The mere mention of “Ballet Philippines” brings one’s thoughts to ballet dancers performing a world-class production at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). But amidst the awe of such flawless performances, often, one finds himself wondering how much time, discipline, artistry, and passion is entailed to come up with one successful show.
Ballet Philippines is one of the longest-standing and most established dance companies in the country. And it is not without reason that they have been in the industry for more than four decades. That’s four decades of teaching and producing local ballet dancers that can surpass international standards.
Murphy Report is honored to have had the opportunity to talk to Ballet Philippines’ Artistic Director and ballet dancers, to get a more in-depth perspective of what the company is all about; pre, during and post- productions ̶ ̶ from their artistry to their emotions and the challenges they face, we got it all covered.
Interview with Paul Alexander Morales, Artistic Director of Ballet Philippines
Can you describe Ballet Philippines?
Ballet Philippines, they say, is a pioneering professional dance company in Manila. It was founded in 1969 by Alice Reyes with the help of Eddie Elejar. Alice is really a modern dance choreographer and Eddie is a classical dancer. So it was a combination of the two. They had their first concert here at the CCP in 1970. We are coming up with our 47th season and, really, the idea of Ballet Philippines is to create some sort of a national ballet through a professional dance company. Before ballet Philippines madami tayong dance company sa Manila, but none was professional in the sense na yun lang ang gagawin mo. Hindi siya hobby, full time work siya for the dancers, so it’s really to professionalize the craft of dancing pero kasabay din nun yung pagcreate ng Filipino content. So it also features a lot of Filipino choreography, and of course the talent of Filipino dancers, designers and composers. Ballet Philippines is that twin idea of creating Filipino work and Filipino talent. For the talent development, we have a long-term scholarship program. I myself was a scholar here in the 80s. It was because there was a company like Ballet Philippines that could support the arts that I was able to pursue my dancing.
Define ballet and what makes it a form of art?
I think Ballet in French just means “dance”, so we can take dance very broadly. In the Philippines dance is very natural. Indigenous communities have their own dances. Sabi nga ng mga foreigners, Filipinos are really good singers and dancers. Dancing is a natural talent. Every country has its way of developing their own style and their trademark in dance, pero ang maganda sa ballet is that there is an international standard, especially today na meron nang youtube and you can watch everybody, so it pulls up the work. Everybody is encouraged to do better work.
You were mentioning about how you’re putting in a musical score and all these things, and we’ve always been curious about the process. Can you just give us a run-through of how it works?
To make a ballet, usually there are many ways to go about it, and sometimes iba yung process, but I would say the traditional process is it starts with an idea. So let’s say we’ll do a ballet about this story and then usually you employ a librettist, who writes down the story. Sometimes it’s based on another story, it’s an adaptation or there’s a historical approach. The librettist then hands it over to the composer, the composer creates new music, and eventually the designers will design. They have a set designer, lighting designer, costume designer and then the choreographer. Usually the choreographer is there from the beginning of the process. Usually, siya talaga yung magaguide. It’s his or her approach to the dance. So to come up with a new ballet, you need all these creative input, even without the dancers. So yung dancers iba din yung kanilang contribution, which is the actual movements of the dance.
This is very technical and tedious, so how long does it usually take to make one production?
One production will take one or two months, but usually the preparations take a year or so. You really want to be prepared. At Ballet Philippines, we present 4 major productions every year and it rarely repeats. So parang kasama sa aming mission yung we always present something new. Yun yung aming subscription season, so people can support the company by getting a subscription to all the four shows that we’ve prepared all throughout the year.
How do the dancers attach their own creativity in their performance? How do they express their individuality and make the move their own?
As choreographers, we ask them not to emote so much with their face. Their artistry is something you see in their approach to the music. In the musicality; their phasing. You may have the same move, but they are able to express it differently. They give the audience a different feeling through that. Sometimes it can include facial expressions, but beyond that, I guess, it’s how the body expresses. It can be a happy jump, a very angry jump, but the particular timing, in relation to the space, gives you that expression.
How has ballet and Ballet Philippines changed over time?
