Osias Barroso and Nicole Barroso: Ballet is in their blood

Osias Barroso and Nicole Barroso: Ballet is in their blood

In a rare opportunity, Neeka is partnered by Shaz as he was teaching her an excerpt from Don Quixote. Video clip by Eileen Lopez

By Jv Ramos

Like in any field that requires one’s lifelong dedication, families are either made and strengthened or separated in ballet. Ballet Manila is no stranger to this. Through the years, some of its dancers have found their significant others within the company and eventually married. Mother-daughter tandems and siblings (twins included) have delighted numerous audiences as they performed side by side onstage. And then, we have the dancers who made that brave decision of moving away from their homes to be able to hone their talent and contribute to the art.

In his years as a danseur, Shaz partnered Lisa Macuja-Elizalde in Don Quixote numerous times, including in Russia. Photo from the Ballet Manila Archives collection

In the case of the dancing Barrosos, namely Ballet Manila’s co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso and his 16-year-old multi-awarded niece, Nicole “Neeka” Barroso, we find an extraordinary fusion of both family-strengthening and separation.

The story of their rare ballet connection began, as the junior ballerina recalls it, in a hospital room. Neeka, who was only five at that time, other members of the Barroso clan, and people close to her uncle Shaz were visiting the acclaimed danseur who had just undergone an operation. During that unintended get-together, Neeka’s father, whom she would often refer to as “makulit at maingay (insistent and talkative),” bragged that his daughter could do ballet, and told her to show off her moves to the adults.

Don Quixote, new generation: Neeka performs with Joshua Enciso. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Willingly and happily, Neeka obeyed her father’s request and began to perform in front of the small audience which included Shaz’s other half in the world of ballet, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde herself. “Dahil di ko pa alam ang ballet, kikay-kikay moves muna ang pinerform ko (Because I didn’t really know ballet, all I did was perform cutesy dance moves) in front of Ma’am Lise,” shares a slightly embarrassed Neeka. “Tapos ‘yon, in-invite akong mag-class dito, and then tuloy-tuloy na (So there, she invited me to take classes in BM, and I never stopped doing so since I started).”

As it turns out, that incident in the hospital wasn’t the only time Neeka displayed her innate love for performing and spontaneous choreography. Shaz recalls that she once practiced dancing in front of a crowd in Harrison Plaza, and even choreographed a dance for a wedding before her tween years.

Shaz, therefore, knew that Neeka was a ballerina-in-the-making even before she actually fell in love with the dance form. “Doon pa lang, obviously, may factor siya na every ballerina should have – ‘yung makapal na mukha (I saw at an early age that obviously she had a factor that every ballerina should have – the confidence to perform in front of others),” he notes laughingly. “And when you’d look at her whenever she attended class, you could tell that she really enjoyed it.”

Shaz draws on his experiences as a danseur in teaching the dancers of Ballet Manila today. Photo from the Ballet Manila Archives collection

“Happy po ako noon kapag nag-ba-ballet (I was always happy whenever I’d do ballet back then),” confirms his niece who shares that she looked forward to weekends because these meant that she could do ballet.

But what you’d expect to be a tight uncle-niece combo in the ballet studio took a different direction. Instead of giving Neeka special attention, Shaz stuck with his conviction of pursuing perfection in ballet; and to achieve that, he would have to impose strict discipline on everyone who showed interest in his art even if it happened to be his niece.

“Ever since she started to come out as a dancer, I really said that I would segregate myself,” proclaims Shaz, carefully choosing his words. “So, I am Barroso the teacher; I was never Barroso, the uncle.”

Neeka admits that she didn’t grasp this principle of his in the beginning. “Dati, ‘Tito’ pa ang tawag ko sa kanya, pero na-realize ko na dapat ‘Sir Shaz’ pala… At noong bata pa ako, naiiyak-iyak pa ako kapag sinisigawan ako (Before, I would call him ‘Tito’, but I realized that I should address him as ‘Sir Shaz’ instead… And when I was still a child, I would be teary-eyed whenever he’d raise his voice at me in class).”

Seeing that her uncle’s methods were necessary in polishing and perfecting the technique of her fellow dancers, Neeka’s outlook changed. She comments on the instances wherein “Sir Shaz” would call her attention, “Pero kapag naiisip ko ‘yung point niya, nakikita ko na iba ‘yung sigaw sa sinisigaw niya. Nakakakaba ang sigaw pero tama naman ang sinisigaw niya (But when you think of things in his point of view, I see that his yelling is different from the message that he’s imparting. When someone shouts, you get nervous, and sometimes fail to realize that what he’s screaming is good for you).”

At 16, Neeka already counts several ballet awards to her name including first-place finish in the CCP Ballet Competition in 2016. Photo by Kiko Cabuena courtesy of CCP

Di ko na rin po masyadong iniisip na tito ko siya. Kasi hindi talaga dapat (I really don’t think about the fact that he’s my uncle. I really shouldn’t),” concludes this much grounded teen. She then echoes her uncle’s disposition, “It’s [their relationship] really teacher and dancer, teacher and student.”

Though detached from family for art’s sake, Shaz has his ways of showing affection and concern for Neeka. He, for example, would look through her Facebook account to catch up on her life, especially when she’s away from the studio, and would comment whenever he disapproved of something.

