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REVIEW: Third time’s a charm with ‘Encantada’

REVIEW: Third time’s a charm with ‘Encantada’

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Alice Reyes Dance Philippines opened its season with National Artist Agnes Locsin’s neo-ethnic ballet “Encantada.” Starting strong, their first run at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater elicited long-running curtain calls, standing ovations, and heartfelt declarations of acceptance. But nobody was prepared for the display of love on opening night at the Metropolitan Theater last April 21, 2023. The phrase “and the crowd went wild” is usually reserved for sports arenas, but this old ballet from the 1990s made it happen in the iconic theater. 

Encantada was the brainchild of three radical artists. Al Santos wrote the libretto, Joey Ayala wrote the music, and finally, it was directed and choreographed by Agnes Locsin. At the time of its premiere, everything that they did was unorthodox. The theme was about taboos, the dance genre was contemporary, and the music was tribal (which was not your go-to music for ballets). 

Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

The product was fresh and the audience embraced it. In 2011, it was restaged by Ballet Philippines and it won numerous awards. But a lot has happened since then. The production value of shows has been inventive, contemporary dance is now at the forefront, and the music industry has opened up. I wondered if the ballet could remain as potent as it was when it was created. Opening night proved that this ballet was indeed a timeless classic.

Purposeful Libretto

The curtains opened revealing Salvador Bernal’s majestic multilevel mountain glistening under the light of John Batalla. The moment of stillness would prepare the audience for a powerhouse performance of music, dance, and theatrics. 

With her feet grounded and connected to Bernal’s mountain, Encantada, played by Georgette Sanchez-Vargas, descended from the top of the mountains and roused up the Kababaihan. It was a soothing warm-up for the telling of a story laced with multiple social critiques on religious hypocrisy, the power divide in society, and the violence against women, the oppressed, and the environment. 

The story has two different sectors that live by faith. The pagans of the mountains were the Kababihans who relied on their mystical Encantada and the devout Christians who lived in civilization. Through the narrative of the Estranghero who was a devout Christian, the abuse of people and environment by the powerful Frailes would be told. 

In each major scene, Locsin was able to share a strong message. For instance, in the story, the conflict intensified when the Christian icon of the Virgin Mary was turned over to the pagans who undressed it and worshiped it as their god. This depicts that both sectors believed in the same higher power packaged differently. In the end, it is how you live your life in faith that is the true battle.  

In the story, the Estranghero was saved by the Kababaihans from pain inflicted by his own sector. While he remained a devout Christian, he recognized the kindness of pagans and even lived with them in their sanctuary. The message is loud and clear: different religions can coexist.  

The role of the Estranghero was also quite powerful as it showed that the true devout could easily be persecuted by the powerful. The Estranghero was pursued by the Frailes and the Guardia Sibil to his death. Consistent with our history as a nation, many of our heroes who have stood up for what they believed was right, suffered. They were always the catalyst of change, the heroes that would be remembered. 

In the climactic battle between the Guardia Sibil and the Kababaihans, they destroyed the environment and the spirit of the people. This is a direct call out not to bite the hand that feeds you. There are many more poetic declarations in the scenes that the audience could pick up. Collectively, the nuances have made the ballet a powerful social commentary. 

Locsin Choreography 

The pulsating music of Joey Ayala and Bagong Lumad evoked a vibe. It was ingenious to have the musicians hidden in the mountain. It seemed to breathe life into this set piece. In too many ballets, the singers take away the attention from the dancers but in this performance, the voices reverberated from the stage in the most glorious way. I am certain the dancers being so close to the live music could feed off the energy of the singers. Locsin’s rhythmic steps like stomping furiously to the beat of the music intensified the scenes.

Playing off the elemental sound of Locsin’s choreography was a delicate display of nature. Memorable is the scene where the Kababaihan heals the Estranghero through the help of the Babaylan and the Encantada. Encantada lifts her arms to the sky and in a dramatic gesture, pours healing into the hands of the Babaylan which the Babaylan then transfers to the Kababaihan. 

In this scene, the women act as a conveyor belt moving the body of the Estranghero forward with their bodies. It looked like a magical stream of water being poured out from the sky to his ailing body. Similarly, in the scene of the great flood, bodies were rolling on the floor like objects swiftly being carried away by the current. There were scenes where the element of wind was the core aesthetic. The ensemble would run furiously in a circle creating the image of a human hurricane with their hair swept away from their faces, the central energy mounting on stage. In the grand finale, the Kababaihan toss their hair up and down like being one with the wind. Swaying hips, bendy torsos and a tempo that mimics gusts of wind created beautiful images.  

Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

The beauty of Locsin’s choreography lies in how the movements themselves easily build up the characters of the story. For instance, Encantada could have been portrayed as the stereotype of mother earth, colorful and vivacious. Instead, Locsin’s Encantada had the soul of a mother with hands that lifted in prayer, hands that could heal, hands that could nurture, and hands that could share joy. 

Her hand articulations were enough to convey emotions. Her grounded movements established that she was part of the earth. Her feet were deeply grounded with most of the steps on fondu (on leg bent) but her upper body movements were weightless, somewhat explaining that she is divinely connected to the heavens but rooted in service to the mountain and its people. The Kababaihan ensemble had a lot of linked arms and intertwined bodies which emphasized their sense of community and harmony as opposed to the jagged and non-unified choreography of the violent angular movements of the Guardia Sibil.  

Having seen this ballet multiple times, I started to notice picturesque scenes with a likeness to historical events. For instance, in the scene where the Estrangero was beaten up, the two guards held both his arms and lifted him off the ground. His feet were intertwined and it looked like Jesus on the cross. His role was a devout being persecuted and so it made sense. Alternatively, It could also be like Rizal’s death scene where he falls on the floor because he dared revolt. In the scene where the Guardia Sibil were raping the women, they go to a circular formation and scream out their pain. It looked like there was a reference to Dante’s Inferno, where the mangled bodies scream in the sinner’s haven. 

Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

There were also so many references to Filipino heritage embedded in every major scene like the  Marinduque’s Moriones Festival, Manobo healing rituals, and ati-atihan. It showcased  Filipino culture albeit reinvented in an alternate imaginary Locsin universe. 

Passionate Dancers

While I believe the material is the real reason behind the show’s success, the performers really brought their A game. Neo-ethnic style is something hard to acclimatize with but the dancers seemed intent on giving justice to the choreography. Their passionate acting brought the story to a different level. Considering the technical demands of the ballet, the cast’s endurance was amazing. 

Georgette Sanchez-Vargas as the Encantada owned the stage displaying artistic maturity. Being a Locsin-trained dancer, she was able to articulate Locsin’s vocabulary with ease. She traversed through the mountain levels with confidence. Despite being so high up in the mountain, her emotional scenes were strong enough to puncture the audience and elicit tears. Carissa Adea who performed the role of Babaylan showed a different temperament than the pioneer cast but was equally effective. She emphasized empathy and community in her storytelling. Ronelson Yadao who played the Estranghero and Lester Reguindin who played the Fraile were dynamic in both their acting, their dancing contributing greatly to the drama. 

Third Time’s a Charm

This third staging of Encantada was successful for a reason. It gave full attention and respect to the material, the creators’ intention, and most importantly the artists. 

Restagers Alden Lugnasin, Annette Cruz-Mariano, and Judelle de Guzman-Sicam drew from their experiences. The nuances that could easily be forgotten and imagery that could easily be unrecognizable were clear as day in this staging. 

With Agnes Locsin herself at the helm of this production, she was able to school audiences that theater is not about glorifying one person’s art, it is about making sure everyone’s art comes alive. It takes a village to show something worthwhile. 

This now iconic ballet and the Alice Reyes Dance Philippines Company have just re-established the gold standard for creating a Filipino ballet.

Tickets: Php Free ( Registration Required)
Show Dates: April 21 - April 22, 2023
Venue: Metropolitan Theater 
Running Time: approx. 1 hour and 45 mins.
Credits: Agnes Locsin  (Director), Agnes Locsin (Choreographer), Ronelson Yadao (ARDP Artistic Director), Joey Ayala (Composer), Al Santos (Librettist ), John Battala (lighting designer), Salvador Bernal  (Set Design, Costume Design), Salvador Bernal  Reproduction Consultant (Eric Cruz) Set Construction Supervisor  (Erlinda Arcega) Restagers (Alden Lugnasin, Annette Cruz- Mariano , Judelle De Guzman-Sicam)
Featured Cast:  Encantada ( Georgette Sanchez-Vargas), Babaylan (Carissa-Adea), Estranghero (Ronelson Yadao), Fraile (Lester Reguindin), Joey Ayala, Bagong Lumad
Company: Alice Reyes Dance Company 
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