Contemporary dance: Co. ERASGA brings ‘malong’ to life

Updated, April 12, 2018, 6:42 AM


Vancouver, B.C.

Alvin Erasga Tolentino is a class on his own

By Ted Alcuitas

Weaving the traditional ‘Malong’ with the ancient hand gesture ‘Mudras’, critically acclaimed Vancouver choreographer, Alvin Erasga Tolentino brings together seven dancers from Vancouver and Manila for its 18th season production of Collected Traces and Still Here.

The production will be shown at Burnaby’s Shadbolt Centre for the Arts where Tolentino ends his one-year residency program.

It will run from April 18-21 at 8pm.
Opening night special – all tickets $15 (Wednesday only)
Youth with valid student ID – $15
Receive tickets for $25 (regular $36) only by contacting the box office! Box Office: 604-205-3000 

In this new creation. the Manila-born, Vancouver-raised Tolentino recalls and traces “transcendent principle of the body’s relation to indigenous traditional arts .“

Dancers Ronelson Yadao and Kris-Belle Mamangun from Manila and Sophia Wolfe, Walter Kubanek, Molly McDermott, Olivia Shaffer and Deanna Peters from Vancouver will form the “canvasses of motion which evoke traditional practices still relevant and existing today, giving light to the shadow of the past, memory in the body and lineage of identity.”

His life’s journey

As the only Filipino-Canadian to achieved success in his profession, Tolentino is a class on his own – breaking glass ceilings.

His success has never been easy but he has no regrets and would not have done anything else but follow his dream.

Moving to Canada in 1983 to join his parents as a young boy, Tolentino, like his contemporaries in the Filipino diaspora found himself initially ‘lost’ in a new world.

What he didn’t lose however was his love for dance.

He remembered his early experiences in the Philippines  – those dances on the streets as well as  TV dance scenes.

In Vancouver, he was sent to the private school, St. Jude, for elementary and went on to Notre Dame for high school. But his mother’s office was next to IMMRAM Dance run by Gloria Creighton and pioneering in contemporary  dance.

From that first brush with the medium, he knew what he wanted in life – pursue dance and forego the traditional routes to become a lawyer or a doctor.

“What is this thing called modern dance- and what can I do with it?” was the question that brought him to Toronto’s York University at age 17 and then on to New York.

He almost became a ballet dancer, having been accepted at the  Royal Winnipeg Ballet where he studied for a year.

It was here that he came to grips with the realization that he could never be “prince if I don’t have blond hair,” and left ballet to go back to modern dance.

He  spent ten years learning all aspects of contemporary dance – from touring and dancing for others and how non-profit organizations functioned.

Breaking from the mould

Driven by the desire to create his own work he decided to open his own company – Co. ERASGA in 1999, after his mother’s maiden name as an “ode to family history”. The eponymous name was a daring break from the mainstream of dance known for it’s Euro-centered influence. It is the first and only dance company by a Filipino-Canadian that has survived to this day, gaining funding support from federal, provincial and municipal governments.

“Are you breaking a glass ceiling?” we asked him.

 “In a way yes, because its very imbalanced between white organizations versus somebody of colour..”

It has thrived in Vancouver for 18 years as a non-profit organization that supports his artistic vision. It is governed by a board of directors and managed by him and his staff.

“I have worked hard to build a self-sustaining company with the support of public funding through grants from the several government agencies. We are also helped by donors, annual fund-raising initiatives  and tickets sales. As a charitable organization, we accept donations from patrons and corporate sponsors. Building an arts organization is a constant work load and search for support,” he says of the success of Co. Erasga- a feat both daunting and rewarding.

Working throughout Asia, North America, and Europe, Tolentino has witnessed and experienced culturally diverse dance practices that continue to inspire contemporary artists worldwide.

To date, He has created over 15 solo works and his full-length work includes; SOLA 1998, BATO/Stone and MINORI 2001, VOLT 2002 and FIELD 2003, SHE SAID and ORIENTIK/PORTRAIT 2005.

With an extensive international touring and artistic collaboration, Tolentino has traveled and featured dance works to other countries including, Manila/Philippines, Nagoya/Japan, Brussels/Belgium, New York & San Francisco/USA, Loan/France, Santo Domingo/Dominican Republic, Zagreb/Croatia, Basel/Switzerland, Singapore and most recently in 6 cities in Venezuela.

His dances for the Camera include Birth, In the Skin of Becoming Swan and SOLA. They have been featured in national and international video/film festivals and have received prestigious nominations, including the 2000 BC Leo Awards, 2001 Canadian Gemini, and 2002 Grand Prix International Video dance competition for UNESCO in Paris.

In 2010, he was awarded the City of Vancouver’s Mayor’s Award for Dance in recognition of his contributions to the field and to Vancouver’s cultural communities.

Tolentino is the only Filipino-Canadian artist to be included in the seminal book on Asian Canadian cultural activism – Voices Rising by Xiaoping Li. 

What is in store for this consummate artist close to his mid-life? 

“ I want to dance till I am 65,” he tells us half in jest in an interview ahead of his show. “…For as long as I can. I’d been creating for sure, but I’d like to dance till I’m 65…if I can. In dance now there  are so many ways you use the body…ways to work and dance for my body for my age.”

Asserting that dance is “spiritual”, he feels that he is “fulfilling his vocation as a human being, contributing to humanity as an artist – the vocation that I was called for.”



2 thoughts on “Contemporary dance: Co. ERASGA brings ‘malong’ to life”

  1. I just turned 62. Can I still pursue a dream that isn’t realized to this day because I never had the opportunity to do so? Hahaha! I was born and raised in Mindanao but after my parents were murdered, I and my 7 other younger siblings moved to Manila where life has been very difficult raising,feeding and educating my other siblings. Hahaha! Dance dream and drama- that seems the gist of this post. Hi Ted.

    1. Hi Roy,

      Thank you for your comments. I understand your point on how difficult it would be to pursue your dreams given the circumstances. The dream could be anything, not only dance or drama.Tolentino never lost sight of his and pursued it relentlessly – going to night lessons while in his elementary years to mention just one. The gist of the story is that we have one of our kababayan who made it in the highly competitive world of dance.

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