 “Si Sir Shaz naman hindi siya ‘yung type na marami ang sinasabi (Sir Shaz isn’t the type who would say many things),” notes Neeka. “Isang word lang niya, kailangan dapat ma-gets mo ‘yon. So, noong nag-comment siya ng `Tattered’ sa post ko, ang ibig sabihin talaga nito ay `Bakit ka naka-tattered jeans?’ (All he has to do is say one word, and you’re supposed to get that immediately. So, when he commented `tattered’ on my post [a photo post revealing that Neeka was in tattered jeans while on a flight to the UK for a ballet workshop], what he really meant was, `Why are you wearing tattered jeans? That’s wrong!’).”

Moreover, shockingly and unexpectedly, Shaz would sometimes tell Neeka or even loudly proclaim that he’s very proud of his pamangkin whenever she does well in competitions and festivals. When Neeka was named the first placer in the CCP Ballet Competition’s junior category last year, Shaz couldn’t help but yell for everyone in the theater to hear – “That’s my pampangkin!” – using an affectionate version of the Filipino word for niece. Onstage, as she received her prize, Neeka’s heart swelled as she heard that familiar voice.

“Happy place ko po ‘yung mga memories na ‘yun (Those memories of him expressing that he’s proud of me have become my happy place),” shares Neeka.

When Neeka won back-to-back silver medals at the Asian Grand Prix in 2015 (left) and in 2016, Shaz was right there by her side cheering her on.

“Whenever she competes, I would watch her the same way as I watch everyone else,” points out Shaz. “But there are moments when the uncle in me kicks in at naiiyak ako (and I become teary-eyed). But, you know, (I have to) move on (from that affection).”

Due to the necessary professional wall he built between him and his niece, it’s rare to see these two Barrosos partnering, even inside the studio. But the opportunity did present itself mid-2017 – when Joshua Enciso, Neeka’s dance partner, was not around and Shaz had to fill in for his spot so she could learn an excerpt from Don Quixote. “Nanginginig ako nu’n (I was shaking during that time),” confesses Neeka when asked about her experience being partnered by her perfectionist tito, even just in rehearsals.

As a mentor, Shaz is sparing in his praise of Neeka; but once in a while, he is simply a proud uncle to her. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Siyempre nakakahiya kapag nagkamali ka. Lahat ng gagawin ni Sir Shaz tama. So kung may mali, ikaw talaga ‘yun. (Obviously, it’s embarrassing if you make a mistake. Everything that Sir Shaz does is perfect. If a mistake happens during our dance together, it’s obviously me who’s at fault).”

Inspite of the constant intimidation she feels, Neeka shares that Shaz is her motivation to keep pursuing her ballet dreams. “Hindi madali ang pinagdaanan niya (His journey to become a great danseur and ballet teacher wasn’t easy),” comments Neeka, as she recalls the experiences she has heard her uncle had gone through at a time when ballet wasn’t that acceptable a career choice for boys.

“’You have to fight!’ ‘Yun ang sinasabi niya di lang sa akin pero sa lahatNa lumaban ka rin ang advice niya na talagang tumanim sa akin. Na-apply ko ito outside ballet and inside the studio. (That’s what he would tell me and everyone else… That you have to fight is the advice that really hit and worked for me. I was able to apply this outside ballet and inside the studio.) You have to fight for what you want!”

Asked what the future holds for Neeka, Shaz surprises her niece with the answer: “You know, if she really wants to and if she stays here in BM, she can become a principal.”

Just like “Sir Shaz,” Neeka wants to enjoy a long and fruitful career in ballet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

And just as the younger Barroso is allowing her uncle’s once-in-a-blue-moon compliment to sink in, he immediately follows this up with a critique. “But the body, especially the legs… Tignan mo ‘yung legs ko. Sexy kahit ilang taon na ako! (Just compare our legs. Mine are very fit despite my age),” Shaz teases his niece.

After a long period of laughter, Shaz returns to his usual teacher mode and pronounces, “I always tell the ladies, ‘Tignan n’yo si Lisa’ (Look at and emulate what Lisa did). Lisa never got involved with anyone (when she was younger)… Lisa is different, also Katherine Barkman (BM’s principal dancer). Makikita mo na may dream talaga sila (You could really see that they have this dream) that they want to fulfill. Nothing can stop them.”

Silenced by her uncle’s affectionate teasing and minor scolding, Neeka nods her head knowing that though they’re living in different times, she will have to work and fight hard to have a long and fruitful ballet career.

As the conversation ends, the promising ballerina – eleven years after she was enrolled in her first ballet class at age five – projects a sweet smile. But her eyes are determined, seemingly echoing the words she had mentioned at the beginning of our interview: “Wala akong planong tumigil. Lalaban ako! (To stop dancing has never crossed my mind. I will fight!)”

Ballet Manila co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso and niece, company artist Nicole “Neeka” Barroso, have a shared passion for ballet. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Ballet Manila caps 2017 with Aliw Award for ‘Ibong Adarna’

Ballet Manila caps 2017 with Aliw Award for ‘Ibong Adarna’

This Month in BM History: December 2003

This Month in BM History: December 2003