Nicole Barroso: Facing her biggest challenge yet

Nicole Barroso: Facing her biggest challenge yet

Nicole Barroso and Joshua Enciso perform the Peasant Pas de Deux in Dance Journeys, a recent showcase of dancers headed for competitions abroad. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

By Susan A. De Guzman

At the tender age of 16, Nicole Barroso can already be considered a ballet competition veteran. But even though she has already won various honors – or maybe precisely because of those – she knows she has to work doubly hard whenever she joins another competition.

After the hard work these past few months, Nicole Barroso is excited to finally compete at the “Olympics of Ballet” in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Nicole faces her biggest challenge yet as she and fellow Ballet Manila company artist Joshua Enciso engage in a dance-off with their peers at the 11th USA International Ballet Competition, being held June 10 to 23 in Jackson, Mississippi.

Nicole and Joshua are the first Filipino contenders to have secured coveted spots in the junior division of what has been dubbed as the “Olympics of Ballet.” They belong to a select group of only 53 picked by the highly competitive USA IBC for the 14-18 age group. (Another 65 dancers, aged 19 to 28, have been chosen for the senior division.)

Days before the pair left Manila, together with their coach, Ballet Manila co-artistic director Osias Barroso, Nicole admits to feeling the extra pressure.

In Jackson at last: Nicole Barroso and Joshua Enciso strike a ballet pose in front of the Thalia Mara Hall, venue of the 11th USA International Ballet Competition. Photo by Osias Barroso.

“All I can say po is grabe itong Jackson! Walang araw po yata na hindi ako umiyak,” the ballerina candidly confesses. (All I can say is that getting ready for Jackson is intense! There didn’t seem to be a day when I didn’t cry.)

Exhaustion, stress and frustration all contributed to her daily mini-breakdowns, she says, particularly when she couldn’t quite get the steps right or in instances when she couldn’t seem to gel with Joshua. “It’s my first time competing with a partner po and it’s quite different,” she shares.

Still, despite the difficulties, Nicole insists she has no regrets about throwing herself fully into preparing for Jackson.

“It taught me how to be stronger – physically, mentally and emotionally... how to deal with rehearsals even though bagsak na ang katawan. Laban lang po!” she chuckles. (…how to deal with rehearsals even though your body is down. Just keep on fighting!”

“I’m shocked and happy na apat po na pas de deux ang sinasayaw ko ngayon and nire-rehearse ng sabay-sabay!” the ballerina continues almost disbelievingly. (I’m shocked and happy that I’m dancing and rehearsing four pas de deux simultaneously!”

Nicole gets her ballet genes and training from her uncle and mentor, Ballet Manila co-artistic director Osias Barroso, who is also her coach for the USA IBC. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva

Nicole and Joshua are dancing Peasant Pas de Deux (from Giselle) and Diane and Acteon for their classical pieces, and Gerardo Francisco’s Fuga and George Birkadze’s Bru as their contemporary numbers.

Bru is a tango-inspired choreography that Nicole describes as “very me.” She likens the female character to Kitri, the feisty female protagonist of Don Quixote whom she absolutely loves. 

“The challenging part of the pas de deux is the connection and the story-telling. We need to be careful po not to overact it. ‘Yung focus, ‘yung intensity, hindi lang po puro habulan and masaya. Ang bawat phrase po nu’ng sayaw, iba-iba po ‘yung meaning. ‘Yung una, pa-hard to get, then next nag-aaway, next naglalambingan... We need to show the difference and tell the story,” Nicole relates. (The focus, the intensity – it can’t just be running after one another or being happy. Each phrase of the dance has a different meaning. At first, the girl is playing hard to get, then they fight, then they’re sweet to each other…)

The ballerina says she had a good working experience with George Birkadze, a prolific choreographer who is also a faculty member at the Boston Ballet School.

“At first, he looked very strict, but when we started rehearsing na po kabaliktaran po pala. He’s very kind and understanding.”

Nicole was particularly thrilled reading how he had described her in an interview, based on his observations as they worked on Bru. He complimented her as a hard worker and a natural, mature dancer who wants to nail the steps no matter how long it takes.

Rehearsing the tango-inspired Bru under the watchful eye of choreographer George Birkadze. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

“His words gave me some more motivation. It made me strive more, work more,” Nicole enthuses.

As for the other contemporary piece, Fuga, she can only characterize it as “A-ma-zing!” Fuga is a fast-paced but dramatic choreography depicting the refugee experience. Nicole says it is a dream-come-true for her to have something choreographed on her and her partner, in the tradition of Ballet Manila’s celebrated modern pieces such as MAZN, El Adwa and Arachnida.

“While Sir Geri was giving us steps before, napapa-wow po talaga ako. Grabe ‘yung stamina na kailangan po namin dito kasi it’s like a marathon. Labas-pasok sa stage, takbo across the stage. But ‘yung hugot na pinagkukuhanan namin dapat very strong talaga kasi ang bigat ng meaning ng sayaw po na ito,” Nicole relates. (I could only say “wow” when Sir Geri was just giving us steps before. It takes a lot of stamina to do this because it’s like a marathon. We enter and exit the stage, run across the stage. But we have to really dig deep because the dance has such a powerful meaning.”

Nicole and Joshua had a chance to perform the Peasant Pas de Deux and Bru at the recent Dance Journeys presented by Ballet Manila at Star Theater. The showcase featured dancers from BM and other schools and companies who are headed to competitions abroad.

Nicole celebrates with mentor Lisa Macuja-Elizalde after winning the silver medal in her age group in the 2016 Asian Grand Prix in Hong Kong. Photo from Nicole Barroso’s Facebook page

Though feeling the usual pre-competition jitters and wanting to still correct some things technique-wise, Nicole assures she is primed for whatever Jackson might bring. Apart from the competition itself, she’s looking forward to meeting dancers she only previously watched on YouTube.

Sa puso at isip ready na ready na po! (In heart and in mind, I’m so ready!) I’m really looking forward po sa competition!” she declares enthusiastically. “I feel very excited po. I can't wait to meet the talented dancers around the world same as my age, and also the seniors. I’m just happy that soon, I’ll be able to share my hard work and Ballet Manila’s training on a bigger stage. I just want to express my passion to the audience in Jackson.”

Win or lose, Nicole is sure of one thing: “Kung ano man po ang maging results nitong competition na ito, I've learned a lot and I’m excited to learn more!”

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