Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Eto na! Musikal nAPO, Nostalgia with a Purpose

Eto Na! Musikal nAPO opened last weekend with rave reviews. It was packaged efficiently as a fun loving musical featuring the timeless music of the APO Hiking Society but it happens to be more than that.  Minutes after seeing the press preview, I was  reminded  of a quote I randomly saw in Facebook. I googled  the words  "softness and strength"   because it was just the perfect set of words to describe this musical's overall message. It goes, " Be soft for the sake of every hard heart; show them with every movement  of your body  that gentle does not mean weak". This musical's walls were built  on laughter and it's spaces were filled with   catchy music  and delightful dancing. Every nook and corner was filled with cheeky mementos of the mid-seventies. It honestly had all the potential to simply be an enjoyable  but irrelevant fluff piece. Thankfully,  their house of theater  made good use of the lightness of being and sent out SEVERAL important uplifting messages. In the process of doing so they also succeeded in re-inscribing history, culture and politics. There are musicals that are sung in Filipino and then there are musicals  that carve out an identity for the Filipino.  Who would have thought that jokes  and good old APO music could be so important?! This musical just proves that art in its vulnerability is still certainly powerful  and so is every Juan De La Cruz. Needless to say, the collaboration between Nineworks Theatrical and Globe Live was a big win for theater and a big win for the Filipino. 

The story revolves around seven friends who share the love for music. Set in the seventies during the on-set of Martial Law, a group of friends discovered who they all wanted to be when they set out on a journey. All seven committed to joining a song writing and singing competition. The group was bonded but they were in  way divided in two groups, the naturals and the follower.  Sonny (Alfritze Blanche) was  the talented composer  of the group. Rick ( Mark Bautista) their go to guy for lyrics.  Ray (Jon Philippe Go) was the young but skilled musical arranger of the group. Butch (Jobim Javier) was the sweet singing  playboy. Then there were the witty and supportive followers  tongue tied mover  Fil-Am Javier( Jeff Flores),  small but terrible Bobby (Vyen Villanueva) and secret lyricist Donnie (Jon Abella).  Their journey to the competition was disturbed by the love predicaments of the naturals.They were also left scarred by an unfortunate incident caused by  by Martial Law.  At the end of this musical, the competing group was left with the followers pursuing their  goal driven by a new purpose.  They found themselves writing their own song challenging  what they thought was uneccaptable norms. They won. All if a sudden they had a platform to share with others their music through TV. In the end, the trio was left with the realization that fear was unnecessary. Their  song won because people believed in their message and in their music. They were not alone. They were no longer followers but leaders in their own right.  

Message Received 

What is nice about the story that  Robbie Guevara and Jon Jon Martin crafted is that it highlights the underdogs as the last men standing. There was a point in the story where Javier, Bobby and Donnie question  if they could still win  with their strongest members out. Javier states, we have a purpose and that's all we need to succeed. In the play, political unrest was troubling but the three with purity of heart braved it out and sang about  their distaste for current social and political landscape. Their youth or skills were no longer something that could hold them back because the opportunity was there to rise up and they grabbed it.   It's a beautiful message to share. There are no little guys only little dreams.

Batang Bata ako nalalaman ko to
Inamin ko rin na kulang ang aking nalalaman
Ngunit kahit ganayan and kinalalagyan alam ko
na may karapatan ang bwat nilalang
kahit bata pa man kahit bata bpa man.

Throughout the play, the cast would always blurt out "Bawal Magmura". Each time there would be small reminder that things could be said a better way, things could be done a kinder way. I love that very slight hint of how vulgarity was unacceptable then and certainly it should be unacceptable now. It was a purposeful reminder done in such a witty way. I appreciate the unapologetic opinion against Martial Law as well. 

Another point that was well taken was that there is a need to look back at the past. The past should be relished, enjoyed understood and protected. In the beginning the gang cleverly starts with the first song being "Lumang Tugtugin" (Old Songs) bringing back tunes like "Leron Leron Sinta". It appropriately grounded and prepared the audience for the throwback to APO's own music. It's a reminder that we should never forget traces of who we are. 

Throwback Thursday

Perfectly timed on a Thursday, the musical was filled with nostalgia.  Eliciting laughter was the constant references to how Manila used to be back in the seventies.  It was  a  adorable poke at the primitive past with telephone booths, love buses and partylines.  Surely familiarity made it a hit  for audiences of that generation. At the same time the throwback in contrast to present  ridiculously complicated times was quite funny too. The witty references were almost like a meticulous education  of social climate of that time.  It was very intelligently  written and the relatability factor was  on point. Everything was easy to digest. 


