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REVIEW: In ‘Limang Daan’, Ballet Philippines Takes A Step Backwards

REVIEW: In ‘Limang Daan’, Ballet Philippines Takes A Step Backwards

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Ballet Philippines’ Limang Daan showcased women trapped in a harrowing limbo of oppression and inequality, resembling damsels in distress.

After being in the art scene for fifty-four years, Ballet Philippines (BP) has made a significant impact by presenting profound representations of women. In the 1970s, they showcased National Artist Alice Reyes’ Amada, which depicted women defying oppressive social expectations. In the 1990s, they presented National Artist Agnes Locsin’s Encantada, portraying women as vessels of power, healing, love, and faith, showcasing their ability to reclaim control of the Earth. More recently, Ballet Philippines’ own Gia Gequinto created solo works that exalted women, such as “Sun Down,” which portrayed them as resilient beings capable of enduring life’s trials while emanating beauty. Other performances, like Salome by Agnes Locsin, That’s My Life by Alden Lugnasin, and Mama by Ronelson Yadao, have contributed to a rich collection of pro-woman, pro-equality, and feminist pieces over the company’s history.

A Step Backward

However, whatever BP has done to empower women was dimmed greatly by their newest production. Limang Daan, Ballet Philippines’ latest production, feels like a step backward. Described as a full-length piece that explores “…the struggles of Filipino women through a time-bending narrative spanning approximately 500 years”, it promised to offer a feminist perspective on events that have influenced the nation. Premiering on March 8, 2024, International Women’s Day, the show’s timing raised my expectations for a profound examination of women’s plight, consistent with the company’s previous works. Feminism has evolved and tackled various layers of oppression and inequality throughout the years. Hence, I anticipated a social commentary that would depict the complex journey of the modern woman. Sadly, Limang Daan did not fulfill this hope. Rather than an empowering ending, it showcased women trapped in a harrowing limbo of oppression and inequality, resembling damsels in distress.

Damsels in Distress

The multiverse story begins with Ana, a present-day Filipino OFW nurse burdened by an exhausting workload and subjected to sexual advances from a superior. Regine Magbitang, who plays Ana, frantically navigates her surroundings. She uses the stairs, perpetually repeating the same actions as if trapped on an infinite flight. When her oppressor gropes her, she reacts but does not defend herself. She distances herself but refrains from speaking out. Ultimately, she becomes overwhelmed by the demands imposed upon her. Considering all that women have achieved and struggled against over the past five hundred years, it is disheartening to witness present-day life still grappling with the objectification of women as the primary focus of women’s struggles. This narrative resembles the Padre Damaso era in which powerful individuals exerted control over women’s bodies. While stories like this still prevail, I believe the struggles of women today differ greatly and deserve better representation.

In the second vignette, we witness a striking parallel to the Spanish invasion, where they showered the indigenous people with technological advancements, education, and the promise of salvation. Eduardson Evangelio’s portrayal of the non-binary Babaylan Amihan embodies resistance against the gifts of colonization, while the choreography depicted all the women succumbing to the Spanish gifts without hesitation. However, evidence suggests there was resistance, as demonstrated by the war fought to defend our land and heritage. While I could recognize the oppression through colonization in this section, I still struggled to identify the feminist point of view. This was a collective experience in our history, not exclusive to women.

The most perplexing of all storylines was the portrayal of the St. Louis Human Exhibition. Gawani played by Gia Gequinto was an Igorot “forced” to participate in the human zoo. To begin with, the choreography was a collection of mimes and theatrics with Artistic Director Mikhail Martynyuk spending at least three minutes of the show walking around with a vintage camera and a Philippine exhibit sign. In the scene, the Igorots were made to take pictures with the Americans. When one tries to touch Gawani, she resists in complete anger. She then performs an anguished solo to her death. From the audience’s point of view, it was hard to understand why the reaction was so massive. 

The exhibition in St. Louis represented more than just the “male gaze” towards Gawani or the derogatory concept of Filipinos being viewed as an exotic exhibit.

It is important to note that the exhibit covered more ground than just the Igorots. They presented distorted perspectives of our Philippine civilization from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao (along with other nationalities), recreating villages to conform to the white man’s narrative as they displayed their newly acquired territory. In history, the exhibit was created as a celebration of colonization. It was a display of game winnings that the US acquired in the guise of archeological educational goals. They used the exhibit to showcase the superiority of the Americans allegedly resulting in many racist reactions and oppressive activities. Historical records indicate that the Americans recruited, paid, and educated Filipinos during the seven months that the exhibit took place.  Despite the troublesome experience, it also caused the migration of Filipinos because they were fed the concept of American superiority. 

While Gawani’s choreographed solo effectively conveyed the piercing pain caused by the brutality of the Americans, BP’s storytelling trivialized this significant moment in history. 

