Godwin Merano: Born to dance
By Susan A. De Guzman
Godwin Merano is a standout among his peers – literally. At 6’2”, he is the tallest dancer in Ballet Manila. But while height may be an asset for some, in his field, it sometimes becomes a liability.
“Being a tall dancer, it's definitely not easy to move,” he admits. “Long limbs take up so much more space given such little time. Naturally I'm very flexible and so it was and still is very hard to control myself when I dance so that I don't hop and move around so much. Even jumping, I think it's hard for me to control my body in landings and during air time.”
But the training he’s been getting at Ballet Manila – supplementing an already extensive ballet education – has helped him overcome his limitations and make him a stronger dancer. At the recently concluded CCP Ballet Competition, Godwin’s clean lines and polished performance earned him the top honors in the Senior Category.
To many in the audience, it became very evident early on that he would win. He gave outstanding performances of Albrecht’s variation from Giselle as his classical number and Ernest Mandap’s Bella Vita as his modern piece.
Godwin is still pinching himself though that it had actually happened. “As cliché as it sounds, I couldn't believe it,” he says of the moment his name was announced onstage as the first prize winner. “Of course when competing you want more than anything to win, but you also just want to do your best. As Teacher Shaz (Osias Barroso) told all of us competitors, it's not just about the prize and winning, it's about the experience and what you take out of the competition. It's about doing your absolute best and knowing that you danced well. So when I got called, I was absolutely dumbfounded and on cloud nine. It was really a shock.”
For him, it was an affirmation that he had made the right decision to transplant himself to the Philippines just a few short months before. Godwin was born in Canada but lived for the first six years of his life in the Philippines. His mom, Grace, wanted to instill the Filipino culture in him and for him to get to know his family here. For his schooling years, Grace decided to take him back to Canada where he would grow into his teens and come into his own.
Even as a little boy, Godwin was already interested in dance. He remembers that during his early years in Dolores, Quezon, he would join talent shows as part of his daycare center’s dance group. They would compete with groups from other schools or towns, performing such folk dances as the tinikling. Typically, the contests would be held in basketball courts and makeshift stages in small towns. “Not to be boastful, but I'm pretty sure my daycare always won naman po,” he chuckles.
At that young age, he was already very flexible and could execute middle splits quite easily. In Canada, his curiosity and passion for dance grew even more. Ballet came “late” in his life, says Godwin – at age 12. He learned about it through the Internet and in books. He remembers borrowing a particular book from the library numerous times as it was all about ballet. He wanted to know more about this dance considered as the purest form of classical art.
“What actually inspired me though po, was Mikhail Baryshnikov. Considered and still is one of the greatest ballet dancers of all time, I stumbled upon his Albrecht in Giselle Act 2 variation on YouTube and I was in absolute awe. It fascinated me how a man can jump and spin like that. It didn't seem at all possible. Like he was edited on my computer screen. When I learned about this amazing thing called ballet, I told my mom I needed to be a part of it, and so I decided I wanted to audition for a ballet school.”
Godwin is grateful that his mom supported his interest in dance. With her blessings, he tried out for a spot in Canada’s National Ballet School – and was accepted. NBS is private school that holds national audition tours every year to look for talents all over Canada. Those selected are invited to their summer program, after which, the candidate is taken in or let go. “As you can see naman po, at a young age I had to deal with the possibilities of being rejected. Thankfully, I was never let go,” Godwin says.
The grueling process of eliminations at the school continued every year. “It was hard for a lot of us po. Imagine after the end of each year, after making strong bonds and connections with people you saw every day, you would then all of a sudden be faced to say goodbye to them as they weren't invited back. Naturally you would ask yourself, why me? Why did I stay and not them? But it's lessons like these that only made my batch closer and stronger as a class.”
At NBS, the curriculum combined academics and ballet. Godwin treasures the seven years he spent at the school where he really immersed in dancing under the guidance of esteemed mentors and among friends who understood the joys and challenges of the discipline. It was also where he learned to be independent as students stayed in a dorm.
