Marcelino Libao: Dancing over difficult waters

Marcelino Libao: Dancing over difficult waters

Marcelino Libao’s Paloma Muerta premiered in 2017 featuring Hamburg Ballet’s Jacopo Bellussi and Mayo Arii. Photo by Kiran West

By Giselle P. Kasilag

The Hamburg Ballet has been home to Marcelino Libao for the last nine years. With the prestigious German company, he has steadily built a career both as a dancer and a choreographer – honing his talent in an environment that is rich with encouragement and resources. Having been raised by a family with the same spirit of generosity, his work with the company has come to reinforce and reflect this value.

Thus, it did not come as a surprise that all it took was a Facebook message to convince Marcelino to come home to the Philippines and take part in a fundraising concert. Tuloy ang Saya-wan on July 21, 3 p.m., at Star Theater aims to raise funds for Ballet Manila and Academy One and their respective ballet scholarship programs for street children and marginalized Filipino youth. The former has been sustaining its Project Ballet Futures for many years, while the latter has partnered with Tuloy Foundation to train young talents.

Paloma Muerta explores the dangers of love. In this photo is Hamburg Ballet’s Yaiza Coll. Photo by Kiran West

“I was invited by (Ballet Manila artistic director) Lisa Macuja-Elizalde via Facebook, which I humbly responded to without any hesitation, a YES. I am a huge activist on helping others, as I was raised by a family who loves to give back. So when Lisa mentioned a fundraiser for Project Ballet Futures and Tuloy Foundation, I didn’t even think twice!”

This is not Marcelino’s first partnership with Ballet Manila. In 2013, the company produced Stars of Philippine Ballet which brought home Filipino dancers from all over the world in a unique showcase of homegrown talents. He performed with fellow Hamburg Ballet dancer, Mayo Arii, giving the Manila audience a taste of what he has learned in Europe.

Since then, he has returned regularly to Manila to support various fundraising projects for young dancers. With this latest opportunity to team up with Ballet Manila, however, Marcelino will be pushing the envelope with a special collaboration. He will be bringing with him his own choreography, Paloma Muerta, which will be performed by the dancers of Ballet Manila. 

“Although the original plan was for me to dance with a girl in the company, I suggested why not do one of my choreographies,” explained Marcelino. “I always wondered how Filipino audiences will react to my choreography, though I do not choreograph for ‘success’ but for the love of art. I also want to able to work with Ballet Manila on that kind of level. I was always fascinated by the dancers of BM, so choosing a piece for them was exciting for me!”

Performing his piece are principal dancers Joan Emery Sia and Mark Sumaylo, soloist Nicole Barroso, and company artists Brian Sevilla and Rafael Perez. This will be the first time that Paloma Muerta will be performed in the Philippines.

Unafraid to show love, Marcelino Libao’s Paloma Muerta highlights the different aspects of this emotion. Photo taken by Silvano Ballone

“As a Filipino, I am proud to say that I love ‘LOVE.’ I grew up not being ashamed to show love. So as I left to pursue dance in Germany, reality in life hits and of course there are good days and bad days. So when it’s tough, I’ve learnt to express myself in my art form, and so Paloma Muerta was born. I wanted to show how love, in all its wonder and beauty, has its danger. I created two worlds that will collide in this piece, a man and a woman’s struggling relationship, and the birds. Why birds? Well, the female bird especially in this piece falls in love with the man. Though her love is so strong and full of passion, it doesn’t mean the man will ever love the bird back. Obviously, the example is not realistic, but one can learn from nature. And of course, the struggles of the man and woman’s relationship are free for anybody’s understanding. I think every couple or person who has seen this piece at its premiere in Hamburg has managed to relate on one or even all the characters, then I knew I did something right with the piece.”

He explained that there will be tweaks to the choreography to make the dancers feel like the piece was made for them. He has seen Joan, Mark and Nicole perform in his previous visits to Manila and is excited to see what they will bring to his choreography.

Brian and Rafael were recommended by Lisa because of their victory in the Asian Grand Prix last year. He has not seen them perform live but is very impressed with the clips and photos that he has seen online.

Apart from Paloma Muerta, Marcelino will also be performing his new choreography called Homecoming. This world premiere is a solo piece highlighting the joy of being able to dance in his own home once again.

Marcelino Libao as The Golden Slave in in Sheherazade. Photo by Holger Badekow

Clearly, ballet – and dance, in general – has helped to shape the person that he has become and the message he would like to impart through his art.

“Ballet taught me so much discipline that I apply it in everyday life, and honesty, as I always go on stage for who I am. Though whatever role it is, I find the ‘Marcelino’ factor in it, and rediscover myself so whatever I do on and off stage is always honest.”

Admittedly, he had the privilege of having family and friends that are supportive of his passion. It enabled him to safely explore his art physically, psychologically and intellectually. He understands that parents may still be hesitant to let their children pursue a career in ballet.

“I will not sugarcoat this, as a career in dance is not always smooth waters, but is one heck of a beautiful journey,” he enthused. “I, on the other hand, was fortunate enough to have very supportive parents which I am so thankful for. But I was also a different child. I knew at such a young age that I wanted a career in dance, and choosing to leave the house and country at age 14 to pursue dance was my choice. My suggestion (to parents) is, listen to their children. Because there is nothing in this world that is as powerful and moving as when parents listen and support their children’s passions.”

Having danced his way over difficult waters, Marcelino advocates authenticity for aspiring dancers, especially those who may benefit from Project Ballet Futures and Tuloy Foundation.

“Whatever you do and choose to do in life, it is always important to BE 100% in it. Life is so short, that everything you choose to do IS important. So if you choose dance, then be 100% in it!”

Ballet Dictionary: Bravura

Ballet Dictionary: Bravura

Under construction: The creation of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’

Under construction: The creation of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’