Cinemalaya 2011: THE DANCE OF TWO LEFT FEET Review
Ambiguity is such a beautiful thing. It is what makes art free from its artist, allowing the observer of the art part of the art-making. It is what breaks the boundaries of the literal, allowing art to traverse the infinite expanses of the subjective. It is what makes art from being only personal to the artist, to also being personal to the observer. A tear, for example, is ordinarily an object of sorrow. A tear from the eye of a man embracing another man has transformed it from being an object of sorrow into an object of love, suddenly realized. A tear from the eye of a man embracing another man in the end of a grandiose dance production of a famous epic has transformed it from being an object of love into an object of awe.
Alvin Yapan's Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet) tells the story of Marlon (Paulo Avelino) who is enamored by Karen (Jean Garcia), his literature professor. He follows her after class and discovers that she moonlights as a dance teacher and choreographer. To impress her, he asks Dennis (Rocco Nacino), his classmate and Karen's assistant in the dance studio, to teach him the dances that Karen teaches in her classes before actually enrolling. A unique love triangle, one wherein the point is to share love and not to exclusively own love, ensues.
Yapan, an awarded fictionist and literature professor, enriches the story with poetry, borrowing the poems of Merlinda Bobis, Ruth Elynia Mabanglo, Joi Barros, Rebecca Anonuevo, Ophelia Dimalanta and Benilda Santos, all of whom are famous feminist poets. From there, the film takes a different shape. The story, without being abandoned totally, becomes the frame for Yapan's goal, which is to utilize cinema as an extension of his classroom and an invitation to indulge in the limitless scope of literature, dance, and music.
It works. The film dodges any threat of being pointlessly academic by making most of the elements that are exclusive to cinema, particularly cinematography and editing. Its first ten minutes is a masterful sequence that marries dance, dialogue, music and verse. Edited seemingly without regard to narrative succession, it takes the form of a poem film, not unlike the very personal works of John Torres that are crafted from found footage loosely strung together with words and melodies. It's a prelude for what's to come: lucid discussions on feminist poetry, the poems themselves that are recited in dialogue and in song and beautifully choreographed dances, all flaunted intelligently and at once, written into the film and edited together near seamlessly.
Yapan's use of feminist poetry is quite subversive since Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa hardly has a feminist agenda. While the film hints of homosexual longing, it seems to conceive romance as absolved from the politics of gender and preference. Instead, love and longing is free. Marlon longs for Karen, notwithstanding the difference in age and position. Dennis longs for Marlon, notwithstanding the difference in sexual preference. It seems that Yapan is freeing the poems of their feminist roots, expanding their interpretations to encompass emotions stemming from males. In fact, Karen, the only female in the film, is the only character who is emotionally separated from the young lovers, consumed primarily by her own lonely and rapidly aging existence.
With Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa, Yapan has choreographed a delicious orgy where various art forms mingle with astounding ease. Its final image will doubtlessly result in complaints, most probably prejudiced by expectations fostered by the slew of romantic and gay-themed films whose love stories are so much more pronounced and so much more obviously plotted than this. However, that final image's ambiguity is all that the film needs to graduate from being just another gay love story with literary ambitions into a poem that is as potent as the ones it used. After all, a tear is more than just an object of sorrow, of love, and of awe. It is also an object that equalizes all of humanity as it communicates each and every person's innate capacity to feel and express emotions, whether one be male, female, straight, gay, rich, or poor.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention)