Arts and Culture

Ballet Manila dancers bag honors at Asian Grand Prix

The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde had a tough decision to make a few months ago. Should she send a delegation to this year’s Asian Grand Prix (AGP), an international ballet competition for young dancers to be held in Hong Kong in August, just a week before the company was to open its 18th performance season?

She and co-artistic director Osias Barroso went back and forth about it. On one hand, the competition would be a good exposure for Ballet Manila’s dancers who had made a significant showing in last year’s AGP. But on the other hand, competing would mean additional training that would eat up into rehearsals for the company’s big season-opener, Tatlo Pang Kuwento ni Lola Basyang.

“To send 15 key Ballet Manila dancers and staff to a competition a week before our season opening of eight performances of a world premiere was a crazy, illogical and impractical move,” she acknowledges. “But, I am glad we did it!”

The prima ballerina has every reason to be happy. Out of 12 Ballet Manila delegates to the Asian Grand Prix, 10 made it to the finals and eventually brought home six medals and three certificates from the competition: two silver medals from the Pas de Deux division courtesy of Dawna Mangahas and Elpidio Magat; two bronze medals also from the Pas de Deux division clinched by Joan Emery Sia and Alfren Salgado; a silver medal for the Junior B division won by Rissa May Camaclang; and a bronze medal from the Senior division also from Dawna Mangahas.

Young danseurs Magat and Arnulfo Andrade Jr. garnered 7th and 8th place, respectively, in the Senior division, while Jessa Balote landed 5th place in the Junior B division. Seniors Mangahas, Magat and Andrade also received the “So Danca” special award for their division. Other members of the delegation were Junior B finalist Missy Macuja Elizalde, semi-finalists Camille Santiago, Anselmo Dictado and Sergio Capa III, and Violet Hong.

“The biggest surprise for me is Rissa May Camaclang’s silver medal in the Junior B division. At 14, I believe she is now the youngest Filipino to be ever awarded a medal in an international ballet competition,” says Macuja-Elizalde. “The fact that she and Jessa Balote are scholars of our Project Ballet Futures is an additional feather in the cap of The Ballet Manila School.”

“Rissa was consistent, charming and light and accomplished all the technical requirements of her variation in Junior B,” Macuja-Elizalde assesses of the young ballerina’s performance at the AGP.

Because of her victory, Camaclang has been promoted from company apprentice to company member, the youngest to be so named.

Dawna Mangahas, who landed in the semi-finals at the 2nd Beijing International Ballet and Choreography Competition just last July, again showed remarkable prowess at the Asian Grand Prix.  “Her dancing in AGP was inspired. She clearly became a crowd favorite early on in the competition. I am excited to watch Dawna grow even more as a ballerina when she dances her first full-length Le Corsaire as Medora, in La Bayadere as Nikiya and in The Nutcracker as Masha this year. I will certainly develop her partnership with Elpidio Magat, the seventh placer in the AGP Senior division, and co-silver medalist in the Pas de Deux,” says Macuja-Elizalde.   

“I am satisfied with the results and truly proud of our BM entourage,” avers Barroso who, along with Macuja-Elizalde and principal danseur Rudy De Dios, led the  delegation in Hong Kong. “Everyone danced really well and showed off strength, artistry and style. Our dancers were also well-groomed and well-behaved on and off stage which, I think, counted in projecting a positive image for the group.”         

What made the co-artistic directors particularly proud was a comment given by Garry Trinder, the head of the jury in AGP. Macuja-Elizalde shares, “He gave a special mention to the Filipinos who danced in the competition, citing their passion and artistry that gave the jury true dancing entertainment. He said, ‘Ultimately, that’s why we are here. To be entertained. And the Filipinos delivered.’”

The Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition was established in 2011 by former dancers of the Hong Kong Ballet, in an effort to encourage excellence among fledgling ballerinas and danseurs. Hosted by the Youth Ballet of Asia, it recognizes exceptional achievement and provides funding assistance to young dancers for their continued training and development. This year’s competition featured 212 contestants from 15 countries.

Because of the favorable showing of Ballet Manila’s dancers in AGP and similar competitions in the last 17 years, Ballet Manila has continued to actively train and send dancers to international ballet contests, recognizing the fact that such exposure would have a positive impact on the growth and development of young ballet dancers.

Barroso reminds, however, that winning a ballet competition shouldn’t be the end goal of participants. “That’s what I always share with dancers whom I coach for international competitions and performances. Some medalists, sad to say, even leave the art of dancing afterwards and do not contribute anything to ballet. What is important is what you’ve learned from competing and what you do after the competition.”









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