Talking to Frankie

22 Jul

F. Sionil Jose is the prolific, Ilocano-born English writer of the Philippines, whose love of country is tempered by an undeviating gaze at its flaws and short-comings, faithfully recorded in the five novels comprising The Rosales Saga, some eight additional novels plus seven collections of short stories with translations in nearly thirty languages. With his wife, Teresita, or Tessie, they represent the best of this Asian country. The Philippines, incidentally, frequently is said to have “spent three hundred years in the convent and fifty years in Hollywood.” The quip, of course, reflects the Spanish colonial domination, 1565-1899, and the American colonial period, 1900-1946. The implications of this quip is all grist for the Jose novels, which emerge almost without pause from the pages in his typewriter.

En route from the Jose Quezon City home to La Solidaridad Book Store in Manila’s Ermita district in July, Frankie steered the conversation to his abundant memories of dance wherever he had witnessed it both in the Philippines and abroad. “I saw Margot Fonteyn dance in London and Rudolf Nureyev in New York,” he declared.

The majority of his comments, however, centered around his observations in Asia and the Philippines.

For the Filipinescas production of their Igorot Suite, performed by the ‘other’ Filipino ethnic dance company until the death of its artistic director, Frankie expressed high praise. “It was so beautiful,” he declared his voice rising with enthusiasm. [An example can be seen on YouTube, with the choreographer’s name, Leonora Orosa Conquinco, with the title Maysa, and remarkable in its use of crossing diagonals.] “In the ‘Fifties I traveled all through the Philippines and saw native dances done by natives, not learned by trained dancers,” the last phrase delivered with a faint but distinct note of dismissal.

“When we were in Ceylon two years, I insisted that my daughters Gigi and Jette study bharata natyam and Tonet study tabla. I even tried the table myself but lasted only two weeks,” he chuckled, before commenting on the habit some Asian intellectuals occasionally make in disparaging native dance forms. “ One Indonesian wanted to ‘modernize’ The Balinese Legong!” he related in incredulous tones, “when actually modern dance should learn from Legong. Have you ever seen it? It’s classic, and you shouldn’t tamper with the classics!”


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