Kanina dun sa sinasabi nating history, it’s very important to note about modern dance. Modern dance pioneers such as Isadora Duncan or Martha Graham have a big impact in the Philippines, especially in Ballet Philippines. Our first show was all modern dance. It is beyond ballet, but also uses some properties of ballet, like it’s presented in the theater, but it presents different stories and different movements. There’s also contemporary dance which is what the choreographers do now. More like exploration of movements. There’s not one particular style. Like music, classical ballet, it’s interesting to go to because you know what you’re going to get, but of course within that parameter there are still many interpretations. With contemporary and modern dance, the options are much wider. The Filipino dance, in particular, I would say some of our choreographers here, two in particular are very, very noted for their works that create Filipino themes and Filipino movements. One of them is founder, Alice Reyes. A lot of her early works that have become very acclaimed are about Filipino stories and using this modern dance movement. Later on, my teacher, Agnes Locsin, started doing ballet called “Neo-ethnic”, based on Filipino dance movement combined with modern dance movements.
So you’re also tailor-fitting it to the Filipino audience?
Yes, and also to the Filipino body.
But what has been the reception of the Filipino audience?
I would say the Filipino audience is very diverse. The programs we present are also very diverse so it reflects that. We have pieces, for example, that are for children or for the whole family. Once in a while we have pieces that are more mature or for the adult audience. Often, we have pieces about the Filipino culture. But Manila is very cosmopolitan, so the programming is very eclectic. Maybe dance is an acquired taste. So the best would really be for people to come and see our show.
What are the challenges in the country?
Well, for one thing, we should really celebrate that Manila is one of the few cities in the world, that actually has 3 ballet companies. Since Ballet Philippines started, we put up a good standard that everyone would try to emulate. All the three companies are still struggling in the sense that we have to develop an audience. We have little government support. Most ballet companies in other countries would really have a long-term program, a sense of security. More or else ang art sa Pilipinas isang kahig isang tuka, so kung ano yung makikita mo, pwede mo siyang idevelop sa next show, but wala yung sense of plan. We are approaching our 50th anniversary, this is what we are thinking about how to make it even more sustainable. Sustainable naman siya because you can see it happening and we are employing a lot of dancers. So the dancers here are paid full-time for the whole year. And they get all the benefits like insurance. But I would say, unlike in other countries, malayo pa tayo sa maaring ibigay. A lot of times, I won’t say all the time, our dancers end up exporting themselves at some point because they want to help their families. Like in Hong Kong Disneyland, when it opened, we had a lot of dancers who went there. Muntikan na magsara ang company. We have a lot of dancers in cruises. We have a dancer who just finished the tour of “Cirque de Soleil”. But of course you want to develop the scene here more.
How does Ballet Philippines improve its artistry and how do you set your standards?
The founder of Ballet Philippines has high standards; maybe a taste and a level of excellence. From the beginning we have to consider that you are a part of the international arena. We have a lot of guest choreographers that keeps us abreast with the international scene. The other really great thing is to tour and see other people’s works. The past few years, we’ve also been lucky to be in festivals and things like these.
What are the plans of Ballet Philippines in the next 10 years?
This June, we have a new festival called “Dance Manila”, which celebrates the professional dance scene in the Philippines. I think that’s a big push to recognize us. It’s something na bagay sa mga Pilipino because we want Filipinos to appreciate dance and dance history; how much dance has helped shape society and how it helps people in terms of employment. Our goal is to keep producing the best dance and building an audience for dance.
Interview with the Ballet Dancers
John Mark Cordero, Principal Ballet Dancer
Rita Winder, Soloist
Denise Parungao, Junior Principal Dancer
Cyril Aran Fallar, Principal Soloist
Earl John Arisola, Junior Principal dancer
Kindly give us a background of your career as a ballet dancer. What made you decide to become one?
John Mark Cordero (JMC): I started very late. I started when I was 18. That’s very late for a dancer. I thought it was the perfect job for me because I love the stage. I was too young to do the parts that I wanted to do in theater, but I still wanted to perform, so I asked my teacher back then kung ano pwede ko gawin, “magsayaw ka muna. Try mo”. From that point, nagtuluy-tuloy na, hindi na ko nakaalis sa CCP.