The homage to the APO Original Pinoy Music was exemplary .Thanks to Daniel Bartolome ( Musical Director) the  songs' melodies were not overpowered by the changes made to adapt to a theatrical staging. Songs were seemlesly incorporated into the story. Some of the songs were sung in a different perspective and context. It refreshing to witness something new. More importantly it highlighted  the universality of APO's music. Collectively,  cast was committed to singing the songs harmoniously. There were however undeniable standouts. Newbie Jobim Javier nailed all of his songs with gusto. For a newbie in theatre, there was absolutely no trace of hesitation or self-doubt in his performance.  His comical timing, suave physicality and strong voice really gave life to his character "Butch". Watching him approach theater with so much joy and energy was exhilarating. The Sonny and Jane tandem played by Afritze Blanch and Marika Sasaki was too cute for words. The chemistry was believable and their contrast hilarious. Blanch was the ultimate leading man. Sasaki fit the doe-eyed loyal girlfriend to a tee. Their duet "Show me a Smile" made me smile.   Jeff Flores was adorable as Javier. I would think it was a breeze for him as the  role was  almost tailor made to his reality. Energetic funny singer who came from the states who speaks tongue twisting Tagalog, easily Jeff Flores. The most memorable scene for me was not from the cast leads but from Raul Montesa who plays  the father of Ray. He sang the song "Pag-ibig" with so much authenticity that it broke me. Truly I was inconsolable  for a couple of minutes.  This is the first time I have seen Montesa perform in a tagalog musical and I was beyond impressed by his capacity to silence an audience with his powerful facility. What a gift to see this man perform in his native tongue.

Alfritz Blanche as Sonny and Marika Sasaki as Jane 

Jobim Javier as Butch 

I wouldn't say the musical was  perfection personified but it was nostalgia done well and with purpose. A little refinement in scene transitions, a little polishing in the group scenes and maybe a bit more light in some group scenes  would be advantageous. As it is, the musical was light and entertaining yet relevant and absolutely timely. It seems Nineworks Theatrical and Globe live wanted to emulate the spirit of APO Hiking society. Their updated KKK outlook was replaced by the producers' CCC. They were creative, collaborative and courageous. Bravissimo. Thank you for choosing to use gentle,soft heartwarming  art for a greater purpose. 

Catch Eto na! Musikal nAPO! at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater from August 3 to 26, 2018. Tickets sell at Php 1,500 (Zone D), Php 2,200 (Zone C), Php 3,000 (Zone B), and Php 3,500 (Zone A) and may be purchased from Ticketword at 891-9999.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Lia Cirio Makes Her Entrance

To live the life of a dancer would be to commit to the unending cycle of entrances and exits. It is the acceptance that the conventions of ballet would demand a routinary sequence of preparation, performance and moving forward to the next level. Each entrance you make whether it is the studio to rehearse or a stage to perform in determines who you are and who you will be as an artist. It gives you a glimpse of how you will exit the world of dance.The cycle is mandatory is fulfilling itself but success is never a certainty For a non-dancer the uncertainty of it all and the amount of sacrifice it requires seems inequitable.  But then again, once in awhile success stories of people remind us that the  roads less traveled could sometimes give a lifetime of blessings. Filipino-American Lia Cirio's ballet career is a glorified example of how this potentially frustrating life could turn out to be a tale filled with happy ever afters.

Cirio is currently one of Boston Ballet's Principal Dancers. While the globe is filled with Filipinos making a name for themselves in the field of dance, Cirio is one of the few who have attained the highest rank possible in a high profile company. She has even been hailed as "one of the most accomplished actress-dancers in Boston Ballet" by the Patriot Ledgers. Looking at her roots, her journey seems to have been easy peasy lemon squeezy. At sixteen she was awarded a Level One award from the Advancement of the arts and was Presidential Scholar in the Arts Finalist. In the same year she was given an apprenticeship in Boston Ballet. She went from apprentice to corps de ballet and then soloist in a very short time. At 24 she was named Principal Dancer. This olive skinned medium-sized Asian girl with broad shoulders managed to quickly inch her way to the top despite the hundreds or thousands of statuesque pristine ballerinas crowding her way. At 29, she leveled up and created, along with her brother Jeffrey, Cirio Collective. This company is one that is committed to artistic cross collaboration. She now manages it in the capacity of Associate Artistic Director. At 32 she is about to explore choreography for Boston Ballet and will premiere her first work sometime in November. With a timeline like that, one would assume there was a fairy godmother working overtime to help her perfect each plie and tendu. At a time where racism has taken a new life form, Cirio seems to have been sheltered by a magical force field. Talking to this ballerina and seeing her move on stage however grounded me back to reality. Cirio is unscathed and continues to progress  not by any  miracle but because she is  a force to be reckoned with. 

