October 25, 2019– British School Manila honors Ea Torrado as guest speaker for the graduating class of BSM’s International General Certificate of Secondary Education Assembly 2019.
Below is her inspiring message to the BSM students:
In my early 20s I transitioned from being a professional ballerina to become a contemporary choreographer. From producing my own dance theatre pieces, to collaborating with notable visual artists, I eventually formed my own Manila-based dance group Daloy Dance Company. In the last 5 years Daloy has produced 220 dance productions, that range from short performances, dance for film, site-specific and site-inspired pieces, works for galleries, museums and theatres such as the Cultural Center of The Philippines and PETA, to original full-length works. The company has performed and toured in Thailand, Korea, Japan and The USA.
We have facilitated 200 dance workshops all over the Philippines that vary from technique classes to improvisation and psycho-somatic workshops that are geared towards self-discovery, wellness and healing. We have formed an original dance practice called Daloy Movement— utilising dance as expressive arts therapy, dance that is open for all genders, all backgrounds, all body types, and uses dance to address and cope with mental health issues.
I was 7 years old when I knew I would be a ballerina forever. 15 years old when I had my first lead role, Gulnara in a full-length ballet called Le Corsaire. And 16 when I was officially a ballerina by profession. I worked extremely hard. My friends and teachers sometimes even called me ‘obsessed’. But what could I do? I was dark-skinned, I didn’t have the perfect feet, and was tall at that time for a ballet company in the Philippines, where petite (and shorter than a male dance partner), is preferred. Where ‘fair-skinned’ were preferred for the white swans in Swan Lake. I fought tooth and nail to become a great dancer and be given principal roles. And when I was 19, I was Carmen in a ballet called Carmen. I was touring with Ballet Mannila in Russia at that time. I remember the cheering. The audience standing. I remember being given a bouquet of flowers. And I remember crying non-stop. Everyone thought it was because of joy. But it was because of misery.
I was diagnosed anorexic after a couple of months. Anyone who tells me that I lost weight or is already too thin, I believed, were lying and sabotaging me and my career. I mostly exited the stage in tears because I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough. That I was a failure. The very art-form I adored so much as a child became the very source of my endless feelings of inadequacy. Later on sadness. Then despair.
I gave my whole heart to this art-form. The theatre was my church. My life had meaning because it was serving something bigger and greater, something beautiful. Even perfect. I loved so hard and so early. And I was so sure. So how did I end up at 21, wanting to kill myself because... I was still dancing. I was at the top of my career. But life, felt... meaningless.
Society told me that success is at the finish line. And boy, I ran fast and long. I expected a rainbow to meet me but instead I was greeted by a wall. And when you are greeted by a wall, after you have been so used to running towards one direction, it is not an easy task to switch your body to face somewhere else. So I ran and ran. But in place. I was so tired. I also didn’t understand.
But eventually, I did. The same heart and tenacity that carried me through making it as a ballet dancer, carried me through transitioning to other dreams, and other new sources of Joy. I wanted so bad to be successful. It almost killed me. And I almost killed myself. Shame haunted me day in and day out. It kept saying, If you are not are successful, you are worth nothing.
My greatest achievement is that I am alive. What i am really really here to tell you, is that I have a list of 3 things that is helping me stay that way. 1) Question., 2) Empathise., and 3) Choose.
I am developing this habit of questioning. When times get tough, I try to step out of myself. Almost like an out-of-body experience. I imagine myself on the other side of the room, looking at me, asking, Why is she sad? Where is she coming from? Who is she? What does she want?
I am not an expert on acting. Nor in directing plays. But I have spent the last decade of my life in exploring physical theater and contemporary choreography, and in doing and making up roles that are deeply human. Where is she coming from? Who is she? What does she want?
These are usual questions that actors ask about their character when they are studying a role. Actors are curious. Critical. They question their characters intentions. They ask, why?
Now I ask, What is success? Can’t we have different definitions of it? Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I stying in a field that doesn’t feel right anymore? Is it because of Money? Prestige? Fame? Is it because it was what I know I’m good at it since I was young? Is it Fear? Why?
Questioning leads to empathizing. Which is number 2. Empathize.
Our capacity to be slower to judge, slower to assume, our capacity to respect other opinions, backgrounds, identities and preferences, are related to the depth of empathy we have for ourselves.
The place of empathy is a feeling place. It is where we are not afraid to remember our own wounds, both old and fresh, our pleasures, both simple and grand, as things that can connect us with others. It is not only emotional, but a full sensory engagement. Empathy is an actor’s secret superpower. It is also a vital ingredient to Theatre’s magic. Healing magic. It is an immersion into a different reality. It enables us to feel our way into the inner live of other beings, an have a clearer understanding of our selves in relation to the world.
I am practicing empathy for others. But when I practice this without empathy for myself, it is incomplete. Where is she coming from? Who is she? And what does she need? What does she need to heal?
A good actor has deliberate choices onstage. Sure, there is room for improvisation. For spontaneity. Space for the unknown, unplanned. But great actors are not undecided.
Great actors are clear. Clear in their present experience onstage. Clear with what their character is going through. With where they are going. Even in dance, one of my dance teachers, Viktor Ursabia, used to say, Technique is clarity.
I didn’t immediately know what I want. After my ballet career, all I know is that I am hurting so deeply that I don’t want to dance ever again anymore. Ever. Ever. I don’t want to see my ballet friends; I don’t want to see a dance studio, or a theatre. I don’t want any of it. It felt like a betrayal. Ballet and I made a pact that we will be in love forever. That it is 1 plus 1 equals 2. I will work hard enough equals my hard work will pay off equals I will be happy. It is sure. It is eternal. Until Ballet betrayed me. How can anybody want something so much, she planned her whole life around it, that one day she doesn’t want it anymore?
Falling out of love is true.
But moving on as a clear, deliberate choice, will always be asked of us, if we want to stay alive in the theatre of Life.
My wish for you, is that you question everything. My wish for you is you question your own intentions. My wish for you is to have a strong Why, as with everything you do. Because knowledge is power. When you know yourself, when you know your why, you can side with yourself. You can empathize with you. It is from this self-empathy that a solid, inner integrity may grow. A feeling of your own worth, outside of other people’s definitions of the big things, such as Beauty, Love, Truth, or Success.
Often we come into this life with templates. My wish for you is that you get the courage to make your own. Have heart. Be tenacious. Because it might mean breaking the status quo, risking being disliked or disproved. Being outcast. Being unpopular among your peers, or friends. And even family.
But when you choose from a place of deep questioning, and deep empathy, you are choosing an adventure for yourself that you can truly call your own.
All over the world, we have been losing many people to suicide. Many have been losing their sanity. It is easy to lose our deep sense of self, in this age of social media and hyper connectivity, self-comparison, beauty standards, definitions of success that are subscribed to by the crowd. Your Life is your Art. When you value it, when you fight for it, to be healthy, to be long, to be sustainable, in whatever field you end up choosing, and in every change you choose to make in that field, you don’t only get to own your life, and live your life, you fashion a brave example for others to also own, and live theirs.
Choreographer and Educator
Founder of Daloy Movement
Founder and Artistic Director of Daloy Dance Company
Photo credits: Jomarie Cruz, Sipat Productions, Erickson Dela Cruz, Tuchi Imperial, Kitty Bunag and Mitch Conzon