Rita Winder (RW): I started at 8 years old. Nagstart yun kasi sa lugar namin, sa barangay hall, may nagooffer ng dance. Eventually, ballet na yung tinuturo. Pinupush ako ng nanay ko tapos eventually yung teacher ko sa ballet, former member ng Ballet Philippines, mga pioneer members sila, pinush niya ko na magaudition sa Philippine High School for the Arts tapos scholarship din siya. Tapos since nakapasok na ko dun, eye-opener sa akin yung Makiling (Philippine High School for the Arts) kasi ang dami ko natutunan sa arts. Sabi ko, “After nito hindi ko ile-let go yung alam ko sa arts. After nito, sasayaw ako sa college.” Hanggang yun na nga nag-De La Salle College of St. Benilde ako na Performing Arts Major tapos in consortium siya with Ballet Philippines. Naging ito yung path at naging clear ang path papunta dito.
Denise Parungao (DP): I took up Bachelor of Performing Arts in Dance in De La Salle-College of St. Benilde and they gave me a scholarship. That’s how I entered Ballet Philippines. I started to love ballet when I was 13. I don’t know why. It’s just there. You decide that you love it and you want to do it.
Earl John Arisola (EJA): I started dancing in my province, in Iloilo. And nalaman ng parents ko yung Philippine High School for the Arts sa Makiling, Laguna and nag-scholarship ako dun. Tapos nag-pursue ako ng Ballet Major. Kasi noon kapag galing ka Makiling didiretso ka ng Ballet Philippines (BP) as a CCP Scholar. Nag-CCP scholar ako after ng high school then nag-dance major ako sa Benilde. I pursued dance here in BP as my profession.
Cyril Aran Fallar (CAF): When I was a kid, passion ko na talaga ang dancing. I also entered Philippine High School for the Arts as a Theater Artist not a dancer. After 2 years, I was a stage manager of a ballet recital. That time I was eyeing a girl who was a ballerina. Suddenly, I decided to pursue dancing. At first it started out as passion, but then I realized career ko na pala siya.
Define ballet and what makes it a form of art?
JMC: Basically, ballet is dance. Art form siya kasi there’s a certain technique and there’s a certain level at meron kang sinusundan. Meron siyang specific aesthetic at ginawa siya hundreds of years ago.
DP: Art is about expressing yourself and it’s very open to interpretation. Ballet is about dancing talaga and about expressing. Ako, more on expression siya. You move because ito yung feeling mo. This is my outlet.
EJA: Para sa akin ang ballet kailangan talaga ng discipline. It’s an art because ballet pieces tell a story and we usually play a role as ballet dancers and para mapakita mo sa audience yung story, kailangan you give life dun sa role na pineplay mo.
CAF: Ballet is a choice. Kailangan mo siyang maging choice kasi if you want to be a ballet dancer, you have to give 200% of your self. You have to sacrifice a lot. For me ballet is not just a form of dance, you have to tell a story. Nagiging art siya dahil sa passion mo together with your dedication and your discipline.
What have been the changes over time?
JMC: Sa limang artistic directors na na-experience ko dito sa Ballet Philippines, depende kasi yun kung saan isi-steer ng captain yung ship eh. Ito yung maganda sa Ballet Philippines, it’s a repertory company at the same time we create new works. So we have classical works from local choreographers and we also have new works. Ito yung nagpapabuhay sa Ballet Philippines at mabubuhay pa rin siya. Ang daming young choreographers na nandito. Madaming malilikot yung utak to do something na mage-evolve ang dance. I think ito yung heartbeat ng Ballet Philippines.
DP: Well, I’m young in the industry pero nakita ko pag nagsoshow kami mas marami nanonood especially kapag ang production ay Peter Pan, yung pang kids or related sa history like Crisostomo Ibarra.
What is your favorite or most memorable ballet production?
JMC: Actually yung last production lang namin, yung “Opera” with Redha. We never really had an opportunity to work with him na ginawa niya yung piyesa sa amin and first time itong nangyari, yung choreographer ginagawa niya sa sarili mo, sa katawan mo, sa pagkatao mo, sa iyo minomold yung character. Chinecherish ko naman din lahat ng experiences ko with our choreographers before pero kasi nagawa na yan ng iba eh. It’s just that this is something special kasi kapag ibang tao pinaggawa nun, example 10 years from now uulitin ang ginawa ko lahat dito, mahihirapan yata ako ituro kasi ako yun.
