BALLET IS ALSO FOR THE MASA
Gregory Aaron and Nicolas Pacaña formally took over Balletcenter in 2006, when Fe Sala Villarica asked them if they would want to take over the studio. By then, Balletcenter had already celebrated its 50 years of existence. As artistic directors, the two looked beyond the studio to spread their love for the dance.
The two began their partnership in Atlanta Ballet Festival in 1989. This venture with Balletcenter was a homecoming of sorts for Pacaña who recounts that he was 13 years old when he began to study in Balletcenter. He was so good that in 1972, Mrs. Villarica wangled for him a scholarship at the San Francisco Conservatory of Ballet and Theater Arts. After a year, he went to Hawaii and danced with the Honolulu City Ballet, after which he went to New York where he got a full scholarship with the Joffrey Ballet. Then he joined Boston Ballet in 1975 and stayed there till 1982 when he joined Atlanta Ballet until 1993. Gregory Aaron directed Atlanta Festival Ballet School where Nicolas also taught though he was in and out of Atlanta because of his commitments elsewhere. It was in 1985 when Nicolas came back to the Philippines to dance in La Bayadere for the Philippine Ballet Theater where Mrs. Villarica’s daughter, Maia, saw him and invited him to dance in Cebu. The meeting made him miss Cebu a lot but it was only in 2001, when Balletcenter celebrated its 50th year, that both he and Gregory came to Cebu, to teach, to choreograph, to dance in a repertory celebratory concert. The following year, they were back, this time for Balletcenter’s ”The Little Mermaid “which went on tour.
In 2004, Gregory’s mother died. Though still committed to do three ballet presentations a year with Atlanta Ballet, Gregory found time to come to the Philippines. In 2005, the duo presented “The Nutcracker Suite” which toured in Davao, General Santos and Tagum. When the duo took over Balletcenter in 2006, they initiated their outreach program in Pasil, chosen, Gregory explains, as a place where once Nicolas’ parents had a small business. There were 130 scholars for the summer but during the regular school year, only about 28 of the better ones would continue with their lessons. The duo later started another outreach program, this time in Tipolo, Mandaue Central School. This year, they were asked by a priest in Talibon, Bohol, to do another outreach program in the islet of Jao. They hope to get two of their top students there for an intensive month-long training here so the program can go on year-round without their having to be travel to Bohol often.
Gregory explains that they do their outreach because “I love to dance. Everybody should be able to dance. Nicolas and I are in heaven when we dance. We want everyone to dance. I have to make people believe that to be a qualified teacher or dancer, you don’t have to have a college degree. If you want to invest your time and your effort to be a professional dancer and teacher, then we will do our best to find a job for you. Our scholars can earn a living if they are good in dance and if they persevere in the program.”
“Cebu,” says Nicolas, “deserves to have a ballet company. And though we don’t formally have one yet, we have the makings of it in Balletcenter, along with the better ones in our out-
reach programs, who performed with us in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which will go on tour like ’The Nutcracker.’ Our problem for our scholars are their ballet toe shoes which are very expensive. We hope there are kind hearted art patrons out there who will help us give them the toe shoes they deserve.”
Gregory still goes back to the US, is still committed to do ballet presentations for Atlanta Ballet. Nicolas, on the other hand, says his Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” is his farewell performance as principal dancer. It was a magical, moving performance, one that makes one believe that yes, Cebu, with its talented dancers, does deserve a ballet company to call its very own: it’s about time Cebu has one.
TEACHERS Nicolas Pacaña and Gregory Aaron with little students of Balletcenter.