Choreography in Focus: Fuga by Gerardo Francisco
Gerardo “Geri” Francisco is no stranger to depicting social issues through dance. In OFW, he showed the pain of Filipino contract workers who must leave loved ones behind to labor overseas and provide for them. In Muro Ami, he focused on the plight of children who are exploited as divers in an illegal fishing system.
Following in this light, Geri set his sights on another issue that has been making headlines in other countries and also in the Philippines – the refugee situation. In Fuga (the Italian word for “escape”), he channels the emotions refugees must feel as they flee their homes because of war – desperation, fear, hopelessness.
Fuga was inspired by news coverage about conflicts in such places as Syria and locally, Marawi. “I pity those innocent people who are affected by the war and covered with dust and blood while escaping. I feel the pain and fear through their eyes, and it seems like we are connected. I really feel for them!” shares Geri.
As a father of three, Geri couldn’t help but empathize with the families who have had to escape and run for their lives. “Tinamaan talaga ‘yung puso ko, lalo na du’n sa mga tatay na gusto lang isalba ‘yung mga anak nila.” (My heart really ached, especially seeing the fathers who are just trying to save their children.)
What was supposed to be a group dance for a Ballet Manila summer recital eventually transitioned into a pas de deux for company artists Nicole Barroso and Joshua Enciso. Geri recalls that he was really thinking of the two for the pas de deux portion in his original concept, but when plans changed and the group dance didn’t push through, he was able to expand that particular part for a couple.
“I chose them to do this because at the back of my mind, alam kong kayang-kaya nila ito (I know they’re really up to doing this). I know that they will give justice to my choreography. Nicole is a brave and daring dancer while Joshua is a determined and reliable partner. I always remind them, when you dance this piece, always put yourselves in the refugees’ shoes,” notes Geri.
When the pair got through the stringent selection process of the USA International Ballet Competition, becoming the first Filipino contenders to make it to its junior division, Fuga became one of their two contemporary competition pieces.
The four-minute choreography is powered by the pounding, drum-driven music titled Offensive Blitz by Tom Torhan. “I used grounded, sharp and staccato movements and a lot of partnering skills that symbolize anger, pain, hatred and fear,” explains Geri.
As its title connotes, Fuga involves the act of fleeing so the pair must have endurance and stamina just to get through the piece. It requires them to exit, only to re-enter in a true reflection of escaping, and also to execute a complicated series of leaps and turns at quite a frenzied pace.
Barroso and Enciso have had to prepare four different numbers for the competition (two classical, two contemporary) in Jackson, Mississippi. One day during rehearsals, Geri recalls, the pair was scolded by BM co-artistic director and their coach Osias “Shaz” Barroso.
“I spoke to them and explained the reason as to why Kuya Shaz got mad. I told them that the anger, pain, hatred and fear that you felt today, you can use that as a motivation. I gave them time to rest for a few minutes, and after we rehearsed it, it just came out naturally. And that’s what I wanted. Thanks to Kuya Shaz,” Geri laughingly relates.
In Jackson, Fuga simply wowed the audience. As BM artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde would tweet about it, “Nicole and Joshua just brought the house down! Nailed every move.”
Additionally, Lisa reports that lighting designer Jared Sayeg’s use of the Philippine flag colors – blue, red and yellow – at different parts served to intensify the impact of Fuga.
Geri is happy to hear that the audience in Jackson – who no doubt expected to see the best of the best in ballet – responded so positively to his choreography. “Ang tanging hangad ko lamang, maisayaw nila ang Fuga sa Round II. Masaya na ako. (My only wish was that they would get to dance Fuga in Round II. I would already be so happy.) I didn’t expect that it would get that kind of reaction. It’s already a plus that they were acknowledged and were well-applauded after they performed my piece. I’m thankful to Nicole and Joshua for believing in me.”
Though he wasn’t there to see it, Geri is thrilled at how Lisa has described the debut performance of Fuga: “a world premiere to remember forever.”