Manila, September 11, 2003  (MALAYA) By MAE ASTRID TOBIAS  - FILIPINA artists are probably the most underrated. They dance, act, direct, write, paint, and yet, of those who excel, how many have been recognized for their honest worth?

As a matter of fact, the National Artist Award has been bestowed on very few women. In the past two decades since the award was instituted in 1972, only nine have been chosen out of the 49 awardees selected. It is only in dance that the women have stood out. In the realm of film, visual arts and architecture, a Filipina has yet to secure her place.

As there are only a few who have made it as National Artist, we should perhaps take a closer look at them and decide where their greatness lies and how the rest of our women artists can emulate their examples.

'Discovering' dances

Francisca Reyes Aquino holds the distinction of being the first Filipina to be honored, for Dance in 1973.

Armed with a camera and a recording machine, "Kikay" combed the islands for dances to be "discovered." Upon her return, she trained young people the steps she learned and published these in details in her Philippine Folk Dance collections. She organized dance troupes left and right, including the Filipiniana Folk Dance Troupe. At a time when Filipino culture was almost totally submerged, she went back to the people and brought to light forgotten songs and dances of the folks in the coastlands and hinterlands.

A student of Aquino, Leonor Orosa Goquinco had been blending classical ballet with Philippine folk dance as early as the pre-War era, making folk dance "viable on the stage." She became famous for choreographies such as "The Firebirds," "The Clowns" and "Noli Suite."

In 1960, Goquinco produced, directed, wrote and choreographed "Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance," an original saga-in-dance influenced by the dances of the Igorots, the Moros and Christians. It has been described by Nick Joaquin as her "most ambitious work." She was awarded in 1976.

The third Dance awardee was Dr. Lucrecia Reyes Urtula, in 1988. Over a period of thirty years, she choreographed suites of mountain dances, Spanish-influenced dances, Muslim pageants and festivals, regional variations and dances of the countryside for the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company, of which she was the dance director. Bayanihan first garnered international acclaim at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair where it mounted a production called "Glimpses of Philippine Culture Through Music and Dance." It was also featured in Ed Sullivan's tv program on the highlights of the fair. Among the dances Urtula staged were: "Singkil," based on a Maranao epic poem, "Vinta," "Tagabili," "Pagdiwata," a four-day harvest festival condensed into a six-minute spectacle and "Salidsid," among others.

New music

The first female for National Artist for Music was Jovita Fuentes in 1976. She first gained world recognition portraying the role of Cio-cio-san in Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." She continued to teach in the country and also provided scholarships to deserving students. She spearheaded the production of local operas like Gerry de Leon's "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo," Rosendo Santos' "Mapulang Bituin," Alfredo Buenaventura's "Mariang Makiling" among others. Even after her retirement, she continued to campaign for the creation of a government body to oversee musical activities. In 1955, she became chairperson of the newly-created Music Promotion Foundation of the Philippines.

A colleague of Urtula who had collaborated with her for Bayanihan was Lucrecia Roces Kasilag, who became National Artist in 1989. She is acknowledged as the "First Lady of Philippine Music." Fusing ethnic music with Western influences led to the creation of her "Toccata for Percussions and Winds," "Divertissement" and "Concer-tante" and the scores of "Filiasiana," "Misang Pilipino" and "De Profundis." Aside from her orchestral work, she was also dean of the Philippine Women's University College of Music for 25 years, president of the CCP for 17 years and chairperson of the League of Filipino Composers for 35 years.

Proclaimed National Artist in 1989, Andrea Ofilada Veneracion is best known for founding the internationally-acclaimed Philippine Madrigal Singers. Through the group, Veneracion has encouraged the development of choral music in the country, undertaking and incorporating into the ensemble's vast repertoire folk compositions, kundimans and contemporary songs.

Raising theater standards

Daisy Hontiveros Avellana is credited, alongside her husband and fellow National Artist Lambert Avellana, with raising the standards of theater and dramatic arts in the country. She co-founded what's considered the first Philippine theater group, the Barangay Theater Guild.

On stage, she has forged her own distinct stamp on popular Western roles such as Shakespeare's Desdemona and Lady Macbeth to Garcia Lorca's Alba. She also penned the screenplay of the film "Sakay" and adapted Joaquin's Portrait of the Artist as Filipino." She also directed various productions including the opera "Diego Silang" and the zarzuela "Walang Sugat." She was awarded in 1999.

Honorata "Atang" dela Rama is the only National Artist for Theater and Music. Known as the Queen of the Zarzuela and the Kundiman, she was the only one among her contemporaries who performed before a wide range of audience, from the Aetas in Zambales to the Lumads in Mindanao, and international audiences. She also held beneficios for guerilla groups at the height of the Japanese Occupation. Atang inspired and starred in more than 50 zarzuelas in Spanish, Tagalog, Pampango and Ilocano. "Dalagang Bukid" became the first Tagalog movie, with her in the starring role. The wife of fellow National Artist Amado Hernandez, she was conferred the title in 1987.

Nurturing writers

Generations of Filipino writers consider Edith Lopez Tiempo as their second mother. In the past 50 years, she has produced an impressive body of work including novels, poetry collections and a short story collection. Together with her late husband Edilberto, she founded and directed the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete City, which has trained some of the country's best writers for 42 years. She is the first and only woman awardee for Literature, which was bestowed on her in 1999. (NCCA Features)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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