Fifth Wall Fest showcases Filipino modern dance in the time of TikTok

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Choreographer Gerard Hechanova III says his film "Sa Silong" is about how people can form different worldviews in response to an impoverished life. Screencap from FIFTH WALL FEST

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The Philippines' first international dance film festival, Fifth Wall Fest, opens today with a focus on modern dance. Also known as theatrical dance, it has a closer resemblance to performance art than recognizable styles like ballet, flamenco or hip hop.

Relevant, when you think of how pop stars have staged happenings at Coachella, or closer to home, the new modern companies being started by dancers who studied other disciplines since they were young and are looking for a new form to wake themselves up. Developing and staging original works, these modern dancers almost look like actors. If dance is a choreographic response to the world, then their gestures and facial expressions of joy and grief respond to the self-care-in-the-time-of-COVID present more directly than any 32 fouettes could.

Particular to this era, the “dance film” — a format that has found its time as studios and theaters close — has the benefit of zooming in, unlike a stage, which is faraway.

The programmers of Fifth Wall Fest want to push this idea of choreography-for-camera. As technology catches up with life, there’s never been a better time to move through the world in dance moves.

Every movement is valid, and lakas ng loob is in high supply. Think of the range of videos that have been posted, from Harry Roque’s first Tiktok, or Nude Floor’s IG-TV episode set to Kiana Valenciano’s new single.

The output can be weird, or wonderful, but so is everything that we haven’t articulated before. What more if we can’t say anything? What more if we’re just using our bodies?

That modern dance is rooted in acting out deep feelings about a political or social context (the modern dance pioneer, Pina Bausch, was herself responding to Germany’s difficult years) makes it a meaningful output.

“Elementos” by Madge Reyes. Screencap from FIFTH WALL FEST

“Juana and the Sacred Shores” by Antonne Carbonell Santiago. Screencap from FIFTH WALL FEST

“Sa Silong” by Gerard Hechanova III. Screencap from FIFTH WALL FEST

Among international selections, the Fifth Wall Fest features 12 dance films from Filipinos all over the world.

One is “Elementos,” produced by the festival itself and directed by Madge Reyes. In its most moving frames, dancers in a field end up trickling in sweat, rolling in dirt, hair blown by the wind.

Meanwhile, “Juana and the Sacred Shores,” a thesis by Antonne Carbonell Santiago for the UP Film Institute, delights with action lines and natural sounds produced by a maiden living alone by the ocean as she kicks up sand and slaps the water like it’s a set of bongos.

But perhaps one of the more contextual pieces is “Sa Silong,” a nine-minute piece that just flies by. Choreographer Gerard Hechanova III says it’s about how people can form different worldviews in response to an impoverished life. “One can either dream to have more or just accept to have less. But what if along with dreaming is also doubting?” The choreography stopped me in my streaming when I watched it via the Cultural Center of the Philippines choreographers’ competition, WifiBody 2020, two months ago. It was strong then, and it’s strong now. The drumbeat slaps and the two dancers look so sure of themselves. It makes me think of how a less privileged upbringing forms character. Self-comfort. Swagger, even.

Maybe that’s the fifth wall that’s being broken down in these dance films: our being so self-conscious.


Watch Fifth Wall Fest here.