Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (April 20, 22,23) last week in Makati City, Cebu and Davao, the second visit of the American Ballet Theater Studio Company (ABTSC) dancers was greeted with its share of euphoric curtain calls.
On its opening night in Makati, they attracted dance crowds from Metro Manila’s ballet schools including ballet teachers from different dance studios.
Spotted were Perry Sevidal and Cecile Sicangco formerly from Ballet Philippines and Melanie Motus formerly from Philippine Ballet Theater and still many more from Metro Manila’s dance studios.
Ballerina and ballet teacher Melanie Motus gushed: “The ABT Studio Company performance Friday night brought fresh, brilliant talent to our shores. Sofia Elizalde and her team in Steps Dance Studio never are tireless and always enrich the dance scene in our country. For that, we are grateful. Because of this, we are able to watch and enjoy performances of up and coming dancers and see our very own Vince Pelegrin dance with this young troupe.”
Acknowledged by the Samsung Theater was National Artist for Dance Agnes Locsin whose Encantada opened to cheers and standing ovation in the same theater a week earlier.
Another reason for celebration was the presence of pianist Cecile Licad who delivered three ravishing Chopin Etudes while providing live accompaniment in some selected dance pieces.
ABT Studio Company is made up of 12 “rising stars of the ballet world” between ages 16 to 21.
Easily the standout was the ballet ensemble dancing to three Scarlatti sonatas in Gemma Bond’s the Go Between.
It was a night of well-thought-out repertoire from contemporary to classical and neo-classical.
The opening night program no doubt showcased the versatility of the ABT Studio Company performers, most of them very young and certified prizewinners of international dance competitions. Not a few were outstanding graduates of ballet academies around the globe.
The Makati program opened with Houston Thomas Knife’s Edge with music by Johannes Goldbach and lighting by Luke Woods. The music and imaginative lighting and the ensemble’s seamless dancing easily made for an enchanting preview of the breadth and width of the company’s repertoire.
As the choreographer noted in his note, Knife’s Edge is about the expression and expansion of the classical ballet language.
Indeed, the audience found classical ballet technique given new approaches with movements and positions diversified, stretched and expanded.
As interpreted, the opening number was like classical ballet re-examined with hints of various dance possibilities thoroughly explored.
Another dance revelation was Aleisha Walker’s Do You Care with danseur Brady Farrar dancing to Nocturnal Waltz by Johannes Bornlof. The piece was a good look at the “controlled chaos and uncertainty of everyone’s emotion” during difficult times.
For its emotional depth and poignancy, it deserved the Young Creation Award at the Prix de Lausanne competition in February this year.
Easily one of the dazzlers of the night was Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux danced by Sylvie Squires and the Filipino revelation, Vince Pelegrin.
Pelegrin has all the makings of a good danseur with his smooth turns and elevation executed with finesse.
His great moment was in Daniel Ulbricht’s Tatum Pole Boogie with music by Art Tatum (played live by Cecile Licad) where one saw a dancer unravel his creative talent as an actor. He was focused as he was in control of his pliant body. A splash jump ending in a lying position near the piano at the end was exquisite and the crowd roared its approval.
Easily one of the crowd favorites was the Stella Abrera staging of Concerto Pas de Deux to the music of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto with choreography by Kenneth MacMillan.
Kyra Coco and Finnian Carmeci dazzled as they did with good rapport. Duo dancing has never been this engrossing.
It took a while for Cecile Licad fans to see the pianist do solo numbers, which was the main reason they came in droves. For these fanatic Licad fans, the dancing was just an added attraction.
Three Chopin etudes from Op.25 treasure trove unleashed Licad’s dazzling moment as a pianist.
Number 10 in B Minor (“Octave”) was a showcase of control and virtuosity, No. 11 in A Minor (“Winter Wind”) has inner torrent of emotion unleashed and No. 12 in C Minor (“Ocean”) was simply Debussy’s La Mer distilled and compressed in a piano etude.
The audience rewarded her with a rousing wave of applause. After all, this was their first live Licad after the pandemic.
Still with Licad on the piano, one never thought of Scarlatti (Sonata in C Major. K. 86, A Major KK 114 and Sonata in D Minor K. 32) as inherently danceable.
But they proved the pessimists wrong.
