Farewell to a brilliant artist

ON behalf of a grateful Filipino nation, I join the family and friends of Leonor Luna Orosa Goquingco in mourning the loss of our beloved National Artist for Dance, Mother of Philippine Dance Theater, and prime mover of the world-renowned Filipinescas Dance Company. Though Tita Leonor, patriot-artist, has left us, her memory will forever be etched in our hearts.

Two of our country's National Artists for Literature - the late Nick Joaquin and Dr. Alejandro R. Roces - extolled her for her unique talents and precious contributions to Philippine arts and culture.

Nick Joaquin, who once said she thought she belonged to the Renaissance times as part of that golden age of the arts, said "Tomorrow's Philippine dancers will be specially indebted to Leonor Orosa who showed how Philippine dance can express the drama of our lives, and who created the mold in which it is not presented. Filipinescas is the peak. In this resume of Philippine culture, from pagan to modern times, the native dance has been brought to its highest stage of development. No further progress in this direction seems possible."

Dr. Roces eulogized her as "the greatest of all our national artists" because "she dedicated her entire life to dance" and was a great choreographer because "she knew the Philippines thoroughly," Dr. Roces said "dance is the oldest form of prayer and to her every dance was a prayer."

On a more personal note, Leonor Orosa Goquingco has always been there to support me, in my public service, from the Senate up to Malacañang.

She has been a special guest of the Palace in so many occasions, most recent of which was last February when she brought the Filipinescas Dance Company to perform in our flag ceremony during the celebration of National Arts Month, spearheaded by the National
Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Office of the PA on Culture.

I urge the arts and culture community, especially the Filipinescas Dance Company, which is now hosted by De La Salle-College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB) under the stewardship of Tita Leonor's son, Dr. Benjamin Goquingco, to continue on with the legacy that she has left behind and to carry on her dream of nurturing in the youth of today the seeds of creativity through the propagation of our distinct Philippine culture.

It is with deep sorrow and heartfelt appreciation that
we gather here today to say farewell to a brilliant
artist: Dancer, choreographer, playwright-poet,
teacher, and friend.

Goodbye Leonor Luna Orosa Goquingco - the pride and gem of the Filipino people. We thank you for your gift of dance.


LEONOR OROSA GOQUINGCO: National Artist in Dance
ROSES AND THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces
The Philippine Star 07/19/2005

We were thoroughly depressed when we were informed about the death of National Artist for Dance Leonor Orosa Goquingco. As far as we are concerned, she is the greatest national artist that we have produced. In the book The National Artists of the Philippines, National Artist in Literature Nick Joaquin paid her the ultimate tribute. Print is the art eternalism of all arts. Dance is bodily motion in rhythm with music. How do you perpetuate or immortalize motion? The only way we know is through film and it is a very poor substitute for the live dance.

We said that we considered Leonor Orosa Goquingco as the greatest of all our national artists. This is because, first, she dedicated her entire life to dance; second, she covered the topic thoroughly and she has recorded it in her book The Dances of the Emerald Isles. Our biggest regret is that it was not she who choreographed the legend that I recorded on why roosters fight one another. But she did choreograph a cockfight in her Cuadros Filipinos and you could see that there were two types of fighting roosters. One fights from the ground, the other is a flyer.

The reason why Leonor Orosa Goquingco was such a great choreographer is because she knew the Philippines thoroughly. She was born in Jolo, Sulu and was such a brilliant child that at the age of four, she was already enrolled in the first grade and all her classmates were Moros. She grew up to be not only a dancer and choreographer, but also a poet and playwright. Her poem on the Japanese occupation entitled Lifted the Smoke of Battle was considered as "one of the most caustic to have come out of World War II." Her play, Her Son, Jose Rizal was highly praised by all critics including two national artists – Lamberto Avellana and Wilfredo Maria Guerrero. Literary critic Isagani R. Cruz said, "Even on paper the play breathes with theatrical life." Nick Joaquin thought she belonged to the Renaissance times.

We hope that there are enough films about her choreographed work. There is no aspect of Philippine life that she had not interpreted in dance. Even our religious Lenten practices were translated into dance. Sad to say, her choreography cannot be fully preserved. But her book The Dances of the Emerald Isles and her poems and play will always serve to give us a measure of her dedication and creative talent.

In our estimate, she is the greatest of all our national artists. Perhaps it is because dance is the oldest form of prayer and to her every dance was a prayer.


