The American Ballet Theatre Studio Company Returns To The Philippines For A Cause

The American Ballet Theatre Studio Company Returns To The Philippines For A Cause

Seven Sonatas by Alexei Ratmansky, featuring Cy Doherty and SunMi Park. Photo by Erin Baiano

The New-York based ballet company is flying to Manila with Stella Abrera and Cecile Licad.

Next month, the Philippines is set to welcome back one of the most prestigious dance companies in the world, the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, for a series of benefit performances and workshops that will benefit the Ayala Foundation’s Center for Excellence (CENTEX) schools.

According to the senior director of programmes for Ayala Foundation, Joanna Ongpin-Duarte, CENTEX is a holistic program that trains many public school teachers across the country, and also holds many formative programs for art, music, and dance. “The training in their formative years, including working with STEPS, has really sort of honed the children to be able to go to New York and stand among international dancers with confidence,” she explains.

The series of shows, headlined by a new generation of rising stars at ABT’s studio company, is kicking off with a gala night on April 20 at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater in Circuit Makati. The gala will be followed by public shows at Ayala Center Cebu and Ayala Malls Abreeza on April 22 and 23, alongside masterclass workshops for aspiring dancers around the country.

ABT Studio Company 2022-2023 dancers, Photo by João Menegussi

The initiative is headed by STEPS Dance Studio founder Sofia Zobel-Elizalde and former ABT Principal Dancer, now Acting Artistic Director of ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, Stella Abrera. This will mark the New York-based company’s first-ever tour outside of Manila, which last graced the city’s stages in 2019.

According to Zobel-Elizalde, the whole initiative started back in 2018, when she received a call from Abrera while she was still a principal dancer at the company. Zobel-Elizalde says Abrera, blown away by Filipino hospitality during a homecoming trip to the Philippines, asked if there was a way to bring ABT dancers to the Philippines.

“I had no idea what I was getting into, I just said ‘yes, done.’ And that’s when the journey began,” she says. “As you all know [Abrera] came with principals and soloists. We had the most magical performance fundraiser for CENTEX, which is very close to my heart. I was so inspired that I then took the next step.”

Thanks to the continuing collaboration and fundraising efforts between Zobel-Elizalde and Abrera, they were able to establish a small school for ballet in Bauan, Batangas, called the Stella Abrera Dance and Music Hall.

This time around, Zobel-Elizalde decided to take it a step further, and figure out a way to reach the dancers in the provinces and those that can’t afford to see staged performances.

Swan Lake Odette Variation featuring Aleisha Walker. Photo by Erin Baiano
For What Is It All Worth by Hope Boykin. Photo by Avery Brunkus

“We have so many ballet schools, but they never get the opportunity to see the shows that we see in Metro Manila,” she explains. “And so, thanks to Ayala Malls, we are not only able to have an incredible gala here at this brand new, gorgeous theater, but we also can take them provincial for two free performances in Cebu and Davao.”

The shows are set to include a variety of pieces, from classics like George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux to fresher, more contemporary dances. Joining Abrera is her husband, artistic director of ABT’s studio company, Sascha Radetsky, and world-renowned pianist Cecile Licad.

Licad is set to play live piano at all three locations. “She worked with the American Ballet Theater with Stella a few months back and she loved the experience so much, she said ‘I’m on board,'” Zobel-Elizalde says. “Not only the gala but she has also agreed to go to Cebu and Davao.”

(Standing) Ayala Malls President Christopher Maglanoc, Ayala Foundation President Ruel Maranan, and Samsung Performing Arts Theater Managing Director Chris Mohnani; (Seated) Committee Member of the fundraising gala Mia Borromeo, STEPS Dance Studio Director and Chair of the fundraising gala Sofia Zobel Elizalde, Supporter of CENTEX and committee member of the fundraising gala Kit Zobel, and Ayala Foundation Senior Director for Social Development Joanna Duarte
Cecile Licad. Photo by Sara Black
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