The Go Between by Gemma Bond danced by the ABT Studio Company dancers to the music of Scarlatti was at once a showcase of imagination and versatility of the young performers.
To dance in the intricate web of a choreographer’s genius was what one saw and felt seeing dancers negotiate steps with a live Scarlatti in the background. One can see that the pianist was in perfect harmony with the dancers who jump and float in the Samsung theater stage with grace and precision.
While Scarlatti dazzled, it was the music of Vainonen’s Flames of Paris (restaged by Sascha Radestky) and the dancing of Takumi Miyake and Madison Brown which elicited uproar in the audience.
Brown’s solo variations were smooth and well-executed but Miyake’s startling elevation and dazzling turns were the night’s pure magic.
No doubt about it, Miyake was the night’s dancing sensation.
His partnering was even more commendable and his interpretation went beyond showcase of virtuosity. There is a sense of character in every move and seeing him land on the floor with perfect timing was just too much for the audience. One has never seen such adulation for a young Japanese dancer in a long, long time.
Indeed, Miyake’s Philippine debut recalled enchanted Manila engagements of his compatriot, Japan’s prima ballerina Yoko Morishita.
If they ended the night’s program with Flames of Paris, one was sure the euphoria would be endless and the standing ovation earth-shaking.
But audiences were already pacified in time by Scarlatti which was a heaven-sent finale.
The dancers earned several curtain calls and still more endless cheering.
The touring group flew to Cebu City the next day and performed at the Ayala Center Cebu Terraces.
During Cebu rehearsal, Licad posed with Ballet Center Cebu artistic directors Gregory Aaron and Nicolas Pacana.
Pacana who was former soloist of Boston Ballet told The Diarist.Ph after the Cebu performance: “The ABT Studio dancers looked great. Definitely, Takume Miyaki was the best of them all dancing Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky pas de deux.”
After Manila and Cebu, the toast of the balletomanes was no doubt the young Japanese dance sensation.
In his dancing, there was conserved strength and nobility and great coordination. Even more admirable was his competence as a partner which brought out the best from his ballerina. He was a miracle of weight and balance.
It turned out he started dancing at the age of three and started training in his home country’s Kondo Ballet under the direction of his mother, Kurumi Mukai.
At age 8, Takumi’s natural talent surfaced and was a great discovery in the Kondo Ballet production of Peter and the Wolf.
Since 2013, Takumi won gold medals in his country’s ballet competitions.
Foreign audiences saw a great talent when he won the 2016 Junior Classical and Contemporary Divisions of the Youth America Grand Prix.
An added boost to his budding career was when he was named international scholar of the Royal Ballet School in London.
He graduated from The Royal Ballet School Upper School in July 2022 and was easily accepted by the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company.
Said he upon graduation: “I was thrilled and honored to be an international scholar. I want to keep on working hard because I am aware there are so many talented people in the world.”
As for Licad, this is not the first time he accepted the role of “accompanist.) The right term would be collaborating artist.
Performing with dancers indeed required perfect collaboration.
In 2012, I convinced Lisa Macuja Elizalde to do the Dying Swan with no less than Cecile Licad doing the live music.
I was obsessed with Dying Swan after watching Russia’s Maya Plisetskaya do it in 1982 at the CCP.
Clearly one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, Plisetskaya reprised her acclaimed role to great adulation from Filipino audiences. The applause wouldn’t stop, and so she encored the less-than-five-minute piece. The applause seemed to last forever. I reported in Times Journal that the CCP event was a case of a swan dying twice due to overwhelming popular demand.
After many years, I told Macuja it would be a jewel of a number in her concert with added presence of Lea Salonga and Licad in it.
Knowing that the piece is associated with a Russian dance legend, initially she said no.
Think about it, I reiterated.
Two weeks before opening night, Macuja called me to say she was doing Dying Swan.
Great! I yelled on the phone.
Macuja added Dying Swan came at the right time of her dancing career: “The idea of doing it later in my dancing life was first mentioned by Natalia Raldugina, my guest ballet mistress from St. Petersburg. She was the one who suggested I create my version of ‘The Dying Swan’ for concerts. But I hesitated. Then you suggested it to be performed in The Legends & the Classics and I thought it was brilliant! Really correct timing and opportunity to combine forces with distinguished artists like (cellist) Pasamba and Licad.”
