Karen, a sophisticated 40-something poetry and dance teacher almost exclusively referred to as “Ma’am,” gazes around the classroom before zooming in on her prey. “When you stare at a woman, do you undress her with your eyes or cover her up?” she asks Marlon (Paolo Avelino), a struggling student utterly enamored by the enigmatic poetess, played by Jean Garcia in this film, the lineup in this weekʻs Third Annual Filipino Film Festival. Blinded by desire for his older teacher, Marlon doesn’t feel the lingering stare from Dennis (Rocco Nacino), a fellow classmate and dance tutor who assists with Karen’s dance classes.
In Ang Saya ng Dalawang Kaliwang Paa (The Dance of Two Left Feet), director Alvin Yapan, a celebrated author and literature professor, crafts a gracefully rythmic drama immersed in poem readings, borrowed from prominent Filipina feminist writers. The poetic imagery moves nimbly through passionate dance sequences, which mirrors the emotions of the three focal players who form a hazy love triangle, built on ambiguity and desire.
One recurring theme that so wonderfully ties the story together is the pain of creation outgrowing its creator. After class, Karen and Dennis have an intimate discussion about a poem with the lines, “It’s the one praying who created the one he’s praying to / or was it I who conjured you / in my belief / A body he prays to not to leave him.” Gazes filled with immense longing are divided equally amongst each of the three main characters.
When Marlon excels in Karen’s dance class after being tutored by Dennis, Dennis is tormented by Marlonʻs succes of his teacher. But the pinnacle of longing gazes occurs at the grand scene where Karen rests in the center of the shot intently watching Dennis and Marlon perform their audition (which is brilliantly depicted in a wall of mirrors behind Karen); her elegant face suddenly blooms into tears à la Anna Karina in Godard’s Une Femme est une Femme.
Another empowering idea that the film expresses is the total freeness of love. The film seems to artfully dodge any conception of a socially constructed idea of love. There is no vehement religious right screaming through megaphones, no parent giving their kid the old birds and the bees. We are never bothered by the extraneous noise of a cultural normality. In fact, the only characters in the movie are the ones involved in the love triangle. Any conflicts that arise are never processed by an external consciousness. Love is free to exist in all its pureness, engulfed in its mine-ness, blind to age and gender.
And yet, a great deal of restraint is enlisted as well. For all of the film’s lovers, there’s no climactic kiss. Dennis and Marlon are invited up to Karen’s apartment, but the threat of a romantic engagement fizzles out with a round of waters and a discussion about dance as a career. But somehow the bait and switch doesn’t really hurt the movie in any way. In this story, love almost finds its strength in longing. Each lover gives their beloved the freedom to choose, and therefore loves from afar. But the intensity of emotion still remains and finds its outlet elsewhere, in dance and poetry.