Cirio was flown in by Ballet Manila to star in their American Ballet Stars Gala. This is her very first time to see the Philippines, meet her relatives and perform for her countrymen. I went inside the dressing room expecting to meet a very straightforward cutthroat type of over achiever. Instead I met a bright eyed "familiar" face who immediately reached for a hug. She had a warmth in her eyes that easily put me at ease. She also had that infectious electric energy that made you feel her inner strength. It's quite uncanny because she was very excited about getting to know her heritage but in an instant she exuded the typical Filipino charm. 

When asked about her journey as a Filipino-American artist, she confirmed that just like any successful artist, she had gone through the mandatory aches and pains. It was not without sacrifices that she got this far. With evident intensity, she shared her gratitude for her family who was the driving force of her success. She mentioned all the teachers that believed in her as instrumental in her journey. 

When asked if she thought her being Filipino was in any way a deterrent, she explained the sensitivities she encountered. Growing up she says she never felt she was different. She was lucky enough to be discovered and nurtured by a company who believed fiercely in the power of diversity.  Boston Ballet's leadership has always been focused on simply the art of dancing. With a very open-minded company she never really experienced any discrimination. However when she started getting principal roles she did have to deal with the expectations and standards of the audiences. A woman of color getting roles usually reserved for  the stereotype of fair skinned dancers is an issue for some. This she overcame by giving the roles a flavor incomparable to anybody. It was a conscious effort to give and give more of herself so that they would enjoy her as an artist and blur the lines of color. While she recognizes this as a sacrifice, she is not burdened by it knowing she is paving the way for more Asian women to follow her lead. Now at the peak of her career, she is focused not on getting the accolades but more intent on the amount of art  and inspiration she can  share with others.

Cirio honestly declared that she feels there is much to be discovered about her Filipino roots. Beyond pancit, adobo and Filipino holidays she isn't quite sure what exactly is distinctly Filipino about her. She was ecstatic at the prospect of coming here and interacting with the locals and discovering the persona she (willingly or unwillingly) represents in a global scale. She was already floored with her simple encounters with prima ballerina Lisa Macuja and the Ballet Manila Dancers. She reckons the  complete experience will build her up as both a dancer and a person.

As a dancer, Cirio has been commended for her boldness, sophistication and athletic pliability. Her physique fits the profile of a bravura dancer or a neo-classical ballerina. When she said she was doing swan lake for the gala I assumed she was doing the black swan grand pas de deux. In rehearsals, she surprised me with her white swan transformation.  In a role I would not associate with her, she had me mesmerized. Watching her articulate the ethereal swan was quite an experience. When we were talking about her art she said that her only goal was the pursuit of finding herself in every role that she takes on. Bit by bit she wanted to unravel her soul by finding the feeling in her steps. As I was watching her give breath to her every movement, I felt the sincerity in her words. She  humanized the role of the white swan, pouring out visibly all the emotion she could muster. She was not simply the soft ethereal creature that needed saving. She was a feathery swan in movement but her flow and expression was punctuated by the boldness inside her. Her dancing was full bodied yet sensitive. It was nice to see her brand of uniqueness. Filipino pride swelled up inside my heart knowing the rest of the world have seen this girl shine under the spotlight.

Beyond her dancing duties for Boston Ballet, Cirio is busy with Cirio Collective. With her brother Jeffrey Cirio of American Ballet Theater, they  plan out their season while they are performing in their respective companies. During their off season, Cirio Collective launches into the creative process of choreography and rehearsals. The Company is now on its fourth season and she looks back at the new pieces that they have done fondly. In their fifth season, they will attempt produce choreographers from within the group. This exchange will definitely allow the dancers to understand the roles of both the choreographer and dancer more and will surely transform the people involved.   The Company  provides a safe space for artists to go deeper into their art by means of interaction.  She looks at this project not just as a performing group but an advocacy project for dance artists. She also looks forward to the possibility of bringing her company here in the Philippines through the generosity of Ballet Manila. 

