Highlighting Filipinos through dance

National Artist Agnes Locsin
National Artist Agnes Locsin

BEING a pioneer in neo-ethnic dance, Agnes Locsin cannot recall at what age she started dancing. Well, at least according to her mother, her interest started when she was only "two and a half years old."

Her mother, being a teacher and founder of the Locsin Dance Workshop, taught her how to do ballet. Being a family of dancers, she explored all forms of dance: jazz, Hawaiian, Tahitian, tapdance, folk dance, and many more.

But as she grew up, she revealed there was no realization that she was destined to be prominent in the field of dancing at that time. In fact, Locsin aspired to be a lawyer, an architect, and even to be a nun.

However, her dream, before she left Davao City, was to be able to continue the legacy of her mother, Carmen D. Locsin of the famed Locsin Dance Studio.

Born and raised in Davao City, she is the youngest among seven children.

Locsin said she started choreographing in her second year of high school because she resented the fact that it was always her mother who choreographed for the school's programs. Since then, she has not stopped.

"Mao to akong ambisyon, that the school that she built and founded, could one day help and make grow," Locsin shared to SunStar Davao in an ambush interview at a press conference on Thursday, July 22.

During her younger years, she was a flexible and graceful dancer. She had been doing fairy tale-based story dances. But in her later years, she shifted her career by creating her own dances through interpretative dances.

"I was a dancer pero kalisod magdiyeta (and having a diet was not easy)," she said in jest, adding that she let go of the "dancer dream" and "choose to eat."

This also marked a shift in her career interest toward being a director, choreographer, and teacher, making her one of the “most progressive contemporary choreographers” in the Philippines. Since then, she became a celebrated choreographer.

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Locsin distinctively utilizes Filipino ballets, rituals, and ethnic tradition in her choreographies, concepts, and direction, which she was able to merge with her knowledge of Western dance techniques, and called it “neoethnic.”

With this, she gained international attention for her breathtaking neo-ethnic dance choreography.

Locsin has produced various major productions, including the Tokyo International Choreography Competition second place winner "Babaylan." After "Sisa" and "Ligawan" in 1978, she went on to create other acclaimed works including Igorot for Le Petite Theatre Amsterdam, Encantada dancing to the music of fellow Dabawenyo Joey Ayala, and the grandiose La Revolucion Filipino for Ballet Philippines. In 2003, she produced Sayaw and Likhang Kiukok for the Locsin Dance Workshop.

"We are very Filipinized. I make my own stories. Mahilig ako sa stories na dance narrative," she said.

Locsin, in a SunStar Davao yearbook feature in 2008, revealed she is not into advocacies, and that she just lets her dance show speak for what it should be.

Locsin as National Artist

Weeks before stepping down, former President Rodrigo Duterte, on June 10, 2022, through Proclamation 1390 upon the joint recommendation of the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), officially announced eight new National Artists, wherein Locsin has conferred the National Artist for Dance.

The Order of National Artist, established under Proclamation no. 1001 signed in 1972, is the highest national recognition conferred upon Filipinos who have made distinct contributions to the development of the Philippine arts and culture.

Locsin, who personally received the award at the Malacañang Palace, felt "honored and humbled" to be included in the roster of the country's National Artists.

"A lot of the living National Artist and those who have passed were my inspiration, and now I find myself... katabi na, diba? It's so humbling na mga idol mo, katabi mo na,” she said.

Locsin admitted she is still overwhelmed with the special recognition.

During the Tribute for the eight National Artists, at the CCP Main Theater on June 29, Locsin admitted she was in tears for it was a homecoming for her as she had worked for CCP for over 15 years.

"Pagsaka nako sa stage, nakahilak ko ba kay mura kog niuli ko sa place where I expanded as a choreographer," Locsin said.

Following her conferment, she revealed that her schedule had been more hectic. She had also been flying back and forth to Manila.

While she is not slowing down anytime soon, she admitted that she is also taking into consideration of her health as she is also battling a lingering illness.

"I'm doing less now. I collapse," she said, with her "children" assisting her.

Her health condition, however, has not been a major hindrance as she continues to produce approximately four shows a year for the Workshop Dance.

Locsin said she never married, and that her former students, who had also been helping her, are considered her "babies." She is also happy that some of her students are now professionals in their respective careers.

For her, being a National Artist is not only an honor but also a huge responsibility for her to also help uplift the art of Davao City.

"My God! That's a big responsibility. It's very eye-opening. I hope I can keep up," she said.

How she can contribute, is still a puzzle for her. But she hopes this would inspire more local artists to pursue their dreams and passion for their desired art.

"I don't know how I can contribute... [but] I just hope that my National Artist-hood would make people more interested in the local arts,” Locsin said.

She hopes to encourage more people to embrace dance, regardless of their preferred dance genre.

"If you really love dance, you will grow. Dance has a lot to say, and for me, I speak with my dance. I use movement to say my feelings,” she said.

"I hope others will appreciate that and embrace it," she added.

Lastly, for those who want to be successful in their respective fields, she said, "Never rest on your laurels. You're as good as your last project." RGL


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