Ballet Manila School holds first-ever exams for students

Ballet Manila School holds first-ever exams for students

The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde (standing, center) poses with the Level 3 girls in Donada, Pasay. They were among the students who took the school’s ballet exams being administered for the first time.

For the first time in its 23-year history, The Lisa Macuja School of Ballet Manila conducted examinations for its classical ballet students in its branches in Pasay and Quezon City.

School director and Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde declared the exams held on May 11 and 12 as “resounding successes,” with the students being very well-rehearsed and looking strong and confident.

She also praised the faculty whom she said “delivered a vocabulary-packed examination material.”

The teachers included BM co-artistic director Osias Barroso, rehearsal mistress Eileen Lopez and Robert Peralta for school’s Pasay branch located on Donada Street, and Sofia Peralta and Czarina Villegas for the Quezon City branch found in Fisher Mall.

The examinations jury in the two venues consisted of BM rehearsal master Jonathan Janolo, principal dancer Gerardo Francisco and soloist Tiffany Chiang-Janolo.

The exams were held for Level 1B to Level 3 classes and Boys’ Class.

The introduction of ballet examinations is seen as a step towards further developing and expanding the school, and ensuring that both teachers and students are adhering to the rigorous Vaganova method.

“It was the right time to make this addition to our school system,” says Macuja-Elizalde. “The goals really are to be able to monitor all our students and monitor and guide our teachers and students accordingly. The examinations are meant to improve the skills of both students and teachers. And to exact the highest standards of performance in the school.”

When Macuja-Elizalde first broached the idea of holding school examinations to Barroso and other BM colleagues – as she had been used to in Russia where she had trained at the Vaganova Choreographic Institute – she said they were all for it although they admitted to a certain degree of nervousness.

“But being nervous is good. It means we all cared how the exams would work out. We also devoted an entire day in teachers’ training for the exams,” said Macuja-Elizalde.

At the Fisher Mall branch with some of the examinees: (standing from left), teacher Sofia Peralta, juror Gerardo Francisco, school director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, jurors Tiffany Chiang-Janolo and Jonathan Janolo and teacher Czarina Villegas. Photo by Icet Barroso

Under the new set-up, the teacher is given a list of dance vocabulary per level that must be presented in a series of combinations by the students within an hour’s time. The exam material is choreographed and rehearsed by the teacher like a performance of a ballet class and presented to the jury during the exam proper. The student must then be able to execute the entire dance vocabulary of their respective levels at a passing level.

In the past, promotions to the next levels were based solely on the teacher’s recommendation.

Passing the exams, however, does not guarantee automatic promotion to the next level.

Macuja-Elizalde explained, “It all depends on the performance, the teacher and jury recommendation and the knowledge and skill level of the student. It’s really not about repeating but reaching a certain strength and skill level.”

The exams are optional for now, although Macuja-Elizalde noted that all the students looked forward and trained hard for the testing.

She said the eventual plan is to make the exams a bi-annual event. Another round is being scheduled in December, and the next one after that in May 2019.

Macuja-Elizalde expressed satisfaction with the results of the first-ever examinations in her school. “All in all, both the teachers and their students performed very, very well for these exams. It was a bit of a trial or experiment and I must say the exams this summer intensive were resounding successes.”

She said there are ways in which they can improve in future examinations. For example, the Level 1A class in Pasay proved too big to manage in one exam so next time, the large classes will be divided into two.

She added the future juries would be bigger, consisting of fix to six members, to guarantee a more meticulous observation of the students.

An assessment meeting with all the teachers will be held soon to identify the ways in which the exams can further be improved on.

Macuja-Elizalde underscored that the beauty of the exams in the Vaganova system is that the teachers are responsible for creating the combinations for their respective students and the best possible way to present the students to the jury.

“Combinations are not dictated by something written in a book with music assigned by someone else like in other exam systems, but consist of actual vocabulary learned daily in class. So exams become a collaboration between teachers and students and ultimately test the teachers as well,” she concluded.

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