After graduation, Godwin had the opportunity to train at the Nationale Ballet Academie in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. “It was like being in a company and school. It wasn't so strict like being back at school in NBS but it wasn't like company life where we would be paid and perform a lot. It was a place where I could explore my artistic abilities po, but still be taught and guided to do certain things.”
On a visit to the Philippines in 2012, Godwin’s mom surprised him by taking him to the Aliw Theater to see a Ballet Manila performance. There, they got to meet artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde whom they had photographs taken with. Godwin had actually known about Ballet Manila since he started his own ballet training. “My mom explained to me about Ma'am Lisa. She described her as the prima ballerina of the Philippines. And she so very much is po. I think it's absolutely touching and humbling to see Ma'am Lisa present ballet for the people. She gives children the chance to dance and she makes their talent flourish.”
Last March, while he was on another vacation in the Philippines, Godwin decided to take class with Ballet Manila. Mom Grace even saved the date of his first class with BM – March 9, 2016.
Showing promise and potential, he was soon offered a trainee position after finishing the summer program. “My mom was absolutely thrilled. My mom is honestly the most caring and supportive mother there is out there. The sacrifices she's made just for me is beyond me, and so getting into Ballet Manila, she was naturally there, as she always is. She was ecstatic for me to start this new chapter.”
Being in Manila would mean separation from his mom, however, and Godwin had to think things through thoroughly. “Leaving home isn't easy; I don't think it ever will be. It was also difficult to think I'd be faced with new people, new teachers, let alone a ‘new’ language and culture. But it's the difficult moments in life where I know in myself that I can learn from. So yes, it was difficult, but it was a challenge I wanted to accept.”
“He struggled a lot in the beginning,” shares Osias Barroso, Ballet Manila co-artistic director. “He has a beautiful body, but was quite weak. But he has sincerity and dedication and is very willing to learn. He never complained and never caused any problem. And he’s very respectful. He even had several injuries in the course of his training and in preparing for the CCP competition, but in the end, his performance stood out.”
Macuja-Elizalde adds, “Godwin needed strengthening and performance experience and I believe that in less than a year, he has definitely improved so much, and his first place in the competition certainly validates it.”
What made that night more special for Godwin was having his mom Grace watching in the audience as he competed. “She came to surprise me the week before. She flew all the way from Toronto just to see me dance and to support me. Of course, she's seen me dance numerous times back home, but for her to see me dance here in the country where she was born was an absolute honor and a dream come true. It meant the whole world to me.”
Godwin gets another opportunity to shine in Ballet Manila’s Cinderella as Lisa – who choreographed the major production – tapped him to play the formidable Dance Master tasked to train the wicked stepsisters. “A teacher that's very scary and almost godly, someone that the stepsisters have to impress very much, but someone like Cinderella can learn from,” describes Godwin. “There's a lot going on with the character emotionally but I hope I can capture Ma'am Lisa's hope and vision. Being part of a brand new work is amazing. Seeing it unfold is incredible. I'm thankful to be a part of the creative process.”
For now, Godwin is simply enjoying his time with Ballet Manila. What he particularly likes about training with the company is that he is given the chance to be who he is. “As a dancer, it's always such a great feeling when your teachers and mentors give you the trust to dance freely. Here at BM, they do exactly that. They don't try and make me a carbon copy of the other guys here. They give me the artistic freedom.”
Similarly, he likes the focus given not just on technique or artistry, but the whole picture. “I think it's hard to find that. A lot of times, places look just for body, or tricks. But here, they really care about your overall look, they care of course about every detail, but they equally care about what goes to make that detail whole and presentable.”
At 20, Godwin is looking forward to what lies ahead. He may be a newcomer, but his goal in BM is to eventually dance his dream roles in full-length ballets such as Albrecht in Giselle, Prince Desiré in The Sleeping Beauty and the Golden Idol in La Bayadere. He realizes he has a long way to go, but the prospect challenges him anew.
“I know, of course, it will take a lot of hard work, focus and dedication. But it is something I am willing to work for.”