Taking Center Stage

May 29, 2013
The Manila Bulletin
Angelo Garcia

Content

The happy ballerina

When ballet dancer Christine Rocas was younger, she didn’t like ballet at all. In fact, she even got mad at her mom for forcing her to audition for Ballet Manila (BM), one of the three major ballet companies in the Philippines.

“It’s not like I loved ballet before doing it. It was a suggestion to do ballet for rhythmic gymnastics. I was 11 years old when I started with BM. There were auditions for scholarships. I didn’t want to go but my mom forced me. I didn’t like that idea. I was really nervous and mad.

But I ended up enjoying the audition, and was granted a full scholarship. Since then, it was an everyday dancing experience for me,” recalls Christine who at that time was already part of the national gymnastics team and was competing outside the country.

Eventually, she learned to love the art of ballet. While it was difficult to choose ballet over gymnastics, she later realized that she made the right decision.

“I loved both. It was hard to give up either one. In rhythmic gymnastics, I already have a career, and was being paid by the government. Dance for me is a different feeling, from a competition on a carpeted floor in front of judges. The experience on stage is so liberating and exciting, as opposed to feeling a lot of pressure from being judged constantly. This was one of the main reasons why I chose ballet over gymnastics,” says the 27-year-old ballerina.

FROM MANILA TO CHICAGO

Since then, Christine would star in many of BM’s major productions such as 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).

She would also compete abroad. Her first major international competition was the 9th Asian Pacific International Ballet Competition in Tokyo, Japan, in 2003 where she finished as finalist in the Junior Division. In 2005, Christine was a semi-finalist in the Helsinki International Ballet Competition in Helsinki, Finland. In the same year, she won a silver medal in the New York International Ballet Competition and was also awarded the Arpino Award. This won her a one-year contract with Joffrey Ballet, one of America’s premier ballet companies.

It was then when she was made to choose between the opportunity to work in a ballet company abroad or stay in Ballet Manila where she grew up to become the dancer that she was.

“I thought I was going to stay here for the rest of my life. It was a very difficult decision but at the same time, it could be my one shot. Joffrey could be a different experience. I am welcome to new challenges, meeting new people, and maybe learning a little more about myself, about ballet. As difficult as it was, I decided to take the contract and started a new career there,” says Christine who is also extremely grateful to BM for giving her all the exposure and opportunities.

“It’s great. I love being with Joffrey. I meet such wonderful people, such wonderful artists. I am happy.”

Since joining the Chicago-based ballet company, she has performed in Apollo, Cinderella(Cinderella and Summer Fairy), The Dream, Giselle (Giselle), Les Presages, The Nutcracker, In the Night, Reflections, and Age of Innocence, to name a few. She says that dancing for Joffrey opened her to a whole new world. While she learned a lot from Ballet Manila’s Russian (Vaganov) training, Christine also discovered an array of other ballet techniques like the Balanchine.

I love dancing in the States because I realized there’s a lot more for me. I am able to let go of myself, be a little bit more vulnerable in my movement, and explore different styles. I found that there is a lot more freedom,” she says.

THE TALENTED PINOY

On June 1, Christine will perform in Ballet Manila’s “Stars of Philippine Ballet” along with other talented and multi-awarded Filipino dancers who now represent different ballet companies abroad. It will also feature guest artists like Christine’s fellow Joffrey dancer Mauro Villanueva. The one-night gala will be held at the Aliw Theater, CCP Complex in Pasay City.

The show will be Christine’s first time to perform in the country, since she left for the USA in 2005.
“I think there’s a lot more pressure because I want to do well, obviously. You want to be able to show. I hope there’s growth. It’s exciting. My friends haven’t seen me dance for a long time. I want to make sure it’s a good show,” she says about their upcoming performance.

While the country is losing its precious ballet talents to companies abroad, Christine believes that these talents also deserve greater opportunities for more growth artistically and technically. Take for example, Ballet Philippines’ Candice Adea, the first Filipina who won top prize in the Helsinki International Ballet Competition last year. She is now with Hong Kong Ballet. Candice will also perform in the gala.

Christine has no doubt that Filipinos have the talent but the opportunities are lesser here than in other countries.

“I think that dancers should be encouraged to explore. If there’s an opportunity, grab it. With others leaving, there’s another opportunity for younger dancers who could blossom into beautiful dancers. It’s a nice cycle,” she adds.

