Choreographer Japhet Mari Cabling’s artistic journey

By Irene de Jesus Obligacion

Dance artist Japhet Mari “JM” Cabling majored in Philippine Folk Dance at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines (UP) with a degree of Bachelor of Music (Dance). JM is the first graduate of the CCP Choreographers Series with his work “Bent” (1st place in the Wifi Body New Choreographers Competition 2014), “Nothing Special” (premiered in KoryoLab 2017; finalist at the 2019 Yokohama Dance Collection 2019 and recipient of Alvin Erasga Tolentino Koryograpiya Award), and “Ang Lihim ni Lea” (as one of the featured artists of NeoFilipino 2019).

Currently, JM is the Program Director of Hiraya Fellowship Program and full-time dance faculty at Guang Ming College Tagaytay.

We interviewed JM recently, and here is that conversation.

Dance artist Japhet Mari ‘JM’ Cabling CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/PAW CASTILLO

How did your journey in dance begin?

I was a fan of my eldest brother who was a dancer in our elementary school. I joined the same dance troupe he was in and I found myself enjoying performing those kinds of dances. Later, my parents enrolled me in Pangalay lessons with Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa. They would drive me every Sunday from Cavite to Marikina, and even joined my classes. The classes were worth it, because I passed the scholarship auditions for the Folk Dance program at the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) dancing Pangalay. I eventually graduated from PHSA with a MARIA scholarship and Artistic Excellence Award. After high school, though, I was still clueless what to do after college. I wanted to pursue learning Philippine Folk Dances but there were no college programs specifically catering to just that. And so, even without any background in classical ballet or contemporary dance, I still auditioned for the Dance Program of the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman College of Music. I passed the course and my whole education there changed my views on dance. Dance is not just for novelty.

While studying, I took all the opportunities possible to explore. I attended different workshops, performed in different festivals in the Philippines and abroad, choreographed for plays in Dulaang UP, joined competitions under UP Dance Company and many more. If before It was during this time that I saw myself taking on dance as a career. Right after college, I dove into doing freelance work for dancing, choreographing and teaching dance-trusting that these jobs would sustain me. And they sure did. Even if there were times I would be uncertain about whether the projects would actually build my career, offers to work kept coming and coming. Eventually all the fears and hard work paid off. Mnetwork of collaborators and the experiences I’ve gained working in different environments has shaped me into the artist I am today.

Can you name two artists you admire the most, and describe to us how their creativity influenced you?

There are plenty but top of mind are my folk dance teacher in high-school, Victor Flor, and one of my challenging mentors in contemporary dance at UP, Ma. Elena Laniog-Alvarez.

Sir Flor was my first teacher in choreography. As a Folk Dance Major in PHSA, we did learn our dances, but he was also very hands on in making us appreciate what we were doing. He was invested in giving us tools to be able to have a deeper understanding of the dances and our culture. Teacher Elena on the other hand was one of my contemporary dance teachers, and is one mentor I look up to because of her sincerity in the craft and the care she gives to her dancers.

They might not be aware of this, but they taught me to ground myself, to be more intuitive and trust myself and the process without being swayed easily by doubt. Because for them, there is enough room for all of the artists out there. They influenced me to look for my own space and own way of creating art.

How does ACC grant help you in your art form?

I focus on storytelling as a choreographer. My experiences have given me tools to tell stories well, but I know there is more to learn and the classes I’ll be taking under the fellowship will certainly widen my range of tools. While I am always thankful for getting work, I’m grateful for this time to take a breather from my career here through the ACC grant in New York. I will be able to pause, reflect and focus on refueling myself again.

Lastly, because I am currently teaching young dancers on scholarship in Guang Ming College. I know this grant will help me as a teacher. I have a sense of responsibility to keep myself updated with the knowledge I impart to them because they are hungry and eager to learn more of what’s out there. I will definitely share with them all the gains from this fellowship.