FILIPINESCAS and CSB: Forging a partnership
SUNDRY STROKES By Rosalinda L. Orosa
The Philippine Star 07/20/2005

The Filipinescas Dance Company’s last of five world tours was in 1974, and the late National Artist in Dance, Leonor Orosa Goquingco, its choreographer-director, thought of reviving it in an academic milieu. She initially thought of Assumption Convent because the Assumption nuns had earlier taken the Filipinescas to Rome on the occasion of the beatification of the Convent’s founder, Blessed Marie Eugenie.

The Filipinescas performance so impressed the international congregation of nuns, the students and the rest of the audience in Rome that the dancers got a standing ovation.

Despite this, however, Leonor subsequently thought of aligning Filipinescas with the De La Salle College, her son Benjamin Goquingco Jr. being an alumnus of the College and a former student of the then acting president of the De La Salle System, Ms. Carmencita Quebengco.

Further, the college being co-educational, it would provide Leonor with a steady stream of boys and girls as potential dancers. Consequently, she wrote a letter to Ms. Quebengco, broaching in it the idea of re-staging the cultural landmark, namely, the program "Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance".

Would the idea be feasible? Leonor asked. With Bobby Caballero, an advertising whiz and a former Filipinescas dancer, Leonor felt it would be fitting to have the De La Salle System share in the mechanics of reviving her magnum opus.

Ms. Quebengco thought the project a worthy one; further, she felt that Leonor as National Artist in Dance would lend prestige to the College of St. Benilde which would take direct part in reviving her work.

Thus, a partnership was forged between the Filipinescas and the College of St. Benilde with Bro. Armin Luistro, then incoming president, heartily endorsing it.

The last of Filipinescas’ five highly acclaimed tours was in 1974, with engagements in North and South America, Europe including the Scandinavian countries, Mexico, Russia, Hawaii and Asia.

On its very first trip abroad in 1961, Doña Carmen Polo de Franco told Leonor in Madrid: "Please come back soon so that more of Spain can see the beauty of your dances." On that same trip, Filipinescas won the Grand Prize at the IV Hispano-Americano Festival Folklorico in Caceres, under the category "inspiracion folklorica".

Sight unseen, it was invited to participate in the X International Music Festival in Santander. "The sensation of Spain", observed Hoja de Lunes; "The revelation of the Festival," wrote Alerta.

Filipinescas received similarly glowing praise everywhere it was shown. In Russia, Sergei Evelinov, director of Tchaikovsky Hall, commented: "Tres magnifique; great art, very original." Jean Battey of the Washington Post wrote: "Nothing short of superb."

Filipinescas was the first Philippine dance company to perform in the United Arab Republic, East and West Pakistan, and Portugal. In Asia, it was viewed by King Bhumipol and Queen Sirikit of Thailand, the Prime Minister of Malaya, Prince Karim Aga Khan, the Crown Prince of Johore, the Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew who commented: "An excellent show".

"Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance" (variously described as "an epic," "a saga," and "a synthesis of history, legend and tradition") includes, among countless trail-blazers in dance-theater, the first choreography of native Lenten practices: the flagellantes, the religious procession with the lights, the first trading scene and barter; the first depiction of a fiesta, the first choreography of native games such as the palo cebo, and what has become the Filipinescas’ signature dance: the sabung, the first graphic, explicit depiction of an actual cockfight as a sport in a realistic setting, complete with a grand entrance of the cocks, the Kristo, and the bettors.

Her "Tribal Story" was the first suite in Mt. Province dance styles woven around the death of a tribal warrior. Her "Morolandia II" was the first dance interpretation of a Muslim Royal Wedding, the arrival of the Spaniards and the Philippines’ subsequent Christianization.

When the Oxonian Jesuit Fr. James Donelan saw Filipinescas in 1963, he commented: "A vivid, unforgettable reincarnation of Philippine cultural history and of the history and spirit of the Filipino people."

"Filipinescas" would not have drawn such praise from the cognoscenti had Leonor merely shown a string of folk dances. Using these dances as basis, she expanded and imbued them with continuity, characterization, symbolism, dramatic and emotional content. In other words, while retaining the essence and ambiance of indigenous material, she forged from it a new language, a rich Philippine vocabulary of movement with which she created form, substance and style as no other choreographer has done – and for which she was named National Artist in Creative Dance.

