Ballet Manila brings Vaganova to Mumbai

Ballet Manila brings Vaganova to Mumbai

Teacher Czarina has been conducting ballet classes in the Vaganova style in Mumbai since August. Photo courtesy of Rhythmus Happyfeet’s Facebook page

From St. Petersburg to Manila to Mumbai. That’s the route the Vaganova ballet technique and training system has traveled, as Lisa Macuja-Elizalde learned it in Russia, then espoused by her company Ballet Manila since its inception in 1995 and today, taught to students in India’s largest city by a BM teacher.

Since August, Czarina Villegas, faculty member at the Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila, has been teaching Vaganova at the Rhythmus Happy Feet (RHF) dance school in Mumbai. Villegas handles various classes with a total of 60 to 70 students in four studios found in Juhu, Powai, Khar and Wadala. These classes include baby ballet, prep class, level 1 (advanced) and even adult ballet.

“I’ve been enjoying the classes because the kids are very nice. They are disciplined, well-behaved and eager to learn. Nakakatuwa po,” says Villegas, a former BM soloist who has been teaching at the Ballet Manila School.

Villegas' six-month assignment is part of an ongoing collaboration between BM and RHF aimed at helping popularize ballet in India.

RHF co-owner Deepika Ravindran says there are only a few ballet schools in Mumbai, and in India as a whole. There are no ballet companies, so there are no ballet productions to speak of except for recitals staged by schools.

“There has been a sudden growth in small classes teaching ballet in Mumbai,” cites Ravindran whose school also teaches ballet, jazz, hiphop, funk, creative movement and Bollywood dance.

Her students in India – including these three girls from Powai – are very eager to learn ballet, says Czarina. Photo courtesy of Czarina Villegas’ Facebook page

Ravindran describes Villegas' teaching stint as a leap forward in the partnership with BM. “Czarina teaches in the Vaganova method and the same syllabus that is used to teach students in BM.”

Villegas has also been working on RHF's second production to be staged at the school’s annual recital. Scheduled on December 9, the recital will feature Act 2 of The Nutcracker with Ballet Manila soloists Joan Emery Sia and Elpidio Magat playing Clara and the Nutcracker Prince.

“We thank Lisa Macuja-Elizalde for this wonderful opportunity of letting them share the stage with our students. This would be the first time where ballet students in Mumbai will get to watch professional ballet dancers ‘live’,” shares Ravindran.

Macuja-Elizalde was very confident Villegas could adequately take on the classes in Mumbai. “As a dancer, Czarina has always been a very reliable company member, responsible and disciplined. Artistically, Czarina was a quiet but very hard worker and her strength built up through the years of performing. She was especially effective in the pas de deux with Eric Mallari in Manuel Molina's Love Beyond Goodbye which earned her a promotion to soloist.

“As a teacher, Czarina has the academic foundation of her De La Salle degree in Arts Management and the knowledge and skills of her experience as a company member and faculty member of BM. Her experience includes teaching all levels and choreographing for the Just Dance recitals.”

Before Villegas left, Macuja-Elizalde gave her one important advice: “To always make the ballet class a fun and enjoyable experience for herself and for her students.”

Ravindran points out that Villegas also trained a few select students to perform in a ballet competition in Delhi where one of them, Dhvani Patel, eventually won first place in her category.

Villegas also participated in last month’s Ballet Festival of India, the first such event in the country, as a teacher.

Ballet Manila soloists Joan Emery Sia and Elpidio Magat are featured in Rhythmus Happyfeet’s annual recital where they will perform with the school’s students in Act 2 of The Nutcracker.

The BM-RHF connection began in 2015 when the Mumbai school invited BM to examine and give grades to its students. Macuja-Elizalde delegated co-artistic director Osias Barroso to conduct the examinations and also to teach a one-on-one teacher’s course for Ravindran.

The school founders, Ravindran and Swara Patel, were keen on learning more about the Vaganova ballet technique that Ballet Manila is known for and which they had heard about previously.

Ravindran subsequently attended The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila’s 2015 summer workshop.

In 2016, BM hosted two Indian girls from RHF for BM’s summer workshop. Ravindran came with them to teach Bollywood dance classes in the same workshop.

This year, Patel and Ravindran came to Manila with five students for the summer program. Ravindran stayed on for the next few months so she could take additional classes with BM while Villegas was sent to India.

Macuja-Elizalde said the collaboration between the two institutions will continue indefinitely. Barroso is scheduled to go to Mumbai again in January 2018 to give examinations to RHF students.

The BM-RHF collaboration has been great, according to Ravindran. “It's a big boon because our students have the opportunity to attend the summer intensive at BM and watch professional ballerinas perform. This motivates and inspires them to do better. They also get to watch and learn with kids their age and get to know the possibilities in ballet for students their age.”

Ballet Manila’s Czarina Villegas coached six students from Rhythmus Happyfeet who competed in the Mosaic of Dance competition in Delhi last October Dhvani Patel (leftmost) won first place in her category. Photo courtesy of Czarina Villegas’ Facebook page

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