'Limang Daan' Chronicles 500 Years Of Filipino Women's Stories

Ballet Philippines ended its 54th season with “Limang Daan,” an original full-length show that pays tribute to the joys, struggles, and hopes of Filipino women across history. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8,  2024, Ballet Philippines held a gala night for the final ballet of its 54th season, Limang Daan. It was a fitting time to premiere the full-length show, which chronicles the experiences of Filipino women through 500 years of history, hence its title. 

A scene from Ballet Philippines' "Limang Daan"
A scene from Ballet Philippines’ “Limang Daan”

Patrons and ballet enthusiasts gathered at the Theatre at Solaire, many donning their best modern Filipiniana outfits to showcase the beauty of local fabrics and silhouettes.

The brave women and men of the Philippine army, navy, and air force were also among the VIPs that night, enjoying an evening of dance and culture through the company’s “Share The Magic” program.

BP President Kathleen Liechtenstein with the Armed Forces of the Philippines
Ballet Philippines president Kathleen Liechtenstein with the Armed Forces of the Philippines

From the moment Limang Daan began all the way to its curtain call, guests were treated to a spellbinding, moving, and poignant original ballet that celebrated the strength of Filipina women while also acknowledging their pains across generations.

READ ALSO: Backstage With Ballet Philippines: An Intimate Conversation With Principal Dancers Jemima Reyes And Ian Ocampo

A History of Her Story

Limang Daan is not your average ballet in many ways. Perhaps its most striking feature is its narrative, which isn’t linear, but rather, a series of scenes that jump from present day to moments in the past. 

As the adage goes, it’s those in power that not only control the way events play out, but also how people remember them. They could be colonizers, leaders, and even fictional characters. Oftentimes they are men, whether intentional or not. Yet behind every story is a woman who experienced joys and sorrows that, while set in a vastly different historical context, aren’t wholly dissimilar from those many other women still experience today. 

A scene with women of the Cordilleras defending their land
A scene with women of the Cordilleras defending their land

This is what Limang Daan strived to capture: vignettes of significant periods or characters in Philippine history, but seen through the eyes of women, which adds a whole new dimension to the country’s story. 

Rooms that represent the four main vignettes of "Limang Daan"
Rooms that represent the four main vignettes of “Limang Daan”

Vignettes of the Filipina

The ballet begins in present-day New York, with a Filipina nurse who must contend with the punishing workload of a health provider while also facing the unwanted advances of a superior. It was her struggles that served as the anchor of the ballet, pulling viewers back to the “now” and reminding them that the fight for women’s rights is far from over. 

The Babaylan

Another vignette goes back to 450 years ago in the Visayas, centering on Amihan, a non-binary babaylan (Filipino shaman) who must face the consequences of refusing the salvation promised by “men of God.” It’s here that audiences get their first glimpse of the cultural losses brought about by Spanish colonialism. 

Amihan the "babaylan"
Eduardson Evangelio as Amihan the “babaylan”

Maria Clara Finds Her Voice

The ballet also honors fictional renditions of Philippine history, with one vignette exploring the pages of Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tángere. Though its main protagonist and antagonist, Crisostomo Ibarra and Padre Dámaso, make an appearance, this part of the performance highlights Maria Clara’s struggles as a woman trying to follow the societal conventions of the time. 

She finds her freedom when she leaps off the pages of Rizal’s book, embodying a repressed nun who finally comes to her senses and embraces sensuousness, with this inner conflict culminating into a duel with the convent’s Mother Superior. 

The Mother Superior
Ramona Yusay as the Mother Superior

Remembering Indigenous Women

In a part of the play that jumps to 1969, three Cordilleran women—Petra, Edena, and Leticia—savor the gifts of nature as they play in the Chico River. However, they must defy the guns of goons and despots seeking gold in their motherland. 

Finally, there’s the vignette set in 1904 during the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. The scene sheds light on a little-known yet harrowing period of Philippine history, where Igorot men and women were part of a “human zoo” at the fair. Here, these indigenous people faced inhumane conditions, with many falling ill and dying—including women like Limang Daan‘s Gawani.

Acknowledging the hardships of these women is a way of bringing their voices to the forefront, as well as honoring their strength in times of oppression and conflict. These women are by no means weak, and have perhaps fought some of the hardest battles with little to no recognition, which is something Ballet Philippines wants to rectify. 

A Collaboration of Talents

Limang Daan‘s librettist is writer and filmmaker Moira Lang, who has built a career producing acclaimed movies like 2013’s Norte, The End of History, as well as writing enthralling screenplays like her and Ricky Lee’s 2000 film Anak

Ballet Philippines Artistic director Mikahail “Misha” Martynyuk led the production, infusing it with powerful choreography that captivated audiences thanks to the company’s talented dancers. The ballet also featured music by Erwin Romulo, who managed to seamlessly meld more classical melodies with tribal, synth, and electronic elements.

Then there were the vibrant costumes of designer JC Buendia, which completed the visual storytelling of the ballet. Buendia expertly crafted period-specific garments that weren’t just aesthetically pleasing on stage, but also functional for dancers to move in.

As rounds of strong applause followed Limang Daan’s curtain call, it was clear that the ballet had touched members of the audience in different ways. Though its story pays homage to the country’s women, it’s not a story solely for them, but for anyone who supports and celebrates these everyday heroines.

Limang Daan is an important narrative about Filipino feminism. It is about how we have transcended the unforgiving patriarchy to become the Filipinas we are today,” shares Ballet Philippines president Kathleen Liechtenstein. She adds: “It is a very exciting ballet that remains timely, relevant, and very relatable. It is everyone’s story.”

Photos courtesy of Ballet Philippines.

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