BALLET Manila (BM) company artist Katherine Barkman received the top prize in the 2015 Asian Grand Prix (AGP) International Ballet Competition in Hong Kong.
AGP jury president Garry Trinder says Barkman was a unanimous choice because she “represents excellence in every way.”
BM had fielded 21 dancers in the AGP.
Other honors for BM: Silver in Pas de Deux for Barkman and partner Elpidio Magat; Bronze, Senior Male Category, for Magat; Silver, Senior Female Category, for Abigail Oliveiro; Bronze, Senior Female Category, for Joan Emery Sia; Bronze in Pas de Deux, for Sia and partner Romeo Peralta; and Silver, Junior B Category, for Nicole Barroso.
The company’s other finalists also received citations in their respective categories: Rissa May Camaclang, 5th, Junior C; Jessa Balote, 4th, Pre-Senior, and 4th, Pas de Deux; Brian Sevilla, 5th, Junior B and Sansha Award; Anselmo Dictado, 4th, Pas de Deux; Arnulfo Andrade, 5th,
Senior Male; and Robert John Peralta, 6th, Senior Male.
Barkman, 18, had only recently moved from Pennsylvania, US, to the Philippines to join Ballet Manila—her first professional company.
“Competitions are simply a medium for sharing my art with as many people as possible,” she says. “I wasn’t there competing but using my time on stage to give the audience the highest quality art I could produce, not just gymnastics and tricks in pointe shoes. I took it as a useful experience and opportunity to grow.”
Artistry and technique
AGP started five years ago. A former principal dancer with the Hong Kong Ballet, AGP chair So Hon Wah recalled he wanted only a small competition.
“But later on, when more people supported me, I realized I can do more,” he says. “This is the fifth year now! When I talked to the jury, they were willing to offer me their support and their time, and they gave me many ideas that inspire me. There was something there from the very beginning that I never imagined; it was full of opportunities that would come later on.”
AGP juror Marily Rowe, former principal dancer at the Australian Ballet, says they particularly gravitate toward dancers who are able to combine artistry and technique.
“The best ones go forward at each round, and as with all competitions, the standards go up. Only those who are very talented go through from round to round,” she says. “Sometimes it gets very disappointing because everybody wants to do very well and they do to the best of their ability. But it’s also wonderful to participate in something like this, it’s a very good experience and they can always come back another time. To nurture young talent is very important for the ballet and for the future.”
Describing the competition as still young, So nevertheless expresses satisfaction at how things have turned out, especially for the fifth year.
Full of joy
AGP attracted over 300 participants from 13 countries including the Philippines, Japan, China, Singapore and Russia.
“I am very happy about the quality of the competition; it’s rising. We are just thinking about how it will benefit more the young generation, the young talents,” says So.
AGP gives outstanding dancers cash awards that can help them advance their career in professional ballet or scholarships that can support further education in renowned ballet schools, So adds.
Ballet Manila artistic directors Osia Barroso and Lisa Macuja-Elizalde had coached the Philippine competitors on hand gestures, body movement, facial expressions and conveying the proper emotions.
Both feel the company’s Russian Vaganova method provided a distinct advantage for their dancers, as did their performing experience in the Philippines.
Elizalde says she had been able to show BM’s training at AGP not just during the competition proper, but also in two Ballet Manila shows called “Flight” and in the AGP Stars Gala Performance, which capped the contest.
“It was lovely to see the performance,” Rowe says about “Flight.”
“Filipino dancers are always so full of joy, vitality and exuberance, which is so nice to see! It’s a real national trait in the Filipino dancers—they always enjoy what they’re doing.”
Garry Trinder, director of the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington, says he expects Ballet Manila would continue to do exceptionally well in future AGP’s because of its strengths in classical repertoire.
Asked for advice for young dancers who may want to join the competition, Trinder replies: “I think the thing is that you have to come prepared because ballet competitions are hard by their nature. And sometimes you can think that you’re at the top of the pyramid in your own ballet school, but the reality is that when you pitch yourself against the global market, things change quite substantially. And I think if you use that wisely, you can learn a great deal from it.”
Elizalde says she is very happy that, by winning in the AGP, Ballet Manila has “a statement to everyone that classical ballet is alive and thriving in the Philippines.”