While most companies pivot, Ballet Philippines pirouettes.
The dance company, which is on its 51st season this year, did a graceful twirl to meet the new normal by launching Ballet Philippines OnStream (ballet.ph), a digital platform and virtual stage that spotlights every aspect of the company, from videos of past productions to master classes with renowned masters, to healthy recipes you can make at home. (Guess ballet dancers do eat, after all.)
“The threat of COVID-19 made us determined to survive and keep ballet alive,” says Ballet Philippines (BP) president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein. “While some may say that dance and the arts are non-essentials during this pandemic, we beg to disagree. On the contrary, dance and the arts become even more vital during these unprecedented times.”
We met BP’s new Russian artistic director, Mikhail “ Misha” Martynyuk, who holds the title Honored Artist of the Russian Federation (similar to our National Artist for Dance), at a Zoom press conference, along with his wife and two young children.
“If you ask me about the best place in the world, I say it’s the Philippines,” said the star dancer of the Kremlin Ballet Theatre. “My work and creative process is constantly working for Ballet Philippines. This is a pretty hard season. I would like to wish us all good luck, do not give up, look forward, and we will win.”
Though controversy has swirled around Martynyuk’s succeeding Ballet Philippines founder Alice Reyes as artistic director, BP board of trustees member Mercedes Zobel had this to say: “I’ve been always so impressed with the Filipino being so artistic and not really having the capabilities to express their ultimate dreams. And through this Ballet Philippines support we decided to give that opportunity by inviting the best art director possible, that could help us launch it on the 51st year. And we are privileged to have him and two others who are also incredibly talented. So we’re starting off with these three that are adding their contacts, and we as a board are doing the best we can to uplift the Filipino dancer through the arts, music and culture, and artists of all sorts to really stand out and be unique in the world.”
One of the guest artists is Joseph Phillips, a principal dancer of the State Primorsky Theatre who’s been called “the golden boy of ballet” because he’s won more gold medals in international competitions than any other American dancer.
“For the past three weeks, I’ve just been giving class and getting the dancers back in the routine of being dancers after the pandemic,” said Phillips, who worked with American Ballet Theatre’s prima ballerina Misty Copeland on Swans for Relief. “Right now is a new era for the company and it’s very, very exciting because it’s the first time that Ballet Philippines is really opening the doors for the rest of the world,” said Phillips, who lost nine kilos in two months to get back into shape. “That is so important for all the dancers to experience different cultures and grow.”
Guest artist Joshua Serafin, on the other hand, is a visual artist, contemporary dancer and performer who was born in the Philippines but is currently based between Brussels and Manila. He has collaborated with international artists and presented his work in Spain, Croatia and Paris.
“For the 51st season I’ve been supplementing BP’s dancers with a different movement vocabulary,” Serafin says. “While Misha and Joseph are focusing more on creating and enhancing dancers in terms of very strong ballet technique, I’ve been giving them new ways of approaching dance, and different kind of body technique that I developed all throughout my years of dancing.”
Free master classes
One of the most valuable resources at Ballet.ph is the free classes you can take by clicking on the “Learning and Training” page.
“The beautiful thing Misha is doing is bringing in the master classes from around the world,” says Liechtenstein. “In a normal season this would be impossible because it’s very expensive and time consuming.”
Martynyuk’s friends and colleagues like Igor Kolb of the Mariinsky Theater and Joy Womack of the Boston Ballet Theater are offering their talents pro bono, as well as local luminaries like Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, independent filmmaker Brandon Relucio and choreographer Marcelino Libao from the Hamburg Ballet.
Anyone can take the classes — they just need to register. “Everything is free because this is our advocacy,” Liechtenstein says. “Our mission at Ballet Philippines can be summarized in five words: educate, aspire, inspire, entertain, and dance.”
Martynyuk, who’s been to the Philippines several times and whose daughter was born in Makati during one of those sojourns, says he’s very familiar with Philippine traditions. “The emotion of love is very strong in the Filipino,” he observes. “I’m Russian but I share this. We’re also very emotional people; that’s why I feel comfortable in the Philippines, so it will be easy for me to belong in this culture and easy to create dance with Filipino feeling.”
Ballet Philippines vice chairman Maan Hontiveros agrees: “We built this platform to enable our artists to learn from the best talent we can find from the Philippines and in the world. So we have unveiled three wonderful artists and mentors who are going to bring Ballet Philippines’ 51st season forward in spite of the fact that we have no stage, we have no access to the rehearsal hall. Even though we’re all locked down, even though we’re all suffering, Ballet Philippines is very much alive.”
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To access Ballet Philippines OnStream, visit Ballet.ph.
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