In 2020, the performing arts world came to a halt due to the pandemic. Shows were postponed, theaters closed their doors, and dancers had to hang up their pointe shoes temporarily. In the absence of a physical stage, Fifth Wall Fest built its own platform online, bridging dance communities here and around the world. Since then, it has presented over 100 global films as the Philippines’ first and only film festival dedicated to dance.
Now on its third year, Fifth Wall Fest finally went beyond the screen with a hybrid set-up of virtual and live programs. Founded by Steps Dance Studio alumna and former Ballet Philippines soloist Madge Reyes, the event sought to close the gap between audience and artist, and elevate discourse surrounding dance. “The Fifth Wall isn’t just a concept anymore. It is very much real and palpable,” said Reyes. “With a mix of in-person and online activities this edition, we continue to challenge our audiences to explore what it means to celebrate dance from a variety of perspectives. It is what we were always meant to do.”
The 10-day festival kicked off last Oct. 6 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater. Its opening night featured a screening of “Happy Days Are Here Again” by Cirio H. Santiago, which took viewers on a three-decade journey through the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema — highlighting its most iconic stars, songs, and dances. In addition, audiences were treated to a live performance by Steps Dance Studio and the AMP Big Band.
Throughout the week, Fifth Wall Fest prepared programs in various formats and locations around the city. At the UP Fine Arts Gallery, audiences immersed themselves in film installations such as “Hoppla!,” “Movement in Focus,” and “Café Müller.” Showcasing our own local dance history was the Agnes Locsin Retrospective, which spotlighted the choreographic legacy of the National Artist for Dance. Meanwhile, at Sine Pop, festival goers enjoyed more screenings of dance films on top of the Kada Hakbang exhibit, which displayed a selection of Filipino dance film posters from the last 60 years.
Putting together such a diverse and grand line-up was no easy feat for the team, especially after years of being confined to virtual spaces. “This year was a baptism by fire for us. Logistics was on a whole different level. [Our approach] was different to previous editions, since we finally had physical spaces to fill,” shared Reyes. “My process started early in the year as I reached out to our headliners, the Pina Bausch Foundation and Rosas Dance. Then, I [leveraged] my personal links to each venue, while [tapping] colleagues-turned-friends like Tarzeer Pictures, and supporters in the community.”
The photography exhibits, “Always on my Mind” by Koji Arboleda and “Plus Minus” by Renzo Navarro held at Tarzeer Pictures, presents an interesting foray for a festival focused on movement. Though they were eventually shot for a video installation, the photos strike the balance between examinations of body and movement as captured in static imagery. Bodies locked in tableaus, spilling out of frames, with details marking the minute manifestations of movements, the photographs of Arboleda and Navarro help us understand why dance can create a universe of its own.
Every aspect of the festival was thoughtfully considered and curated, with each collaborator bringing their own unique perspective to the table. “[We] choose to move with intention. Nothing is ever (purely) a coincidence for us,” Reyes continued. “We challenge creatives from all backgrounds to come together — film, motion, discussion, performance and more.”
Online, the virtual festival continued with dance film entries from the Fifth Wall Fest 2022 International Dance Film Competition, Pinoy Dokyu Collections, and more. Staying true to its multi-disciplinary roots, this year’s Fifth Wall Fest also featured lectures and online workshops, including an introductory discussion on dance filmmaking and Butoh, the avant-garde “Dance of Darkness” from Japan.
Despite the addition of live programs, it was important for the team to maintain its virtual nature and continue bringing dance to the greater public. “Ever since the festival's inception in 2020, a major goal of ours has been to make dance accessible,” Reyes explained. “The internet allowed us to establish connections not just within and outside of Metro Manila, but beyond Philippine borders. Retaining our online component this year was a no-brainer for us.”
To close the festivities, Fifth Wall Fest celebrated with a party and book launch for Eddie Boy Escudero’s “When We Danced,” a collection of photographs from the ‘90s Manila rave scene in all its indulgent glory. “While this is already our third iteration, it really just feels like our first,” Reyes said. “What we were missing previously was that real-time human interaction. We entered this year with the objective of connecting with our community — those who have been with us from the start, and those new to the festival altogether.”
Indeed, Fifth Wall Fest 2022 succeeded in pushing the boundaries of experimental dance and connection through movement. Not only did it offer an accessible space for diverse performances and education, but it also captured the multi-sensorial rawness of motion in every day. It is exciting to see how Fifth Wall Fest will outdo itself again in the coming years, with the possibility of moving beyond dance films altogether.
“We don't like doing things traditionally,” Reyes stated during opening night. “Dance film is our main medium. But who knows? We might expand. We want [you all] to experience what it means to celebrate dance from all angles.”
— With reports by Don Jaucian