Explore Vogue Philippines’ exclusive studio visit with the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company as they bring back much-anticipated performances across the country this April.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to do this because it brings together two of my loves; the love of dance that I have and also helping education in the Philippines,” Sofia Zobel-Elizalde, the STEPS Dance School founder remarks.
This April, the Philippines is welcoming the arrival of twelve young dancers from the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, led by the newly-appointed artistic director of American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Stella Abrera, alongside her husband, artistic director of the ABT Studio Company Sascha Radetsky. The talents that graced the local stage came from all over the world.
They include dancers from the United States Madison Brown, Finnian Carmeci, Kyra Coco, Brady Farrar, Lilia Greyeyes, and Sylvie Squires. Alongside them are Takumi Miyake and Ayami Goto from Japan, Alejandro Valera Outlaw from Spain, Kayke Carvalho from Brazil, YeonSeo Choi from South Korea, and Vince Pelegrín from the Philippines.
A patron of the arts, Zobel-Elizalde has been working alongside Abrera for years now, with the longstanding goal to bring back the ABT after an extremely successful first gala in 2019, to allow lovers of dance and aspiring performers a chance to see high-level ballet and famous choreography. After years of delays caused by the pandemic, the dream was finally realized.
“When we met, [Stella Abrera] was at the height of her career. She was dreaming of doing a small concert featuring a lot of her peers who were soloists and principals at ABT, and she wanted to bring them to the Philippines for a concert, so I helped produce that concert,” Zobel-Elizalde expounds. “And then after that, she mentioned that Sascha was taking on the Studio Company so she said ‘Sofia, what if we brought the Studio Company to the Philippines?’ and I thought it was a wonderful idea because it’s made up of young, incredibly talented dancers.”
One of the 12 dancers, Vince Pelegrin, found his start in the performing arts as a student from STEPS. “He came from a family of four siblings actually, three brothers and one sister. All dancers,” she says.
Zobel-Elizalde has become close to their family, having nurtured and seen each of the siblings grow into their own. She tells us that Vince’s older brother, Sean, currently dances with Ballet Manila.
Another brother, Kyle, who danced for a couple of years before joining Far Eastern University, has now stopped dancing but has a good job and is doing very well. Their fourth sibling, Reign, currently attends STEPS as a scholar of Zobel-Elizalde.
According to her, Vince, third from the eldest, was the one that was first noticed by Sascha, alongside Elwince Magbitang, who grew up in the CENTEX school in Tondo. “When we were doing that Studio Company performance [in 2019], Stella had invited some of our students to be a part of the performance, because they were doing excerpts of Don Quixote and they needed extra dancers,” she elaborates.
After seeing Pelegrin and Magbitang, Radetsky reached out to Zobel-Elizalde. “He wrote me a wonderful letter and invited these two boys to join the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Dance in New York. And that’s how the whole relationship blossomed.”
Since then, Pelegrin went on to receive a full scholarship at the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School before being promoted to the ABT Studio Company. Magbitang was offered a spot at the school as well, and after being so well received, he was given the opportunity to join the Studio Company after just a year, and was later offered a contract with the main company as a member of the corps de ballet.
The two boys are now both completely independent, traveling the world and doing what they love.
Along with the ABT, Pelegrin will return to his motherland alongside 11 others of the same elite caliber.
The ballet company is dancing to a repertoire that includes both original works from American choreographers alongside iconic pieces from ballet legends like Concerto by Kenneth MacMillian and George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
“This gala is really to celebrate dance, to share this caliber of classical ballet with the Filipino audiences,” Zobel-Elizalde explains. “It’s also to allow audiences here to be able to see everything from local dance to international dance.”
Audiences will also be treated to another exciting element. World-renowned pianist Cecile Licad signed on to live-score the dances and perform solos like Chopin’s Études and an original piece by Gemma Bond with music by Domenico Scarlatti.
“Cecile has been so gracious, she’s such a wonderful artist to work with. She [not only] agreed to do the gala in Manila, but she also agreed to do our outreach programs in Cebu and Davao,” Zobel-Elizalde says. “It has been a real pleasure getting to know Cecile…The moment we shared the concept with her, of bringing the Studio Company, she jumped right in.”
During the months prior to the performances, Licad shared a message to the audience via video. “I’m very very excited at the idea of collaborating with the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company for the benefit of Ayala Foundation’s CENTEX schools,” the pianist said.
“I just told myself, you know, I always like to experience the new and something I don’t know at all. I just can’t stand routine stuff,” Licad jests. “If one puts their heart and soul [into it], it’s always right. I know that if I don’t enjoy what I do, then nobody else will.”
With the mix of passionate, leading figures in the global performing arts scene, the momentous occasion is truly a cause for joy. “It is truly a project that celebrates excellence in dance and music,” Zobel-Elizalde says.
The series of shows will kick-off with a gala night on April 20th at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater, Circuit Makati. The opening will be followed by public shows at Ayala Center Cebu and Ayala Malls Abreeza on April 22nd and 23rd respectively, marking the group’s first showcase outside of Metro Manila.