“First – a school.”
This was the famous answer of legendary dance icon George Balanchine when he was asked to put up a ballet company in New York that would rival the companies that were already thriving in Europe in the early years of the 20th century.
(While acknowledged as a pioneer of American ballet, Balanchine was born in Russia and was educated at the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg — later renamed the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet — whose standards and techniques he fused with other schools of movement to create his famous signature style.
Personally, I’ve always been inspired by this gem of an advice, but because of the circumstances at the time, we did it the other way around in Ballet Manila. With the goal of creating a ballet school as soon as we were ready, we were able to achieve this dream after two years. Today, we are proud to continue the harvest of wealth of talent that our school brings forth every year, into the company and beyond.
A student performance is always a very exciting time for an artistic director like myself. This is because I already have the pleasure of watching the performances of what could be the future professional dancers in the company. Though we don’t expect all of our 76 students and 21 scholars at the BM School to end up with full-time careers in dance, you can at least see who have worked harder during the school year — painstakingly combining a full day schedule of academics and ballet classes, and who have regularly sacrificed their leisurely weekends for painful rehearsals. You can also see who are successfully combining talent, technique, artistry and skill, and riding high on the adrenalin that only a live performance can give you.
In Ballet Manila, we are particularly proud that many of our girls and majority of our boys were educated almost exclusively at the Ballet Manila School. And in the last 18 years, a good number of our alumni have not only danced with BM but were also able to spread their wings and establish careers overseas. One of our them, Christine Rocas, has a thriving career as one of the leading ballerinas of the Joffrey Ballet, with her performance in the company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet” cited by Pointe Magazine as one of its “Ten Standout Performances for 2014”. (Christine and her partner, Rory Hohenstein, will be our featured guest artists at our 20th anniversary concert, “BM 2.0” in February.)
Closer to home, one of our promising young members Jessa Balote has proven that with talent, commitment, support and excellent training, any child can rise against the odds and pursue a fulfilling career in dance. Five years after she first entered BM as a Project Ballet Futures scholar, Jessa is now a full-time company member while still a high school student. She was named Aliw Award’s Discovery of the Year in 2012 and is scheduled to fly to the UK to dance at the Openwork Foundation’s national conference in Birmingham this January.
Christine and Jessa are only two of several other BM School alumni who have done well for themselves as professional ballerinas. And we hope that there will be many more to follow. For our part, we commit ourselves to discovering, nurturing, mentoring and, yes, hiring as many as we can of these gifted youngsters in both our school and our company. This is our modest contribution to the future of Philippine dance, particularly in classical ballet. And from the looks of it, the future seems bright.