The pink ballet shoes arrived in a red box, but the pair was a few sizes smaller than expected.
Such was the uncertainty of ordering online. Rather than returning or having the shoes replaced, it was decided they would be made a gift.
The recollection of Ballet Philippines’ (BP) young cast dancing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” inspired the generosity. Fairies, confused lovers and a band of actors leaped and glided in airy lightness to Mendelssohn’s music.
Several of the dancers were nurtured by the BP Dance School. Some had been scholars whose dreams of a dancing career were aided by the generosity of benefactors. The shoes were sent to BP together with a generous donation to help realize the aspirations of young talents.
BP president Kathleen Liechtenstein received the shoes and the check during the dance company’s production of “Cinderella,” the third offering for the 50th anniversary season.
“This kind of support goes right to the heart of Ballet Philippines,” she says. “Our mission is to enable young people who dream of dancing professionally to pursue their passion. Scholarships funded by patrons as well as income from the season shows help toward the development of the potential ballerinas and danseurs with limited or no resources.”
Later, in a private exchange, Liechtenstein spoke of a challenge in the ballet company. “We are constantly faced with the situation of our young dancers leaving for abroad or being unable to pursue a career in professional classical dance. Their exodus has been an obstacle to the flourishing of our performing arts industry. We have been addressing this through scholarship programs and supplemental funds.”
BP is the only dance company that has been granted accreditation as a doneé foundation by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification, according to the company’s prospectus. It means that contributions are properly utilized, accounted for and audited for the service it is intended to provide. All donations are 100-percent tax deductible.
Jeté in the dark
Since 1969, BP has set the stage for the grand jeté of Filipino dancers. “We have been discovering, honing and training world-class talents,” the BP president says. “Our dancers have performed on the world stage in renowned theaters. They shared the spotlight with icons of the performing arts and created dance pieces which are now considered classics.”
While BP was founded during a cultural high point in the country, there were struggles unknown to the applauding public. Nonoy Froilan, who performed in the original “Cinderella” ballet, recounts one.
“There was a time when brownouts were frequent and we would rehearse using flashlights,” he says. “One particular show, we had just a few weeks to complete the movements which Alice Reyes was choreographing. She called us to a rehearsal at the Cultural Center even if there was a typhoon. We had to rent a truck to get through the flooded streets. When we got there, it was brownout. So we danced in the dark using flashlights.”
Froilan, who has partnered with legends like Margot Fonteyn and Yoko Morishita, mounts the current production of “Cinderella,” choreographed and directed by National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes.
3 National Artists
When Reyes conceptualized the dance routines, she did it with a young audience in mind. It was a ballet for children and this time around, two other National Artists are also part of the visual and musical storytelling.
In his production design, National Artist for Theater and Design Salvador Bernal transformed the pumpkins into carriages and restored glass slippers to the rightful princess.
National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano especially arranged Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s musical score to which BP lead dancers Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes will interpret the comedic characters of the stepsisters.
Cinderella’s stepmother, the Widow Brunhilda, will be played by two guest artists, Liza de la Fuente and Novy Bereber, both seasoned dancers.
Dancers of the company train every day to hone their technical skills, Liechtenstein says. “They work under the supervision of ballet masters, coaches and dance professionals in our technical training program. This is the On Pointe program. It is one of nine beneficiaries of funds generated through donations, sponsorships and shows.”
BP, Liechtenstein says, provides salary grants for dancers, funds for new work, scholarships, ballet fitness modules, access by public school students and persons from underserved communities to season shows, training for children in marginalized areas, allocation for the Philippine military as an expression of gratitude for their service to the country and a toe shoe fund to provide the proper shoes for dancers.
Fairy tale come true
The check donation and the pink ballet shoes in the red box were met with excitement among the dancers who attended the press launch.
BP board member Maan Hontiveros dramatically held up the shoebox and invited girls to try on the soft leather slippers.
It was a Cinderella moment when the shoe slipped easily onto the foot of a dancer, except it wasn’t the Cinderella but one of the stepsisters.
Still, everyone cheered. The shoe had fit and a fairy tale had come true.