Earth and Encantada

SINGKIT - Doreen G. Yu - The Philippine Star

Salamat sa araw-araw Na dumadaloy at umaalon Gabi-gabi nagdiriwang Nagsasabog ng punla Araw-gabi, araw-gabi Ang biyaya ng lupa Hahagkan ng Diwata Magsisilang ang himala

These lines of pure poetry set to Joey Ayala’s haunting music for the dance-drama Encantada give us hope that despite man’s destructive behavior towards Mother Earth, somehow she will survive, she will regenerate and will birth a miracle.

Encantada, presented last weekend at the Metropolitan Theater and the weekend before that at the Samsung Performing Arts Center, tells of destruction, rape, murder and plunder – literally of a village and its inhabitants, as well as of the Earth and the environment.

Premiered in 1992, the story and lessons of Encantada hold true, then as now – unfortunately, we have not learned our lessons about the importance of caring for our environment and, in fact, the situation has gotten worse.

The “Doomsday Clock” for 2023 has been set at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been, 10 seconds closer than the setting for the past three years. The Doomsday Clock was created by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to illustrate how close humanity has come to the end of the world, represented by midnight, or when Earth will be uninhabitable for humans.

Worldwide, attempts to limit global warming have failed, pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have been unmet, mitigation measures unfulfilled. While poor, developing countries struggle to survive devastating weather phenomena – from drought to floods and ever stronger storms – rich countries continue to relentlessly pursue efforts to quench their appetite for ever more resources – especially fuel and, increasingly, rare earth metals which are essential for the high-tech devices we cannot seem to live without – seeking to mine and extract from every corner and part of the planet, from the Arctic to the ocean depths.

In a recent piece in The New York Times warning against deep-sea mining, deep-sea biologist and director of the ocean conservation group SpeSeas Diva Amon noted: “Pollution can be found in every marine ecosystem, from the estimated 11 million metric tons of plastic entering the ocean every year to toxic chemicals accumulating in animals living in the deepest deep-sea trenches. The waters are becoming warmer, more acidic and less rich in oxygen. Twenty percent to 25 percent of marine species are already at considerable risk of extinction.”

Last Saturday was Earth Day, and I wonder, beyond the calls to join the fight against climate change and to practise sustainable living, how much each one of us will really do in this regard.

The distinction being the top contributor to plastic waste in the oceans is something we should be totally ashamed of. Add to that our distinction of being the sachet capital of the world. According to a 2021 World Bank report, the Philippines generates 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste a year, 20 percent of which ends up in the ocean, mostly in the form of unrecyclable, single use sachets. The World Bank also estimates that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the oceans. Environment Secretary Toni Yulo-Loyzaga said that despite efforts to ban single-use plastics, we generate 7,000 metric tons of plastic waste daily.

All around, in all aspects, the scenario is dire. Is there hope for humanity and for Mother Earth? 

*      *      *

The case for Mother Earth could not have been better articulated than Encantada, the dance-drama by National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin, with music by Joey Ayala and libretto by Al Santos. I caught one of the Met shows, and the crowd of mostly young people waiting to get in – the line stretched all the way to Arroceros street so they had to open the house early – was a happy sight.

The newly-restored Met is a gem in the jumble of jeepneys and buses and cars and trucks jostling to get to Quiapo and Binondo. Inaugurated in 1931 and with quite a stellar history in the performing arts, the Met is happily booked until 2024, an accessible – thanks to those jeepneys and buses – alternative theater, what with the Cultural Center closed for renovations for three years. There is a lovely little courtyard, where a mini tiangge was set up (the bibingka was yummy!). The building itself is lovely, with high ceilings and ornate details. I just wish the seating inside the theater had a better incline to afford the audience better views of the stage.

The bamboo mountain of the late National Artist Salvador Bernal’s design was equal parts myth and magic, allowing the Encantada to literally descend from her lofty realm to the world of humans, where the villagers’ idyllic existence was interrupted by an outsider (the Estrangero), whose conflict with the powers-that-be – here depicted as the religious but they could very well be political or business interests – led to the rape and murder of the villagers, the plunder and eventual burning of the village and the mountain, a powerful dramatization, literal and figurative, of what man is doing to man and to Nature.

I tend to think that if only for Encantada, Locsin deserves her National Artist award, but of course she has so many other equally iconic and ground-breaking works. Through movement and cadence she set the Encantada apart as a spirit-being, detached from the human realm of everyday existence and of greed and strife, of even the Babaylan who conjures up healing and leads in celebration.

Locsin used the female dancers’ long hair – thank goodness all Asian black, no blondies here – as a distinct character in the production, infusing healing into the near fatally wounded Estrangero, flailing wildly as they were being ravaged and their village razed, then – moving as one menacing, throbbing entity – representing the deluge that quenched the flames and watered the land to finally bring about new life. 

I must give a shout out to the dancers – from the CCP’s Professional Artist Support Program and the Alice Reyes Dance Philippines – for the power and the passion they brought to the production, setting the stage aflame with their artistry and energy.

*      *      *

Back to the question of whether there is hope. I say there is; there has to be. We cannot give up. The miracle must be birthed – and that miracle has to be each one of us doing what we can, all that we can, to protect and preserve the environment. It’s as simple as refilling shampoo bottles instead of using throw-away sachets, bringing your water bottle instead of buying bottles of “mineral” everywhere you go, recycling – even upcycling – as much as you can and properly disposing of what you cannot recycle.

We’ve been told again and again what to do; isn’t it about time we really, conscientiously do it? We can be the himala that will save Mother Earth.

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