The American Ballet Theatre Studio Company Marks Its Benefit Performance This Month With A Gala

Dancers at the American Ballet Theater Studio Company. Photo by Harold Julian

The young dancers wowed the audience at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater.

On April 20th at the Samsung Performing Arts Theater, the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company kicked off a series of benefit performances with a gala night for the benefit of CENTEX schools. Headed by ABT Studio Company artistic director Sascha Radetsky and ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School artistic director Stella Abrera, 12 dancers took the stage and performed a repertoire that spanned classical ballet, contemporary dance, jazz, and opera.

In attendance were the likes of renowned designers; Inno Sotto, Rajo Laurel, Chito Vijandre and Ricky Toledo. Alongside them were creatives and entrepreneurs such as Anna Vitiello, Paloma Urquijo, Georgina Wilson, Jessica Wilson, Liz Uy, Dinesh Mohnani, Enzo Razon, and so forth. National Artist Agnes Locsin was also present.

Highlights included “Knife’s Edge,” a modern, expressive piece choreographed by Houston Thomas, that highlighted the language of classical ballet. The Philippines’ own Vince Pelegrin took the stage alongside Sylvie Squires for an expert rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Pas de Deux.

In the last third of the show, renowned pianist Cecile Licad stepped on stage to deliver a superb, powerful performance on piano, which included several Chopin solos between the dances. Pelegrin was loudly cheered on by the audience, and danced his own solo to Licad’s piano for “Tatum Pole Boogie.” To cap off the show, Licad, sounding like an orchestra of her own, scored the finale dance number, “The Go Between,” which was choreographed by Gemma Bond to the music of Domenico Scarlatti.

In a roundtable discussion with Abrera, Radetsky, and Licad, earlier in the week, the three shared how it was clear that everyone involved in the program shared the same collaborative spirit, and that no relationship was a one-way street.

Licad shared how the upcoming performances will be her second time live-scoring for dancers. The first was also with Abrera, where they played at an open-air event. “Cecile and I collaborated in the summer of 2021,” Abrera chimed in. “I was the artistic director at an outdoor arts festival at Kaatsbaan cultural park in upstate New York. Cecile was very open to my proposal of collaborating with the same choreographer [for this show] actually, Gemma Bond.”

Cecile Licad. Photo by Harold Julian

Licad replied in jest, “And of course, they gave me six Rachmaninov solo pieces. The hardest ones, which I’ve never even played!”

The pianist went on to speak about her experience working with the dancers. “They have such innate rhythm inside their bodies, you know,” she says. “It’s challenging for me, but I love challenges, that’s what I like to do. I don’t like repetitive stuff.”

Both Abrera and Licad emphasized that spirit of working in unison with each other and with the dancers, with one shaping the other and vice versa. That relationship is also furthered through live music, which unlike recordings required the dancers to be completely present in a given moment.

“Having live music is such a deep experience in comparison to working with a recording. It’s like, you have the vibrations coming into your body, into your bones. There’s nothing like it,” Abrera says. “And to have that in one studio or in one theater, it’s remarkable.”

In terms of the pieces audiences can expect, Radetsky, who handles all the dancers that come through the ABT Studio Company, says that the repertoire includes original commissions to showcase new work, which is balanced out with classical pieces that may be more familiar to audiences.

Stella Abrera and Sascha Radetsky. Photo by Harold Julian

“I think the theme is diversity. Diversity of genre, music, costumes, design. So we have jazz, we have minimalist house music, we have solo piano, we have big orchestral pieces, we have opera,” Radetsky innumerates. “And then, the dance, correspondingly, is very diverse as well. And I think that’s a hallmark of ABT and ABT Studio Company.”

That hallmark he describes can be seen even within the wonderfully diverse dancers gracing the stage. Each of them comes from varying backgrounds all across the world, and each brings a wonderfully unique personality to their performances.

“It’s also a touring company, so we go all over the world and experience other cultures, and learn from them,” Radetsky says. “You can’t just be a monolith if you have a global presence. That cultural exchange is going to enrich you.”

Amidst it all—the tiring transits, the packed schedules, the aching feet—Abrera says there aren’t enough hours in the day to fixate on any challenges. “I just find this to be quite joyful. It’s long hours, it’s a lot of work, but I love every minute of it. To get to work with these fabulous people, the company; they’re just spectacular,” she beams.

After the performances, a notable hum of amazement was heard from the exiting crowd. Words like Incredible! Galing! could be heard from every direction. Aspiring dancers and students lined up by the photo wall, eager to get a glimpse of the cast.

Abrera, Radetsky, and Licad met the crowd and were drowned with praise. Licad, fresh from a grand and masterful piano performance, spoke with Vogue Philippines afterward. When asked how she felt about the night, there was no mention of nerves or stress. “I just try to have fun,” she says instead. “Whenever I play I have to have some kind of internal fun, internal joy so that it communicates it. I loved it.”

The 12 dancers, still in costume, met with fans shortly after. They were treated like rockstars by the crowd, with Pelegrin at the forefront, taking selfies with crowds of screaming dance students. A joyful beginning to a meaningful homecoming.

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