Pointing out the tremendous influence Leonor has single-handedly wielded on our native dance scene, literary giant Nick Joaquin wrote: "Tomorrow’s Philippine dancers will be specially indebted to Leonor Orosa who showed how Philippine dance can express the drama of our lives, and who created the mold in which it is now presented. Filipinescas is the peak. In this resumé of Philippine culture from pagan to modern times, the native dance has been brought to its highest stage of development. No further progress in this direction seems possible."
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Necrological services in honor of National Artist in Dance Leonor O. Goquingco will be held at the CCP main theater this Friday at 9 a.m. All friends, admirers and relatives are invited.


My sister Leonor
SUNDRY STROKES By Rosalinda L. Orosa
The Philippine Star 07/23/2005

The late National Artist in Dance, Leonor Orosa Goquingco, must have inherited her genes from our mother’s grandfather, Don Benedicto de Luna whom Rizal describes in the first chapter of Noli Me Tangere as "el habil argumentador" (the skilled logician). As he was studying for the priesthood at the UST, he obtained three doctorate degrees, but having been smitten by the beauty of Bernabela Rufino, he married her and abandoned his vocation. He was the only Filipino in the UST jury that examined candidates for doctoral degrees, and was the model for Pilosopo Tasio in Rizal’s Noli.

Brilliant like her illustrious forbear, Leonor was described by Alejandro R. Roces as the greatest National Artist, having encompassed and encapsulated more areas in the cultural field than any other National Artist. Besides being the country’s most outstanding choreographer, she was a dancer, poet, playwright, visual artist, scenic and costume designer, pianist, composer and historian.

In brief, she was a genius; one might say, without the least hesitation, that the Renaissance Man in our family was a woman. When H.R. Ocampo saw Leonor’s sketches and drawings, he quickly told her, "You could have been a painter instead of a choreographer." Her theater piece "My Son, Jose Rizal" was regarded by Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, himself a dramatist, the best play in the year it was written. For a time, Leonor held the unofficial title "Dean of Performing Arts Critics."

Her articles have been published in Dance Magazine, New York; Enciclopedia Dello Spetacolo, Rome; Grove’s Dictionary, London, and Arts of Asia. By itself, her encyclopedic coffee table book, Dances of the Emerald Isles described by the distinguished historian Teodoro Agoncillo as "A towering contribution to Philippine cultural history" can ensure Leonor a claim to fame and immortality.

Of the book, Dr. Marcelino Foronda, president of the Philippine National Historical Society, wrote: "Deeply perceptive and perspicacious, the author provides the interlocking historical, political, social and economic contexts so necessary in the understanding of Philippine dance. Leonor has proven herself not only the country’s most eminent choreographer but also a cultural historian of the first order."

As a student graduating at 19 with a BSE degree summa cum laude at St. Scholastica’s College, she was already choreographing trail-blazers and trend-setters. After Fr. Joseph Murly, SJ, had seen Leonor’s "Circling the Globe" (1939), he wrote the budding choreographer (who had designed the sets and costumes herself): "There is no doubt at all of your ability to present each national dance at its most colorful. I liked best the Chinese, the Mexican, the Maria Clara, the last as beautiful a spectacle as I have ever seen here."

Leonor’s Noli Dance Suite, consisting of "Maria Clara and the Leper", "Asalto for Maria Clara" among others, was the first choreography to themes from Rizal’s novel.

For the first time, Leonor wove together the dances of the rice cycle – the planting, transplanting, cutting, threshing, pounding and winnowing of rice – and the Tinikling into a streamlined, continuous, artistic whole. In the original folk dances, farmers are merely imitating the tikling bird; in Leonor’s version, the farmers catch the tikling bird between the poles; the tikling bird’s movements are lighter, swifter, more bird-like.

When Leonor danced her stylized version of "The Bird and the Planters" in New York (while she was taking up Speech and Drama at Columbia U. then), William Mott, International House director, used to say to Leonor, "I never breathe while you do that finale." Haze Muller, of NY’s American Museum of Natural History, wrote her: "The memory of your exquisite dancing stays before my eyes. You were like a spirit of the dance, your feet barely touching the floor."

When Leonor was only 16, she had already proven what a remarkable dancer she was while providing the intermission number of a piano recital. As a Roman soldier with a plumed helmet in "War Dance", she went off to battle, fought valiantly, got wounded and had a moving death scene. "War Dance", done sur les pointes, so impressed the audience that they kept clamoring for a "repeat" in what was probably the most sustained applause I had heard in my life. It stopped only when the piano had been pushed back on the stage, thereby precluding an encore.

