The point is always to be on the move, to defy stasis. Each move is in the moment and yet striving beyond — this gives Ignacio’s pieces their energy and intensity. “I’m versatile, and I still don’t have my style,” he told me, perhaps a little disingenuously. After all, it seems that Ignacio’s lack of a definite style is the very trait that characterizes his style.
Ignacio — who learned folk dance and ballet in his home country, the Philippines, studied Korean ritual dance in Seoul, before coming to New York City and performing with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and Martha Graham Ensemble — may be seen as an exciting figure in the dance scene for the wrong reasons. He was recently commissioned by the Kennedy Center for his piece, “The Mountain” — which was touted as an East-West “fusion” dance piece in memory of the eruption of Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo in 1991. Ignacio confesses that he’s mortally afraid of being pigeonholed as “the artist who does things about natural disasters.” He’s less afraid of being tacked with the “fusion” label: “What makes dance interesting is that it is a fusion of everything…And I am trying to create my own geographical imprint.”
“The Mountain,” performed by CityDance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and Dance Place recently, is an apocalyptical dance-drama about man’s folly in the face of encroaching ecological disaster. In the piece, a pair (Maleek Mahkail Washington and Kathryn Pilkington) frolics in an Edenic forest before setting sail. Their duet is followed by a scene of both curious innocence and grotesque decadence: islanders in a drunken orgy of sorts play with the mounds of newspaper that litter the stage. Dancers playing the role of the elements flood the stage with a spectacular — if not slightly over-the-top — enactment of a volcanic eruption, killing the islanders off but ultimately cleaning the landscape.
Beneath the pretension of the piece’s environmental message lie layers of personal narrative. “The Mountain” opens and closes with Ignacio beating out a percussive dance on the shells he wears on his body. Androgynous, half-man and half-bird, Ignacio’s body is the site of crossings and transformations, as is the epic journey that he orchestrates. As the islanders arrive on shore, we see them experimenting with different ways to don their sarongs, and the volcano that erupts hints at a traumatic self-awakening.
In the penultimate scene, the dancers move across the devastated landscape in a breathing mass. Propelled and lifted around one another in methods, their bodies seem to resist gravity. Using dance improvisation techniques to choreograph this section, Ignacio was able to convey the body at its most creative, elemental and organic: something that responds intuitively and intimately to another — despite cultural differences. The dancers become a single wave of energy, and it felt as though Ignacio was riding upon it, triumphant.