But with Ballet Manila pushing to bring ballet closer to the masses, Christine is happy to see a growing interest in this art among Filipinos.

“Filipinos are very talented. It’s just a shame that the artists are not as exposed to these opportunities and to a lot more (dancing) styles that are out there. We’re almost in a little bubble. At the same time, I think our goal as Filipinos is to push the line even further and challenge ourselves to be able to reach out to the public. Then we can use this full potential of the Filipino talent,” she ends.

All he wants to do is dance

Performing for the first time in the Philippines, Mexican-American ballet dancer Mauro Villanueva is already having fun. Aside from touring the beautiful sites of Manila with friend and dance partner Christine Rocas, he is also impressed with the Filipino talents that he meets.

“It’s been fun so far. Everyone is very talented here. There are many Filipino dancers abroad and I think it’s a testament of the good work that is being done here. Dancers coming from what is considered a small dance community can perform on the world stage. That doesn’t happen so often. So having dancers who become successful here and abroad is pretty incredible,” says the 31-year-old dancer.

Mauro will join Rocas and other homecoming Filipino dancers in Ballet Manila’s “Stars of Philippine Ballet” on June 1 at the Aliw Theater. Led by prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, the one-night gala features Candice Adea of Hong Kong Ballet, Christine Rocas of Joffrey Ballet, Aileen Gallinera and Eduardo Espejo of Ballet David Campos, Marcelino Libao of Hamburg Ballet, and Jared Tan of Atlanta Ballet.

A former dancer of Joffrey Ballet, one of the premier ballet companies in the US, Mauro recently retired from the company to be able to do freelance work as independent contractor, and teach ballet to young aspiring dancers.

IT ALL STARTED WITH THE NUTCRACKER

As a young boy growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Mauro was shy and uncomfortable speaking in groups. It was when he watched the Nutcracker performance by the Houston Ballet that he knew what he wanted to do.

“When I was younger, I was a very shy kid, and a little bit sheltered, but in a good way. I was not very comfortable speaking in groups, and even reading out loud in English class. Dance is a way to express myself without having to actually speak words. It still does it for me, that is why I like it so much,” he shares.

When he was 16, he studied at the Nutmeg Conservatory in Torrington, Connecticut. After finishing his studies, he went to Chicago to pursue a career in ballet.

After his apprenticeship in Joffrey in 2000, Mauro was eventually hired by the company where he starred in many of its productions that included Cinderella (Prince), Confetti, Dark Elegies, Giselle (Albrect), The Green Table, Laurencia Pas d’Action, Les Presages, Motown Suite, Les Noces, Romeo and Juliet, Round of Angels, Square Dance, Suite Saint Saëns, Tensile Involvement, Viva Vivaldi, and A Wedding Bouquet.

Later on, Mauro felt he needed to experience ballet in a different way.

“I think that when you stay in a place in such a long period of time, there is a certain amount of comfort and stability that you experience. While that is great, I just felt that I needed to experience dance in a different way. Now, I will be an independent contractor and will be picking and choosing what I want to do. A little bit more freedom is what I’m trying to experience,” he says.

SHARING THE ART

Mauro is also looking forward to sharing his knowledge with young dancers.

“I really enjoy teaching so I have a lot of teaching coming up, including the Joffrey workshop in Texas where I grew up. My teachers were co-founders of Joffrey 35 years ago, and they are ready to retire. I will start to learn the ropes and prepare to take over the lessons by next year,” he says.

Sadly, he says today’s young dancers lack the discipline and their culture has changed.

“In my dealings with young dancers in workshops, the culture of young people has changed drastically. The self-discipline is not quite as it used to be. I think that young people expect immediate results because of our technology, and our ability to have that kind of result. So you really have to push them to understand that the harder they work, the more consistent they become,” he says.

Apart from working hard, his only advice for young dancers is to just be themselves, and stick to their own individual identities.

“Once you become a professional, you really have to do everything for yourself, for your own pleasure. It is a hard world to exist in. You are being critiqued and judged every day by what you can and can’t do. Your body can only do so much. To be under that much pressure all the time can be overwhelming. To just be there for yourself and know that you’re doing the best you can, is probably the best thing I’ve learned,” Mauro says.