Ballet Manila's young dancers learn on and off the stage in Taiwan
By Giselle P. Kasilag
For over two decades, the unwavering mission of Ballet Manila has been to bring ballet to the people – those who wish to watch quality performances, those who wish to learn the art form, and even those who have never heard of ballet. And for co-artistic director Osias “Shaz” Barroso, this mission which he shares with artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, remains unchanged.
His recent trip to Taipei, Taiwan is proof of this steadfast commitment. Working with the Zhongli Youth Ballet, he brought five of Ballet Manila’s young company members for a performance together with its students.
After Shaz conducted a workshop with the Taiwanese school in 2018, Ballet Manila and the Zhongli Youth Ballet have been enjoying productive ties, with the latter even sending students to the former’s Summer Intensive this year. The leaders of both groups are hoping that this art exchange will continue and bring forth a new generation of Asian dancers steeped in the discipline and technique of the Vaganova method. The rising number of students expressing interest in traveling to Manila for the advanced training only serves to strengthen this bond.
Shaz laughingly admitted, though, that the interest – while already on the rise – grew significantly after the visit of the team in August. With soloist Joshua Enciso, and company artists Shaira Comeros, Alvin Dictado, Rafael Perez, and Brian Sevilla, assisting in classes and performing at the recital, many were obviously smitten by their good looks as well as their talent.
Knowing from firsthand experience how difficult it can be to find interested students, Shaz had no qualms about using this to his advantage. If it will get kids through the door, he would happily take it. But keeping the younger dancers interested and focused is another matter. Sharing his own wealth of experience can be a daunting task in today’s fast-paced world.
“It’s very difficult to share because there’s no time. Now it’s different. People come and go; they do ballet; there’s no time for chit-chat. That’s where sharing happens. It’s when you talk. It’s when you sit and have coffee or dinner and that’s the time you share. It’s difficult! But I try,” explained Barroso.
The Taiwan experience, however, became an opportunity for the five dancers to exhibit their growing maturity – both as dancers and as young professionals. It began upon arrival when they were whisked straight to the barre.
“Pagkadating na pagkadating po namin, deretso po kami ng studio. Nagklase po agad,” shared Joshua. But they knew they were there to work so no complaints were heard and the group immediately performed the required combinations to Shaz’s satisfaction.
While in Taiwan, Rafael recalled that they would wake up at 7 a.m., have breakfast, then head to studio for the class that would begin at 9 a.m., followed by rehearsals from noon to 5 p.m.
During their free time, with their newfound friends, they had a chance to try the local food, play at a shooting gallery, and explore the night market. Brian, Shaira and Alvin managed to land themselves their dinner of fish and shrimps in a restaurant. Brian won a stuffed toy as well. And a trip to Taipei would not be complete with stinky tofu and milk tea.
At Zhongli Youth Ballet, the dancers appreciated the warm welcome that the students showed them. They described everyone as being so kind, from the students to the parents and teachers. But the kids took a particular fancy to Shaira, 19, whom they mistook for a twelve-year-old.
Communication was really a challenge but with a lot of sign language, they managed to get their message across. Everyone immediately learned the basic greetings. Brian and Rafael also learned to count from one to ten in Chinese. But for everything else, the universal language of dance was enough.
“Minsan, sa class, hindi nila agad makuha ‘yung tinuturo ni Sir Shaz so tinutulungan namin (Sometimes in class, they didn’t immediately absorb what Sir Shaz was teaching, so we helped them a bit),” explained Joshua.
“Pero tuwang-tuwa naman po sila Maggie (Chien) kasi ‘yung feed sa Facebook page nila galing du’n sa parents, sobrang gandang-ganda daw po sila sa show,” observed Rafael.
Clearly many lessons have been learned. At the end of the week-long visit, the five young dancers of Ballet Manila came to have a better understanding not just of the ballet techniques but the challenges of running a ballet school and a ballet company as well.
“These kids! I always tell them, whatever they do now, it will reflect on their futures,” said Shaz with more than a hint of pride in his voice. “The tour was a revelation. It was my first time and I brought in my dancers. It was very fulfilling because it showed off Ballet Manila and the teaching we can offer. The project is finished. It is up to them to carry on. It’s now all up to them."