The Filipino ballet celebrates dancers of all backgrounds, giving them a platform for expression through movement.
At the Alice Reyes Dance Philippines company, no one is left out. In contrast to what’s known of ballet dancers “having short careers,” the company welcomes former and retired principal dancers and soloists, alongside fresh new talents. Rather than competition, everyone at the company is family, and dance is a form of healing.
With mentorship under Alice Reyes and with music arrangements by Ryan Cayabyab, the company produced and choreographed a modern ballet called Puso ng Pasko, a “Filipino nutcracker” that’s meant to commemorate our joyful festivities over the Christmas season.
The ballet tells the story of the Philippines, Known to have the longest Christmas season in the whole world. Filipino traditions like Simbang Gabi, gathering with one’s family and friends and eating bibingka and puto bumbong are so strong they carry through to those who have migrated elsewhere.
In keeping with this, the company does well to highlight dancers of all ages. The show will run from December 2 to December 4 in the Cultural Center of the Philippines and is set to run in several more locations this month. Vogue Philippines speaks to some of the movers behind the ballet, to find out how ballet brings people together, and how Puso ng Pasko captures the true essence of being Filipino.
Dance as a Healer
For the senior members of the cast of the ballet, dance has always been at the center of their lives. Businesswoman, entrepreneur, and dancesport athlete Anna Periquet just celebrated her 50th year dancing with a one-woman show. She started dancing at just six years old, and never fell out of love with it.
Periquet was a classical ballet artist with Hariraya Dance Company, and dabbled in other genres, from tap to jazz, and even cheer. She eventually got into Latin dance and became an undefeated champion with her partner, bagging gold medals at international competitions.
“As you can see, my life revolves around dance,” Periquet tells us, “Of course, even if I have my career outside of dance, dance is still the center of my life because it’s the best way I can express myself, and it’s the best way I can tell my story. Especially now, while I’m dealing with full-blown osteoporosis and lumbar spondylosis.”
At its worst in 2013, her diagnosis nearly ended her dance career. Thanks to treatments, therapy, and rehabilitation, she recovered well enough to return to her life-long love.
“It’s my hope that my dancing will also help heal others, especially those with osteoporosis or bone health problems. Because dance is healing. Movement is healing; for one’s soul, one’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being,” she says. “For me, I look at dance as something that is healing in one’s overall wellness. I look at dance as my platform for communicating, my platform for expression, and for giving back now.”
Dance as a Form Of Community
For the cast of Puso ng Pasko, dance is where they come to for community and belonging. “Dance to me is a very personal thing, it gives me a high,” says Emerita de Veyra.
At 75 years of age, she’s the oldest member of the cast. A charismatic character, she explains that dance as something she’s always loved doing, even if there was no production or performance; she’s in it for the love of dance itself.
Compared to her fellow artists, she fell into the career somewhat indirectly.
“When I went to college, I was in contemporary dance, I was a gymnast, and I was taking ballet classes once a week on a Saturday,” she continues, “I graduated in April and by June 15th I was working. By August I was so bored I enrolled in hula classes at YWCA with the other sisters. By November, I was in Hong Kong dancing professionally.”
De Veyra explains that the opportunity came by luck and circumstance. “I was 21 or something like that. I didn’t need parental consent. I could travel, so it was easy. I had basic dance experience. My technique was not that good, but who cares. I had stage presence.”
The young dancer was recruited as one of the original members of the Aldeguer Sister’s Dance Company, credited with being the first jazz dance company in the Philippines. Along with her fellow artists, they appeared on various popular television shows at the time.
“We had a weekly show on Tawag ng Tanghalan, they featured a dance every week. We were in Nora Aunor’s show, Pilita Corrales’ show, and all of those celebrities. The Aldeguer sister’s choreography was very good.”
She’s now celebrating her 50th year dancing at the CCP. She reminisces about her first production here in 1972. “That was 50 years ago. To me, that means a lot,” she says, jokingly continuing, “But this is my last! I don’t think I will perform again, I’m not sure unless I lose 20 pounds.”
For the septuagenarian ballerina, dance is all about that sense of community. What keeps her coming back to dance? “Meeting people. Music. Dance itself. It’s nice to belong to a company,” she points out. “You get to learn about the differences in the nuances of people’s behavior.”
Dance as Expression
Whether a way to explore one’s limits, a way to communicate an entire cultural identity, or a chance at pride under the spotlight, dance offer’s that medium for expression in a way that transcends all barriers.
Sixty-six-year-old Brando Miranda was a former principal ballet dancer at Ballet Philippines. He eventually went on to join the Royal New Zealand Baller as a resident principal guest artist, then stayed on as a principal dancer.
In his five-year run with the New Zealand company, Miranda hardly noticed a difference between dancing in his home country.
“It’s the same language. It’s the same body language. Except sila puti, blonde. Ako naman, kayumanggi, black hair.” [Except they were light-skinned and blonde, while I was brown with black hair.]
On the other hand, 16-year-old Trisha Lim is just about to break into professional dance. Puso ng Pasko is set to be her singing, acting, and dancing debut with her leading role as Angelita, something of a Filipino equivalent to the character Clara in the Nutcracker.
“I really love, not just the costumes, the makeup, backstage, [but] seeing my family—that made me really want to continue dancing and performing,” she tells us.
Despite not being able to start school at the same time as her friends, she has no regrets. “I feel like I’m missing out on so much, but then, this is the highlight of my day. To go on the stage and pretend to take class, that’s healing for me.”
Choreographer and creative grantee of CCP Lester Reguindin describes how hard it was not to be able to dance during the pandemic. Being away from his dance community took away that mode of expression. Now, with the return of theater, hope has returned.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to celebrate Christmas again in the community. Kailangan natin alala na before the pandemic, we have this beautiful happy celebration of Christmas.”
Reguindin crafted the movements behind the numbers “Tuloy Pa Rin Ang Pasko”, which involves holiday delicacies like puto bumbong and bibingka, and “Rigodon’,” a traditional dance involving ninongs and ninangs.
His fellow choreographer Erl Sorilla, says the challenge was how to express the Filipino spirit through movement. Puso ng Pasko combines both modern and classical ballet, along with a fair share of acting, singing, and Zoom calls. “[As] Filipinos are mahilig tayo sa masaya. We’re very optimistic, resilient, and somehow very colorful, so I think we have it already. I think it’s very instinctive.”
“You have to tap [into shared] experiences like, nangangaroling kami nung bata, and we usually choreograph these jingles. And, you know…this is [also] for children, so we also have to tap the child in us.”