Pirouetting around the world with Fe Sala-Villarica

CITIZEN OF THE WORLD - CITIZEN OF THE WORLD By Edu Jarque () - April 28, 2002 - 12:00am
Fe Sala Villarica, an esteemed descendant of one of the primary, prominent familias españolas de las islas del sur, is undoubtedly the grand dame of Cebu’s legitimate performing arts.

A product of Benedictine nuns from her grade school days at St. Peter’s Academy in Ormoc City, she graduated from St. Scholastica’s College in Manila with a degree in business administration, summa cum laude.

Upon her return to Cebu, she went to the University of San Carlos where she took up her masters in literature.

But Fe’s heart belonged to the world of ballet. She was completely fascinated and totally captivated by it. She had her first official lessons with Maria von Selheim, a Russian ballet teacher based in Cebu and then she went to the capital city for more tutorials under Anita Kane.

A dedicated pupil, she learned as much as they could teach her. She moved on, crossed the Pacific Ocean and finally landed in New York. She enrolled at Thalia Maras class at the National Academy of Ballet. "I was so fortunate for Maras was the teacher’s teacher. I likewise signed up with John Barker. The American who translated from Russian to English the Vaganova book which is considered the bible for this particular method."

Full of excitement due to the overwhelming learning experience, Fe soon returned to Cebu and opened her Ballet Center in 1951. "It was the first serious ballet school in the south. Since it was modified, students were rated and grades were given." The ballet school has survived–through thick and thin–since that fateful first day. Fe declares. "We proudly celebrated our golden year in 2001. Graduates, some presently performing with ballet companies around the globe, came home for the grand reunion."

Fe does not rest on her laurels. She continues to travel in search of ballet seminars and workshops, be they in America, Europe and Asia. She then eagerly shares whatever she learns with whoever is interested.

Married to former financial whiz and now retired Herme Villarica for over half a century, mother of five, grandmother of 13, she is the founding chairperson of the Arts Council Foundation of Cebu, the driving spirit of recitals and concerts and other artistic, enriching presentations such as dance and drama.

Classic Fe Sala Villarica, the epitome of femininity, grace and elegance, with a sterling determination to do what her heart of hearts has set to accomplish, is truly a remarkable and admirable lady. Bravo! Please take a bow.

Philippine STAR: What do you remember most of your first trip abroad?

Fe Sala Villarica:
My first trip abroad was a difficult one. It was not the best of times for we had to take our eldest daughter Nenette, aged 11, for a delicate lung operation in the States. Our final destination was the Children’s Hospital in Oakland, across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco. The year was 1957. Surgery and recovery took all of three months. When everything was over and done with – thank God it was successful – we took some tours around the city and the neighboring areas before we headed for home.

My very first trip was actually when we sailed for the Philippines from Barcelona where I was born. I was just a baby then and naturally I don’t recall anything of the voyage.

Name your favorite city abroad.

New York. It is a city of great diversity. Ballet, Broadway, arts, opera, museums, cuisine, special events. The list goes on and on. So many things to see, so many activities to do, so very much to experience. Some involve money, others very little, most none at all. There is always something going on – no matter how unique or seemingly strange. Whoever you are, whatever you do, you will certainly find a kindred soul. It is such a magical place.

What is the first thing you do upon checking in at a hotel?

No matter how long the flight, no matter how tired or sleepy I am, I literally dump my luggage inside my room and I rush to the theater to get my ticket. That’s my top priority.

What do you consider a must-do-activity in every foreign city that you visit?

Whenever possible and feasible, my three must-do activities include: first, watch and enjoy the ballet, opera, musical and play – in that order. However, I am rather selective on my choices. I don’t just go to any show. Second, loiter around the music stores in earnest search of ballet music or videos that are not easy to find. Third, visit the museums. I have been accused of being an absolute square (laughs). But what can I do? This is the real me.

Let’s talk favorites now. Favorite restaurant?

When I travel, I try different cuisines at various restaurants. I do this all the time. So I don’t have a favorite one abroad. However, in Manila, I adore the authentic Italian food being served at Bravo’s – be it in Malate or Alabang. In Cebu, my choice would be Café Georg – spelled without the letter E.

Favorite museum?

The Met in New York. The permanent exhibits are awesome. Nothing like it in the world. As an added bonus, their "traveling show" is just as amazing and sensational. And both are highly educational.

If you could take home a piece of art, which one would be it?

It would be a toss up between any painting by Renoir or Degas. It is a dilemma.

Favorite resort?

The Mandala Spa in Boracay. It brings a continuous smile to my face while it does wonders for my body. It throws away the years – or so it seems – together with all the aches and pains and everything negative. Pure magic!

Favorite park?

The Seaport Village in San Diego, California. It is restful but not dull. Situated in a Naval town, one can witness, from a distance, the many aircraft carriers and other peace keeping Navy ships. The drive is scenic and the walk paths are just waiting to be discovered. The shops are interesting and offer varied products. All year round but most especially during the summer, a series of entertaining activities and programs are scheduled. It’s a real treat!

Favorite ballet?

For classical ballet, it’s Swan Lake. For the romantic ballet, my top three would be Gizelle, The Nut Cracker and the Sleeping Beauty. For neo-classical, it’s Balanchine’s Serenade. However, should I only have one evening, and everything being equal, from the artists to the production, my choice would be Swan Lake – it’s the ultimate!

Favorite musical?

Two immediately come to mind – My Fair Lady and The King and I.

Favorite store?

Bloomingdale’s. It’s classy and almost everything they carry is in good taste. Yet everything is reasonably priced.

Describe your most memorable trip.

My husband and I took a memorable holiday that lasted all of six months sometime during the Sixties. It brought us around exotic Asia, historical Europe and the exciting United States, stopping at places one only reads about or merely dreams of – from the temples of Thailand, to the pyramids of Egypt, the ruins of Athens, the bay of San Francisco. I remember our detailed itinerary and recall with great fondness the entire trip which is still so clear, so vivid in my mind. Without a doubt, it was the most memorable, the vacation of a lifetime.

What is the worst souvenir you have ever brought back from a trip?

Cowbells from Germany. We really believed it was such a wonderful souvenir. But as soon as we got home, we realized there was no place in the house for it. One tiny, little bell survives today. It is used to signal the start of classes at our dance studio. And the other bells? We have no idea at all what happened to them. They simply disappeared – one by one.

Who would you like to bump into – dead or alive – during your travels?

Frederic Chopin, one of the greatest composers ever. I love his music!

Name an event anywhere in the world you would like to participate in.

The Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria which is held once every four years. The esteemed judges are true authorities of the field, people in the know. Even if the artist only makes it to the semi finals, it is definitely considered an achievement of grand importance. Undoubtedly it is the Olympics in the world of ballet.

Name a city you have never visited but would like to someday.

Shanghai – a city with a glorious past, which is in step with the leading cities of the world.

Name a country you wish to explore.

China with its many faces, coupled with unlimited wonders.

What would you say is the best part of travel?

Being there – exploring new places, revisiting familiar spots.

What is your favorite spot in the Philippines?

Cebu – nothing comes even close.

If you could be transported anywhere in the world right now, where would you like to be?

Spain, visiting relatives.

If you could reside anywhere in the world aside from the Philippines, where would it be?

New York. But during the fierce winters I would drive to Florida or fly to the Bahamas.
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