Break­ing down Bal­let Philip­pines’ schol­ar­ship pro­grams

The rig­ors and re­wards of be­com­ing part of Bal­let Philip­pines

Northern Living - - CONTENTS - TEXT YAZHMIN MALAJITO

Na­tional Artist for Dance and Bal­let Philip­pines’ founder and present artis­tic di­rec­tor Alice Reyes sits in front, fac­ing a group of per­form­ing dancers, in­volved and hands-on. She ex­changes whis­pers with her as­so­ciate, a cou­ple of com­pany alumni, and renowned danseur Nonoy Froilan—per­haps vi­su­al­iz­ing a bet­ter rou­tine or not­ing a mis­take.

We were at the weath­ered and hum­ble re­hearsal stu­dio of Bal­let Philip­pines (BP), the coun­try’s flag­ship com­pany in bal­let and con­tem­po­rary dance, watch­ing dancers prac­tice for the com­pany’s gala per­for­mance in Au­gust. The com­bi­na­tion of care­ful steps and cal­cu­lated bend­ing of spines of their slen­der bod­ies, sculpted by years of train­ing, ta­per­ing off to their en pointe toes take the spec­ta­tors’ breath away. And that’s just the re­hearsal. There are 10 BP schol­ars prac­tic­ing with the com­pany dancers be­cause this par­tic­u­lar pro­duc­tion calls for a big­ger group. But be­fore one shares a stage with the BP mem­bers, they have to with­stand vig­or­ous train­ing, and if there’s one thing BP Dance School di­rec­tor Rubylee Gomez can­not stress enough, it is that bal­let is tough.

The first step to be­com­ing part of BP is to en­roll in its own schol­ar­ship pro­gram, which is what Gia Ge­quinto did. Af­ter years of sum­mer work­shops, the 25-year-old be­came a scholar in 2010 be­fore she was pro­moted to com­pany mem­ber sta­tus the fol­low­ing year. Back then, she was a dance ma­jor in col­lege at the Uni­ver­sity of the Philip­pines Dil­i­man. “In the morn­ing, I’d [work on] my aca­demic sub­jects and then spend the af­ter­noon with BP,” she re­calls.

To be a scholar, ap­pli­cants have to au­di­tion. Au­di­tions are just like reg­u­lar bal­let classes, ex­cept the artis­tic and as­so­ciate di­rec­tors, com­pany man­ager, and a BP alum se­lect who among the as­pi­rants are wor­thy of work­ing for the com­pany. “[It’s] a very tough com­pe­ti­tion be­cause they have to im­press the artis­tic di­rec­tor and [make her say] ‘ Yes, I can use you in a pro­duc­tion. I can see you in the Main The­ater as a dancer for BP.’ She al­ready has her own set of stan­dards,” says Gomez.

Out of the usu­ally 60 to 100 ap­pli­cants, whose ages range from nine to early 20s, only around 35 are se­lected. Some­times the num­ber is re­duced due to sched­ul­ing con­flicts, as those who have been se­lected are re­quired to at­tend daily classes from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“[Those who had to beg off] are re­gret­ful, but had they pur­sued it, it would not have been safe for them. [ When] a stu­dent can’t come to class on time, it causes a lot of stress not just on the body, but also on the mind and spirit, and they will just end up try­ing to catch up. It’s frus­trat­ing,” ad­mits Gomez.

But the doors are open for sec­ond tries. Or for even third, fourth, and so on. Gomez says bal­let is se­lec­tive, “but if you re­ally love and you’re pas­sion­ate about it, you’ll work for it.” For some BP com­pany mem­bers, it took them two or three au­di­tions to get in.

Some have ex­tra­or­di­nary pas­sion for the dance. Martina Gallemit, 14, moved to Manila from Zam­boanga del Norte af­ter she was ac­cepted to the schol­ar­ship pro­gram last year.

She af­firms that BP of­fers more dif­fi­culty than her

pre­vi­ous school did. “Here, it is def­i­nitely harder. I have to give more, be­cause there are more classes. There are more lev­els [of pro­gres­sion], which means it’s go­ing to [be­come more dif­fi­cult] for any­one to get into the com­pany,” she says.

That’s be­cause the schol­ar­ship pro­gram is a pre­pro­fes­sional train­ing ground where schol­ars get a taste of what it’s like to be in the award-win­ning dance com­pany. Ac­cord­ing to Gomez, it’s where they get the next group of BP dancers—a train­ing camp where the usu­ally ex­pen­sive tu­ition is waived.

Al­though BP’s schol­ar­ship pro­gram doesn’t pro­vide al­lowance, there are some cases, mostly for male schol­ars, where the com­pany gives ad­di­tional fi­nan­cial aid in the form of stipend in ex­change for a lit­tle ex­tra work. They’re metic­u­lous about whom to of­fer it to, though. “If the artis­tic di­rec­tor knows that they would def­i­nitely be part of the com­pany, then she’d be will­ing to in­vest,” says Gomez.

The next gen­er­a­tion

Three hun­dred me­ters away from the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines is BP’s makeshift satel­lite stu­dio. Called “Stu­dio One,” it’s a re­hearsal space made from ship­ping con­tain­ers that were re-mod­i­fied in 2014. Daily, at 5:30 p.m., pass­ing pedes­tri­ans can hear the strains of clas­si­cal mu­sic and the oc­ca­sional calls for “round arms, sym­met­ri­cal fin­gers, square hips” com­ing from the stu­dio.

This is where some schol­ar­ship classes are done. The teach­ers are also BP’s own, like BP Dance School Prin­ci­pal Karla Javier. She teaches Clas­si­cal Bal­let I, the class where Gallemit be­longs, along with 12 other danseuses.

When asked about the fu­ture of pro­fes­sional dance in the coun­try, Gomez ex­presses con­fi­dence. “You are talk­ing to the first com­pany that pro­fes­sion­al­ized danc­ing, so [the in­dus­try] will con­tinue. There are a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially for Filipino dancers. It’s bright.” Surely, BP will con­tinue to dance with ex­cel­lence and beauty that they’re known for in­side and out­side the coun­try.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ARTU NE­PO­MU­CENO

Square hips and ex­pres­sive faces. Bal­let is not only metic­u­lous on form but also on the story dancers should re­lay.

Thir­teen-yearolds and up are re­quired at least five years of train­ing in this Clas­si­cal Bal­let (CB) class.

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