doing well. Looking at the dancers, I must say they are technically fantastic," Reyes shares her admiration for the young artists.

Alice can certainly look back to enjoy the fruits of her dance pioneering. Forty three years ago, she started with 40 dancers who appeared in regular seasons.

Forty  three  years ago, she struggled to put up a dance concert by harnessing a few dance enthusiasts. This was the seed that later sprouted to become the CCP Dance Company later called Ballet Philippines.

"When we were starting, I realized I had to involve not only the dancers but also their parents. I literally had to implore them to care of their children's costumes for the time being. Indeed, we started with nothing but talent and imagination."

Since her school days, Alice thought that dancing was, for her, the most natural thing to do. After all, her parents are highly artistic people. Her father, Ricardo Reyes, was known as Mr. Philippine Folk Dancer"; her mother, Adoracion Garcia was a voice teacher whose pupils include former first lady, Imelda  Romualdez Marcos.

Born in October 70 years ago,  Alice is a Libra and is, in her own words, very positive.

Just as down to earth as she is aware of the realities of dance, she had no fear of being uprooted from the realm of dance. "One thing about me is that I have no fear of not being n dance at some stage of my life. I think one of the reasons I keep my sanity is that I've always worked on the premise that if I were not involved in one activity, I am also creative enough to be into something else."

And so when she left Ballet Philippines some 20 years ago, she found work teaching design in an export and design company.

"You can say that at some point in my life, my choreographic life literally went to sleep while I was doing designs in another field of work.  It isn't really far from choreography.  I also have to tap into my artistry while dealing with artisans and craftsmen. The big difference in this new work is that I don't have to raise funds," she says with a big laugh.

Looking back, she can be honest with the highs and lows of a choreographer's life including her stint as former artistic director of Ballet Philippines.

She shares the wisdom of experience:"Choreographing is an unending cycle. You always have to start from zero and as you work with your imagination and your dancers, you always wonder if it is going to work. You mount it  on stage and make your statement. You always say 'I could have done this and that or you say 'It could have been better if I did this and that'.' The biggest pleasure as a choreographer is when I see dancers take my breath away. I think this attitude is a blessing. Because I am never threatened by anybody. I could take joy in somebody else's success."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")