Choreography in Focus: Muro-Ami by Gerardo Francisco
The Filipino film Muro-Ami made a big impression on Gerardo Francisco when he saw it on the big screen in 1999. It was a stark depiction of child labor in the high seas wrought by the illegal fishing system referred to in the title. It starred Cesar Montano as Fredo, the ruthless captain of 150 muro-ami divers who swim into the depths to pound and crush corals to scare fish and drive them towards the nets.
When Geri watched the movie, he was so moved by the children’s plight. “Ginagawa kasi silang alipin, pinagtatrabaho sila mula umaga hanggang takipsilim (They are treated like slaves, made to work from morning to dusk,” he shares.
Since then, at the back of his mind, he wished he could also tell their story in dance.
Though it took quite some time, the opportunity to do it finally came when Geri was asked to create a number for Ballet Manila’s Just Dance! summer workshop recital in 2015. Muro-Ami, the ballet, was choreographed on the Level 3 Modern Contemporary class recitalists.
“I used arm movements like they're swimming and flowing movements of the torso like water dripping from your body – sharp and accentuated,” Geri describes. He also thought of a way to simulate the boat that transports the children, using only a few pieces of bamboo carried by the captain’s men.
For the music, Geri chose one of his favorite composers, Hans Zimmer, particularly a piece used in the Pirates of the Caribbean official soundtrack. “The first time I heard the music, I thought it would really fit my choreography. I loved the intensity and dynamics of the music.”
The resulting work lasted approximately five minutes and fifteen seconds. With a total of twenty-nine dancers clad in identical clothes representing diving wear and goggles to match, Muro-Ami presented a sleek, polished look. But beneath the surface, it sought to highlight the miserable situation of children forced into dangerous work under the sea.
From a recital piece, Muro-Ami – as requested by Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde – has become part of the company’s repertoire.
Now featuring less dancers, Muro-Ami nevertheless creates quite an impact – from the moment the “boat” glides onto the stage carrying its underage divers until they head off into the darkness again after finishing their perilous mission.