Bring in the stars

May 30, 2013
Business World
Jasmine T. Cruz


Stars of Philippine Ballet
June 1, 7:30 p.m.
Aliw Theater, Cultural Center
of the Philippines Complex, Pasay City

FILIPINOS can be found in places all over the map, but few people know that certain ballet dancers are making their own marks in the world. Recognizing these talents, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde has put together a show featuring the best Filipino dancers here and abroad, Stars of Philippine Ballet, to be staged tomorrow at the Aliw Theater.


BALLET MANILA joins the one-night gala gathering the best Filipino dance talents.
BALLET MANILA joins the one-night gala gathering the best Filipino dance talents.

This ambitious endeavor was inspired by shows in the 1980s and ’90s, where Ms. Macuja-Elizalde performed with Filipino ballet icons. Mounted by Ballet Philippines and Philippine Ballet Theater, these were truly memorable experiences for the ballerina. "What I remember is the thrill of meeting and working with these dancers that have arrived from careers abroad," she said in an e-mail to BusinessWorld on May 18. "Watching these dancers warm-up, rehearse, and perform was an education in itself."

This experience made her want to shine a spotlight on the current Filipino ballet stars. "We should all be proud of how far our Filipino artists have made it in the international and local dance world," she said.

To showcase their skills, Candice Adea of the Hong Kong Ballet and Jean Marc Cordero of Ballet Philippines will dance an interpretation of "Diane et Acteon" from the ballet Esmeralda, the love story of the Goddess of the Hunt and the brave hunter. Choreographed by Alden Lugnasin, the dance will be an interpretation of the song "You Don’t Bring Me Flowers," a Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand duet.

Christine Rocas and foreign guest artist Mauro Villanueva, both of the Joffrey Ballet, will take the stage with two pieces from their company’s repertoire -- "Reflections" by Gerald Arpino and "Bells (Pas de Deux)" by Yuri Possokhov.

Aileen Gallinera and Eduardo Espejo of Barcelona’s Ballet David Campos will perform the pas de deux from the opera Faust and from Mascara de la Muerte Roja. These numbers were choreographed by David Campos.

The show also features non-Filipino guest artists: Mayo Arii of the Hamburg Ballet, and Jennifer Drake and Brian Williamson of the Dance Theatre of Tennessee. The pair will be dancing George Balanchine’s "Who Cares?" set to the music of George Gershwin.

Before Christine Rocas danced lead roles for the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, she was a member of Ballet Manila. "I idolized Ms. Lisa," she said, in an interview with BusinessWorld on May 24. Describing her younger self as a copycat, she said she used to judge the way she moved and emoted depending on how close it was to the prima ballerina’s style. Now she has learned to trust her own body and to express her own personality, said Ms. Rocas.

Through Ballet Manila, she said she received a strong foundation in ballet as she was given roles in the The Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy), Le Corsaire (Medora), La Bayadere (Nikiya), Swan Lake (Odette/Odile), Sleeping Beauty (Bluebird pas de deux), and Don Quixote (Dryad Queen).

This enabled her to join the 2005 New York International Ballet Competition where she won a silver medal and was given the Arpino Award, an award that granted her a one-year contract with The Joffrey Ballet.

"It was absolutely overwhelming," she said, explaining her culture shock when she joined American group. "I was scared of everybody."

"When I went to Joffrey, I thought I was really good," she said, but after watching their practice session, her mother -- who stayed with Ms. Rocas for the first three months to help her adjust -- went to her and said, "Christine, you look really bad next to them." Though this seems harsh, Ms. Rocas said that her mother’s comments helped her career. "I know it’s not negative at all," she said. "She just wants to push me."

Pursuing a career in ballet was initially a risk for Ms. Rocas. Ballet was supposed to supplement her rhythmic gymnastics, but instead she fell in love with it. "It was a hard decision to pick between ballet and gymnastics," she said. "During that time, I was already considered good in gymnastics. I was not sure if I would make it in ballet." But the risk paid off.

Her ballet career led her to American dancer Mauro Villanueva who became her long time dance partner and friend. The first time they danced together was in Giselle in 2008. During that time he was already getting principal roles in The Joffrey, while she was just a newbie.

"I was really shocked when I was partnered with Mauro," she said, but the partnership worked.

"We can read each other without saying too much," Mr. Villanueva said. "It’s easy to allow yourself to feel vulnerable because you know you will not be ridiculed or judged. I feel that free when I’m dancing with Christine."

For the this weekend, the two will take the stage with pieces from their company’s repertoire, "Reflections" by Gerald Arpino and "Bells (Pas de Deux)" by Yuri Possokhov. "It’s very passionate," Ms. Rocas said of "Reflections." "It’s a peek into a beautiful relationship."

Ms. Rocas said that she is "really excited" to bring "Bells" to Manila as it is a very intimate dance. "A dancer needs to be uninhibited," she said. "People need to see your vulnerability. If you can’t be transparent, you can’t be genuine."

Leading the pack on the local front Ms. Macuja-Elizalde will interpret the role of Gamzatti in the "Pas D’Action" from La Bayadere Act 2 along with Ballet Manila’s Rudy De Dios. "We needed a classical ballet number that had a corps de ballet as well to enhance the program, which is why we have included this piece," she said of the dance choice.

She will also dance in "Widmung," a neo-classical ballet choreographed by Augustus Damian III as a tribute piece for the late Filipino choreographer Tony Fabella.

All three major local ballet companies -- Ballet Philippines (BP), Philippine Ballet Theater (PBT), and Ballet Manila -- are represented in the show. The featured dancers are BP’s Jean Marc Cordero ("Diane et Acteon"), Ballet Manila’s Stephanie Eunice Cabral and Arnulfo Andrade ("Wedding Pas De Deux" from Act 3 of The Sleeping Beauty), and Dawna Mangahas and Elpidio Magat ("Grand Pas Classique").

PBT, along with Ballet Manila’s resident choreographer Gerardo Francisco, will present Ron Jaynario’s La Femme. Praising Mr. Jaynario, Ms. Macuja-Elizalde said that he is one of the younger, more dynamic Filipino choreographers.

She also raved about a new piece by Mr. Damian for an all-male ensemble of Ballet Manila entitled "Aramica." "It is another show-stopping testosterone ballet performed by our extremely energized male ensemble to the moving music of Khachaturian," she said. "Bam has always made extremely musical neoclassical ballets for us.

"Judging from the number of choreographers with pieces in our gala, one thing is certain," she said. "The program is going to be very varied and dynamic."