Long before international ballet competitions became accessible to Filipinos, homegrown dancers with the means would go out on their own in search of further training, or try their luck at auditions in foreign companies. There were those who were discovered by foreign ballet masters and choreographers, then offered positions in foreign companies.
It has always been said that Filipinos are natural dancers. However, the discipline and rigorous training that comes adjacent to a formal dance form like classical ballet is now governed by international standards, which are today’s benchmarks in international competitions.
Among the international dance competitions popular with dance schools is the Asian Grand Prix Competition held annually in Hong Kong.
Witnessing the final dress rehearsal of the candidates from the JNA Dance and Fitness center (formerly the Effie Nañas DanCenter), those standards are clearly upheld in the coaching of the seven young dancers aged 10-19 years old.
Each one performed two numbers each in full costume and makeup for two full run-throughs. At the end of each run-through, coach Nañas called out specifics for each dancer, whether it was an arm position, a misstep, accuracy in hitting a music accent and even a slight tilt of the head that could make a whole world of difference.
The elimination round took place on April 7, resulting in four winners out of the seven candidates: Anja Ponferrada, 10, third place in the pre-competitive category; AJ Rebuliado, 11, first place, winning a full scholarship to the AGP in Hong Kong this August; Renee Aguilar, 11, third place in the junior division category; and Daniela Kleiner, 19, second place in the senior division (with no one in first place).
The finals will be on Aug. 12-17 in Hong Kong.
The training ground for ballet in the Philippines has been helped much by foreign programs like the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), which was introduced here in 1999. The dance schools run mock exams to precondition select students in the highly mannered proprieties of the British examiners in rating who can proceed to the next level.
In a recent mock exam for 7-year-olds in the primary level at Sofia Zobel Elizalde’s Steps Dance Studio, each of the little ballerinas-to-be, who were previously rehearsed by their respective teachers for several exercises, were called into the room two by two, performing several sets of short exercises. Not only does the experience set disciplinary parameters on each little dancer, it encourages them to appreciate the beauty of the art and the sense of accomplishment in having gone through an exam that requires months of preparation.
Trainers like Nañas and Elizalde own not just the passion and drive to continue in passing on a disciplined art form. More than that, it is a shared precious experience they extend allowing the music to play on for these little dancers, who may or may not stay long enough in this country, where the niceties of art forms such as dance are left to fend for their own funding.
(Both Nañas and Elizalde are former principal dancers of Ballet Philippines. The company celebrates its 50th year next year, where both will be presenting dancers from their respective dance schools).
Sooner or later, dancers who wish to accomplish more, depart, and become better-known abroad, while remaining relative “who’s thats” in their own country.
Maniya Barredo (Atlanta Ballet, principal, and the only prima ballerina the Philippines has produced), Tina Santos (San Francisco Ballet, soloist), Anna Villadolid (Munich Ballet, principal), Maribeth Roxas (Alvin Ailey, principal), Augustus “Bam” Damian (Maurice Bejart, principal), Chritine Rocas (Joffrey Ballet, soloist), Stella Abrera (American Ballet Theater, principal), Candice Adea (Hong Kong Ballet, soloist), Manuel Molina (Ballet Caracas de Venezuela, principal), Marcelino Libao (Hamburg Ballet, soloist) and so many others have made their brilliant marks in other lands.
Thanks to YouTube, we can now catch up with them. —CONTRIBUTED