Arts & Culture

What Goes On Behind the Curtains of One of the Country's Leading Ballet Companies

How artistic director Alice Reyes is leading Ballet Philippines into its biggest season yet.
IMAGE COURTESY OF BALLET PHILIPPINES
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A number of internationally renowned ballet companies have been going live on Facebook today, October 2, hosting a campaign known as World Ballet Day. This celebration of ballet gives audiences the opportunity to take a virtual peek into the lives of these artists from various companies in a full day’s events.

To represent the Philippines, Town&Country is giving its readers a look backstage at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), where Ballet Philippines’ dancers are hard at work, perfecting their pirouettes and pas de deux a week before the stage curtain goes up once more.

We take our seats during one of the practice sessions for this weekend’s upcoming show, "The Innovators: Carmen and the Other Dances."

One of the show’s choreographers, Bam Damian, demonstrates a move by performing it alongside ballerina Denise Parungao. They’re gracefully rehearsing a scene from the beloved classic Carmen by Georges Bizet, while the suite’s recognizable "Aragonaise" plays in the background.


A preview of Bam Damian's version of Carmen

Who better to enjoy the rehearsal with than Alice Reyes herself, National Artist for Dance, the founder of Ballet Philippines (BP), and as of last year, its artistic director once more.

When Reyes made her return to helm Ballet Philippines last season, the company underwent a few major changes. In a single year, the group went from nine dancers to 32.

While it has grown exponentially in the past year, the audience has grown with it. BP has drawn in consistent audience counts of over 34,000 people in the last two years.

A growing repertoire

As an artist, however, Reyes knows that quantity isn’t everything. It’s her goal to continuously educate Philippine audiences and her own repertoire by introducing a number of new works, choreographies, and choreographers to her annual lineup.

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For this weekend’s upcoming show, for instance, the company has made sure to lure in the crowds by putting Carmen in the headlines, but the rest of the show includes lesser-known or entirely new pieces, such as Alden Lugnasin’s Swimming The Ilog Pasig, his own adorable take on swimming movements, which he worked on with singer/songwriter Joey Ayala. Choreographer Denisa Reyes revives Te Deum, which was made during the EDSA Revolution as a reflection of the collective socio-political consciousness at that time. Even the classic Carmen gets a reboot, as choreographer Bam Damian restages the ballet as a minimalist three-dancer piece. With these three different choreographers, audiences are in for a little bit of the classics, the contemporary, and the avant-garde.


Alden Lugnasin’s Swimming The Ilog Pasig

Equal stage time for all

It takes time for them to cast a piece, and decisions are never a done deal. “Kung hindi bagay ang isang tao, hindi bagay,” Reyes says firmly. “Sometimes you cast somebody and when you look back at it, it doesn’t work. I’m not afraid to put in somebody else because I don’t feel that I would be doing justice to the piece and to the dancer.” Since its repertoire is extensive, the dancers are sure to play another part.

Reyes makes it very clear that she does not play favorites. All of her dancers get ample stage time. Ballet Philippines dancers know well that they can play big roles now and then do small cameo roles later. “That’s how repertoire companies work,” Reyes tells us. “[The dancers] have to trust the decision that we make is good for them as individual artists,” she later adds.


Denisa Reyes' Te Deum

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Always up for a challenge

When it comes to casting, physical traits contribute to that decision. Factors like height for female dancers and strength for male dancers have to be taken into consideration. But in order for these dancers to diversify their craft, they will have to step out of these prejudices. In the next staging of Tales of the Manuvu, for example, Reyes admits she’s toying with the idea of casting against type. She wants to take someone who’s always played a hero to be the anti-hero for a change. When asked if she would always try to challenge her dancers, she replies, “Whenever I can.”

Though it’s a relatively small group, Ballet Philippines uses its number as a strength. When the company performed in China, Reyes recounts how the Chinese audiences were “bowled over” by the dancers’ versatility—one minute they were dancing classical pieces and the next, they had ditched the pointe shoes and had gone barefoot for Amada. Being part of a small company allows the dancers to dip their toes into different roles. “People liked to put dancers in a box,” says Reyes, “They say, ’Oh, you’re a classical dancer, you’re a modern dancer, you’re a folk dancer,’ but that’s long gone.”


Jemima Reyes as the storyteller in Denisa Reyes' Love Lies Bleeding

No off-seasons

Once the 49th season ends with Tales of the Manuvu, the company will quickly begin to prepare for its highly-anticipated 50th year in 2019. Reyes plans to start strong with Swan Lake and then end with Rama Hari.

For dancers of Ballet Philippines, there is no off-season. “The moment we’re done in March, we’re doing a summer workshop and during that time we’re doing two things: working on presenting the newest studies of younger choreographers and touring.”

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But despite the hectic working schedule, more dancers are knocking on the company’s door, longing to apply, and morale in the studios is as high as ever.


Catch "The Innovators: Carmen and Other Dances" on October 5 to 7 at the CCP Main Theater. For tickets and more information, visit ballet.ph.

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About The Author
Hannah Lazatin
Senior Staff Writer
Hannah is a communications graduate from Ateneo de Manila University. She’s originally from Pampanga and from a big, close-knit family who likes to find a reason to get together at the dinner table. Experiences inspire her. “Once, at a restaurant, I received an interpretation of my second name ‘Celina,’ and it meant 'someone who tries everything once' and that is me through and through,” she says. As for the job, she wants her “readers to be inspired by the stories of the people we feature and to move them to reach for greater things.”
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