The American choreographer Agnes de Mille asserted that the folk dance, per se, is not art. Leonor revolutionized the Philippine folk dance movement by stylizing the folk dances, imbuing them with emotional and dramatic content, elevating them to a creative level and transmuting them into art. As Nick Joaquin pointed out: "The period of research is dominated by Francisca Reyes; the era of stylization, and of creative growth and development, is of course the era of Leonor Orosa who took the folk dance into the theater." She thus left a legacy for choreographers to follow.

With no financial support from the government, and equipped only with grit, determination and unwavering faith in her creative talent, Leonor took the Filipinescas Dance Company on five highly acclaimed world tours covering North and South America, Europe, Mexico, Russia, Asia and Hawaii. "Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend and Lore in Dance," variously described as "an epic," "a saga," "a synthesis of history, legend and tradition" received rave reviews.

Here are but a few samples. Irving Hoffman, Broadway critic: "Superb." Wolfgang Schubert, disciple of modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman: "Filipinescas can compare with any dance company in the world. The genius of its creator has been transferred to the dancers." Alla Bocharnikova, Moscow ballet critic: "Poetic to the highest degree; so much soul, yet simple, as all great things are simple." Erick Pierstorff, Oslo critic: "I have never seen another program where the spirit of a people has found such a manifold dramatic expression in dance." Robert Chaveau Vasconcel, described by the encyclopedia Espasa as ‘one of the masters of sculpture’: "I have never been so moved since I saw the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in Paris in 1909." Sergei Evelinov, director of the Tchaikovsky Hall, Moscow: "Tres magnifique. Great art, very original."

Two words had no place in Leonor’s uncompromising vocabulary. "Puede na."


July 15,2005

      National Artist for Dance (1976) Leonor Luna Orosa Goquingco died today, due to cardiac arrest secondary to cerebro-vascular accident. She was 87 years old.

      Known as " Trailblazer","Mother of Philippine Theater Dance", and " Dean of Filipino Performing Arts Critics". Orosa-Goquingco won national and international acclaim for her brilliant pioneering efforts in the difficult art of choreography, and was cited for transmuting national ethnic forms into the contemporary mold of interpretative dance.

    Born on July 24,1917 to Sixto Orosa and Severina Luna, both noted physicians, Orosa-Goquingco's early ballet training was under Lilia Lopez, Epifania Rodriguez and Luva Adameit. She took professional and teachers' courses at the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo under the tutelage of Hilda Butsoca, Thalia Mara, Anatole Vilzak and Madame Ludmilla. She was the only dancer on the First Cultural Mission to Japan in 1939 at age 17. In 1940, she created THE ELEMENTS, the first ballet choreographed by a Filipino to commissioned music, and a year later, choreographed the first Philippine Folk ballet, "Trend: Return to the Native". After WWII, she organized the Philippine Ballet and in 1958, founded the FILIPINESCAS DANCE COMPANY. Her other works include: Vinta, Noli Dance Suite, Morolandia, Festival in Maguindanao, Eons Ago: The Creation, Filipinescas: Philippine Life, Legend, and Lore in Dance, and Miner's Song. Inevitably her innovations revolutioned the folk dances. She was also remembered for her transmutation into dance theater of the cockfight, the asalto, and the fiestas.

      Additionally, under her own name and pen name (Cristina Luna), Orosa-Goquingco had been published by the Philippine Cultural Foundation and Philippine periodicals, by Arts of Asis (Hong Kong), Enciclopedia dello Spettacolo (Italy), and Grove's Ditionary of Music and Musicians.She was the author of a history of Philippine dance," Dances of the Emerald Isles" (1980), and of the popular one-act play, " Her Son, Jose Tizal." She was the honorary chairman of the Assocation of Ballet Academies of the Philippines, founding member of the Philippine Ballet Theater (PBT), a Zontian and a performing arts critic/columnist of the Manila Bulletin (Arts and Mind). Among the many honors she received throughout her life included the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Aawrd (1961 and 1964), Rizal Centennial Aawrd (1962), Republic Cultural Heritage award (1964), Presidential Award of Merit (1970), Tandang Sora Award (1975), and the Columbia University Alumni Association Award (1975). She was proclaimed National Artist for Dance on March 27,1976.

      Orosa-Goquingco is survived by her three children, Rachelle, Regina and Benjie and sisters, music critic-columnist Rosalinda Orosa and Helen Orosa del Rosario.

      Necrological services for leonoe Orosa-Goquingco will be held on Friday, July 22 at the Cultural center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater. Her remains will be cremated and interment will be at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.