The St. Louis exhibit scene, presented by BP, reduced this historical context to a demeaning photoshoot without properly addressing the multifaceted layers of this pivotal moment. The production overlooks the Filipino participants’ varied experiences. Moreover, this was not solely an attack on women but on all Filipinos.

The fourth vignette revolves around the famous literary characters Maria Clara and Ibarra from Noli Me Tangere. The librettist’s notes reveal everything: “Maria Clara… Sexy but repressed, strong-willed but in dire need of saving, by a man of course.” In this ballet, women are never portrayed as independent forces. Due to Catholic patriarchy, Maria Clara ends up in the convent, trapped in her misery, in her hell. Adding to the demise of the woman is the character of the Mother Superior, who unnecessarily depicts a woman of faith inflicting violence on other women. Women against women, cloaked in Catholicism.

The last vignette is about the Chico Dam. Kalinga women Petra, Edena, and Leticia try to protect their land and their people from the dams that were created (and are still trying to be created) without their consent. This is the only section that reflects the activism of the woman.

Limang Daan’s narrative had the potential to be a powerful reflection on the evolution of feminism and women’s rights in the Philippines. Feminism essentially involves recognizing the strength of women and allowing the rest of the world to see it in its glory. While I see the intention of the renowned writer Moira Lang, it simply did not translate onto the stage.

Confused Choreography 

Mikhail Martynyuk’s choreography seemed as confused as the storylines. The production was dubbed a Filipino modern ballet, allowing for certain flexibilities. However, there was nothing that grounded the choreography as a cohesive whole. In many pieces, there was no semblance of anything recognizably Filipino. For instance, take the pas de deux of Maria Clara and Ibarra. While the dancing was beautiful, changing their costumes to tutus wouldn’t have made any difference.

In contrast, there were sparingly golden moments, such as Gia Gequinto’s solo and the piece featuring the Kalinga women, where you could see the texture and nuances. The multiverse, where the five characters interacted in time-bending moments, was especially confusing because it would randomly happen without careful storytelling transitions. The choreography would also shift in genre from pure classical ballet to contemporary, which was disturbing.

Librettos with such a heavy scope cannot be created hastily. Capturing five hundred years was too ambitious. Perhaps with more time, the choreography could have come together.

Brilliant Dancers

Nevertheless, the dancers prevailed. Regine Magbitang as Anna displayed athleticism and mastery of contemporary technique. Jemima Reyes was effervescent as Maria Clara, leaping across the stage with lightness and grace. Her dependable classical technique was in full display. Ian Ocampo as Ibarra was suave and wowed the audience with his technically difficult barrel turn and tour series. Gia Gequinto was dripping with emotion as Gawani. Her air time was the most stirring in the two-hour ballet. Nicole Barosso, Clarise Miranda, and Danielle Kleiner as Kalinga Women were standouts. Their performance was like a breath of fresh air. They captivated the audience with their undeniable presence and their meticulous footwork. I recognize the dancers’ work and their full commitment to embodying the Filipino spirit.

A Different Company

“Ballet Philippines has always possessed a strong and refined voice, effectively representing Filipinos through choreography for five decades. The company has utilized the stage as a powerful platform for change and integrity. However, this essence was regrettably absent in Limang Daan.  I could no longer see traces of the old Ballet Philippines. 

The company’s essence was never solely about showcasing strong dancers or garnering applause. It was rooted in a deep care for the Filipino narrative and the Filipino dancer. This production left a lot of questions. While it paved the way for a lot of conversations, it was not about the plight of women nor our oppressive history but about how the company’s shine has been tarnished. Whatever identity BP may have had before, it no longer exists. 


Tickets: P1,500, P1,200
Show Dates: March 8-10, 2024
Venue: Solaire Theater
Running Time: 2.0 Hours
Artistic Director: Mikhail Martynyuk 
Choreography/ Set Creatives: Mikhail Martynyuk 
Assistant Choreographer: Gia Gequinto 
Librettist : Moira Lang
Composer: Erwin Romulo 
Co-Composer: Malek Lopez
Vocals/Chants: Carol Bello Dawonlay 
Costume Designer: Jc Buendia
Featured Cast: 
Maria Clara- Jemima Reyes 
Ibarra- Ian Ocampo
Ana- Regina Magbitang 
Petra- Nicole Barroso/ I Idella Buhia
Edena- Clarise Miranda
Leticia- Danielle Kleiner
Mother Superior- Ramona Yusay
Amihan- Eduardson Evangelio
About the Author /


A former ballerina with Philippine Ballet Theatre, Erica Jacinto discovered her passion for dance photography and pursues her goal of making dance accessible to new audiences through her blog, http://artaturningpointe@blogspot.com. You can find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/erica.marquezjacinto