The piece became part of her Swan song series even as she has to remind herself Dying Swan was a choreographic masterpiece that only few ballerinas touched.
Macuja reflected during my last interview with her:“You have to be convincing. It is impossible to be convincing at dying when you are very young and haven’t experienced life.”
She added she was attracted to the piece because of the very sad music of Camille Saint-Saens and the choreographic miniature where the whole story was told in three minutes.
“The attack is very different from ‘Swan Lake,’” she said. “I think it is just hard to be weak and still dance at the same time. It is hard to portray physical weakness when you are doing something so athletic like dancing on your toes. Also, you hardly go off pointe during the entire piece. That can be painful.”
On the day ABT Studio Company dancers were to perform in Davao, they experienced what Filipino travelers go through all the time: delayed flights.
The dancers booked at Philippine Airlines waited at the Cebu airport for four hours.
Only to be advised they have to take another plane, the Cebu Pacific.
The Davao concert has to be moved an hour later because of the delayed flights.
Licad posted on FB: “We just have to be patient when things like this happen even in the most well-prepared itinerary.”
She quipped on FB in a spirit of fun and acceptance: “Welcome to the Philippines.”
The pianist thanked Steps Dance Studio founder Sofia Zobel Elizalde for sharing the gem of dance talents with the public for free in Cebu and Davao.
Venue in Cebu was open air and no air-condition.
One could imagine what dancers would go through doing turns and variations and jumps at a temperature close to 80 degrees Celsius.
The big bonus in Cebu was former ABT principal dancer Stella Abrera doing masterclasses for promising Cebuana ballerinas.
In Davao City’s Ayala Abreeza Mall, the excitement was not only for the dancers but for the return visit of Cecile Licad who performed in the city’s Marco Polo Hotel ballroom in 2002.
Due to delayed flights, concert was moved an hour later from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
For sure, the dancers were not in good shape after four hours of waiting at the Cebu airport.
The pianist was kidding me on FB: “Pablo, you may have to dance Flames of Paris in Davao because we are still here in Cebu airport and there is no plane in sight.”
Then a sudden change of program which was whittled down from an hour and a half to 45 minutes.
The first minor disappointment was that Takume Miyaki could not do Flames of Paris which opened the Davao program with Sylvie Squires and Brady Farrar.
Petipa’s Raymonda Suite got into the program with Kyra Coco and Finnian Carmeci.
We learned that the repertoire was rotated among dancers for experience.
But most of all, after that strenuous variations in Makati and Cebu, Takumi needed a good rest.
Nevertheless, the dazzler dance number in Davao was the Filipino danseur Vince Pelegrin doing Tatum Pole Boogie with music by Art Tatum to the live accompaniment of Licad.
The dancer and the pianist were perfect partners and closely synchronized from beginning to end.
The Davao audiences cheered in tumultuous approval.
As in Manila, Gemma Bond’s The Go Between with live Scarlatti sonatas by Licad closed the evening.
The curtain calls were endless.
But when Licad was fetched by one of the dancers to join the curtain call, the audiences stood up to give her and the dancers a rousing standing ovation.
Instead of a bouquet, she got a beautiful necklace made of black and gold beads.
Nevertheless, her three Chopin etudes were so powerful it almost drowned out the noise of shrieking children at the mall hallways.
It was a night to remember.
The curtain call was special as it was choreographed to the coda music of an etude by Czerny.
The next day, the pianist and the dancers were given a special treat at the island Pearl Farm resort.
Licad had a culinary feast with servings of blue marlin kilawin and the Filipino delicacy balut which she consumed without blinking.
Summing up, it was a weekend of superb music and dance treat from Manila, Cebu and Davao.
Yes, they danced well to the alarming summer temperature.
“It’s wonderful to see time and again how the arts can bring many people together for a common cause. I am optimistic to meet our goal for the Filipino youth to pursue their love for the arts,” said Sofia Zobel Elizalde, STEPS Dance Studio founder, who flew all the way to Davao for the concluding tour.
One recalled she was Clara in the Nutcracker Suite many years back.
Now she looks like her mother and has found a new life nurturing a new generation of young talents.
The second Philippine visit of the ABT Studio Company was co-presented by Patek Philippe and BPI Private Wealth.
The event was organized by Ayala Foundation, Steps Dance Studio, and Ayala Malls for the benefit of Ayala Foundation’s CENTEX education program.