RW: Nagiging memorable kasi ang production para sa amin, usually kapag memorable din yung process na pinanggalingan namin dun like yung binabanggit ni JM na” Opera” kasi, kumbaga kami yung clay niya, parang ganun mismo yung ginagawa niya. Memorable din sa akin yung kay Agnes Locsin, yung “La Rev” niya, kasi yung process niya sa amin madugo na kailangan namin mag-intensive workshop sa kanya ng isang buwan mahigit sa Davao para makuha namin yung gusto niya, para pagbalik namin dito, mabilis yung trabaho at kuha na namin yung gusto niya gawin. Dugo’t pawis ang nilagay namin dun. Eventually, ang rewarding kapag ginawa mo na mismo yung piece.
DP: The full-length ballet Giselle, because the story is complete. It’s about love, forgiveness, betrayal, everything. The style is very beautiful. The music, yung feels. It’s on point. Everything goes well together.
JMC: Siguro for the readers, kailangan nila din maintindihan na madaming styles ang ballet. Di lang siya grand plié, jump, tutu, at least okay yun, you have an idea of what to expect pero hindi pare-pareho yun ng style. Depende yan sa era, kapag Giselle romantic yan, di ka pwede magtaas ng leg ng ganito kataas. Iba-ibang period, iba-ibang style. Iba- iba din ang atake. I guess, dun makikita ang maturity ng dancers. Kapag alam nila kung nasaan silang lugar at ito lang. Kumbaga may purity or sincerity sa ginagawa sa arts. Ito din ang pagkakaiba ng sports sa arts. Sa sports di ba paramihan ng puntos pero sa arts, timplado mo.
What has been the reception of the Filipino audience?
JMC: Ang hirap kasi medyo Hollywood ang tingin natin dito sa Pilipinas eh. Ang hirap kalaban ng media. It’s the pop culture, I mean. Pero on another note, buhay kami, at hindi kami namamatay, for 46 years nandito pa rin ang Ballet Philippines. I guess, we’re doing something right. We just have to keep on doing kung ano ginagawa namin kasi it’s education na pinapasa sa generations, “Ah, may ballet sa Pilipinas”. Now dun sila maiinvolve. Yun nga hindi mo mafoforce ang tao to like something unless marealize nila na ito yun.
RW: Feeling ko ang dance community nageeffort naman para magreach out sa mga tao. I think alam naman ng tao ang difference sa showbiz or sa commercialized dancing sa art na ito. Pero yung pag-educate sa kanila, lalo na ng media, nalilimit sila. Narerestrict nila yung sarili nila na pumunta sa theater kasi ang effort naman talaga di ba, kumpara sa bubuksan lang nila ang TV nila.
JMC: I guess, it should start from the schools. Teaching culture. Kasi arts and culture, they go hand in hand. It starts from educating kids.
DP: Some still think that ballet is for elite or sosyal. But I think now, better na yung audience namin because of the collaborations with other artists like sculptors or visual artists. Yung supporters nila, nagiging supporters din namin.
CAF: I believe it’s improving naman kasi nakikita naman namin yung different kinds of audience kasi Ballet Philippines has a project of “Share the Magic”, so nagkakaroon ng opportunity ang less privileged kids na makanood ng performances namin. Pero ngayon talaga, I hope the government will give funds or help the ballet community. Not just the ballet community, but to help the arts here in the country, kasi we’re also tax payers. Nagbabayad kami ng tax pero wala halos projects for the arts. Hindi pa ganun ka- full support ang arts sa country. I think isang makakatulong din sa arts ay media talaga. Sana magkaroon din ng TV channel for the arts. Kasi ngayon kapag sinabi mo na dance, I think ang naiisip ay cheering and hip-hop.
EJA: Para sa masa kasi iba-iba naman ang impact ng ballet kasi hindi naman puro classical ang meron, meron ding modern ballet and contemporary. Feeling ko ang mga tao hindi pa masyado educated sa classical, yun yung less pinapanood.
How do you relay the feelings to your audience? How do you make them understand, especially feelings which are very abstract?
RW: Napaka-personal kasi ng bawat isa. Magkaiba kayo ng katawan, yung bigat ng ipapakita mong emotion. Bawat isa kasi may iba’t iba kasing experiences. Eventually, kasi sa art, yung mga experiences mo sa buhay yun yung hugot, yun yung gagamitin mo. Yun yung bala mo para maging kakaiba ka kasi pare-pareho niyo lang alam ang jump na ito pero iba-iba mo siya maipapakita. Pero actually kahit madami ka din experiences, kailangan mo din matutunan na iphysicalize yun.
JMC: In a simpler way, I guess. Ang ballet ay napakaa-physical. Ang ballet ay may technique. Ang ballet may mga demands, so I guess ang pinakachallenge ng isang ballet dancer ay maincorporate ang lahat ng requirements or technicalities sa katawan, which is iba’t-iba tayo ng katawan. It’s our job to incorporate the steps into our bodies. The more comfortable we get with the steps, the more emotions we can show. It boils down to your work at kung paano mo ipapakita yung individual differences ng tao.
DP: Yung character mo kasi kailangan mo siya ng pagkukuhanan. So yung interpretation mo ng characters, depende yun sa kung paano mo iniinterpret ang life mo. For example, Juliet. Na-in love siya. Siyempre kukunin mo yun depende sa definition mo kung paano ka ma-in love. So I think ang dance or interpretation ng characters, it’s very personal. That’s why different flavors every dance.
CAF: Of course you have to know your character first. It’s very hard to dance ballet, kasi unlike theater where they can speak, they can explain, in ballet, in dance, kailangan yung katawan mo. Kasi sometimes it’s very hard to balance the technique and the artistry. Kasi minsan too much technique, less artistry and for some, too much artistry, less technique. For me, like in theater arts, I create a character sketch in my imagination.
EJA: Ballet movements have its own logic. When telling a story hindi naman sila nilagay basta-basta dun. It has a purpose sa story mismo. And you put that movement into that story. Kung paano mo siya gawin, kunwari magpo-point ka dun, hindi ka naman magpo-point lang dun, halimbawa, magpo-point ka dahil may hinahanap ka.
DP: Number one dapat clear sa yo kung ano yung feelings. You have to know exactly how it feels because you don’t show it by showing it. You show it by feeling it. Especially sa big theaters. Hindi na nila makikita yung face mo so you have to show through movement parang you don’t show me sad face. You show me what sadness is and it’s easier to express if you have co-actors with you. For example, jealousy. So know how it feels then express through the body.
How do you improve your artistry?
DP: I explore. I go out and experience the real life. The more you experience, the more input you have. The more you have, the more you can share.
What or who are your inspirations?
JMC: Personally inspired ako sa legacy na iniwan ng past generations ng Ballet Philippines sa amin. So I need to continue what they have done before and I need to give it to the next generation.
RW: True. Hindi naman sa wala kaming iniidolo pero pinakita kasi nila na possible pala ito. So since nandyan kayo ngayon, kailangan niyo i-maintain or higitan pa ginawa namin. Feeling ko lahat sila diyan ay nakakainspire.
DP: Sometimes, I daydream and see the bigger picture. Sometimes, I watch videos and research my idol. People around you can also inspire you. And friendly competition is nice because it gives you a little push.
Ballet dancer that you look up to?
DP: Marianela Nunez, she’s from The Royal Ballet. Sobrang generous niyang mag-dance.
CAF: Sa international, si Mikhail Baryshnikov. He’s one of a kind; the artistry and the technique. Of course, yung mga inabutan ko na seniors pati yung mga teachers ko, Sir Luther Perez, Sir Tony.
What have been the challenges?
DP: Biggest challenge is the demand that ballet is asking from you. The amount of time, effort. hard work patience, sacrifices, pain, and tears na kailangan mo ibigay at i-go through. It’s not simple. It’s not just going to the studio and doing pliés and all.
Kindly describe the amount of discipline needed to become a great ballet dancer.
JMC: Ako, personally, I treat myself like an athlete. Do what athletes do. You have to take care of your body, eat well and focus on the tasks at hand. Athletes’ discipline eh, ganun ka kamotivated. And of course you have to follow the path na gusto sa inyo ng company or teachers. I think, listening sa mga nakakatanda, ang pangit kung nakakatanda eh, nakakaalam.
DP: Here, we work 2pm to 10pm on a normal day, if we’re on season. Ballet for me is equal to discipline. Ballet is a lifestyle. From the food you eat, to being humble enough to go to the studio every day and accept all your flaws and be more than willing to change it to be better.
Interview and Text – Dane Raymundo
Videography – Cris Legaspi and M Espeña
Editing – M Espeña