After my encounter with Lia Cirio,I realized that she is the personification of a typical ballerina- hardworking, dedicated, humble. She is living proof that the ballerina mandate can take you far. But frankly, I believe what has helped her achieve what she has in such a fast pace was her giving spirit. With every entrance she makes she delivers with the intent to give back and that's why her every exit is a satisfying end and beautiful beginning.  Throughout her journey, she would gather all the energy, lessons, support that she received and deliver performances with optimum gratitude. Filled with loyalty for the people who have been part of her journey, she finds different ways to give back through her dancing. Her visit here in Manila was the perfect example. She came  excited to perform for a crowd she's never met knowing they have supported her from a distance. She came wanting to inspire them beyond entertainment. That giving spirit is what makes her a progressive, evolving and sincere artist. It's what makes her a true example of an empowered modern woman worthy of emulation. While her visit was brief, I reckon she left a trail of happiness in inspiration with the local dance community. May this lovely woman make her way back to the Philippines very soon so we can all relish her art and her spirit. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Victory for the Philippine Ballet Community

A competition such as USA International Ballet Competition really brings out the very best in it's competitors. The screening process alone was a competition of over three hundred applicants with only 119 emerging victorious. The competition format of three elimination rounds day after day definitely makes it one of the more challenging of competitions.  Not only are the dancers competing for attention during the master classes, they must stand out in both classical technique and contemporary technique. The birth of Team Philippines was already such a big gift to the ballet competition. After ten  years of waiting, we now have a chance to repeat history and gain another win for the Philippines following Candice Adea's  sparkling silver in the same competition. It's  a first to have more than one pair competing at a time. This year we had six natural born Filipinos join and one adopted USA Candidate representing local ballet company Ballet Manila (See TEAM PHILIPPINES) It is also the first time that the three major ballet companies of the country are represented in the same competition (Ballet Philippines, Ballet Manila and Philippine Ballet Theatre).   However, it was their  collective performance that  definitely made history. 

In the Juniors category, Nicole Barosso completed all three rounds and graduates from this competition with the label finalist. Julian Rey Enciso who competed and partnered her did not make it to all three rounds but together they gained a following with their spirited dancing. Their pictures show how much heart they put in their performances. The pair was coached by Ballet Manila Associate Artistic Director Osias Barosso who just happens to be Nicole's uncle. 

Round 1
Nicole Barosso and Julian Rey Enciso
Photo by Richard Finkelstein

Round 2 Choreography by Gerardo Francisco "Fugue"
Nicole Barosso and Julian Rey Enciso
Photo by Richard Finkelstein 

The Seniors Category was  battle among sixty six competitors. What is worthy of mentioning the pool was a mix of famous veteran competitors. In this category most participants if not all  are already in the professional level. It's no longer a battle of just technique. Ultimately it's a test of overall star quality. 

Denise Parungao from Ballet Philippines looked like a sublime beauty in her pictures from Round 1 of the competition. She was a picture of delicacy and grace. She performed the grand pas de deux from Giselle with non competing partner Garry Corpuz from the Hong Kong Ballet.  Sadly she was eliminated early on. Nonetheless it was a great feat to make it to that stage. It was a good chance to show international audiences that purists in ballet exist in the Philippines. 

Denise Parungao and Garry Corpuz in Giselle Pas De Deux
Photo by Richard Finkelstein

Long and limber Veronica Atienza from Philippine Ballet Theatre chose to perform Esmeralda and Giselle variations for Round 1 Classical Category. For round two she performed a piece choreographed for her by PBT Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer Ronilo Jaynario entitled "Leap Of Faith". Leap of faith it was, Atienza  has very little professional contemporary experience but she still survived the round with ease. For round three she had to perform three solos. For the classical section she performed Black Swan variation and Diana variation. Atienza is known for her fluid multiple pirouettes and quick corner turns. She reportedly performed numerous triple pirouettes that thrilled the audiences. For contemporary, she performed another premiere of a new work by Jaynario entitled "Tribal Princess".  Atienza was coached by Philippine Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Ronilo Jaynario and Ballet Master Anatoli Panasiukov. 

Round 1 Seniors Esmeralda Variation
Veronica Atienza
Photo by Richard Finkelstein
Round 2 Seniors Ronilo Jaynario's  "Leap of Faith"
Veronica Atienza 
Round 3 Diana and Acteon
Veronica Atienza 

Katherine Barkman is no stranger to the USA International Ballet Competition. She was a semi-finalist in the Juniors category in 2014 representing the USA . She returns with 2002 Gold USA IBC medalist non competing partner Joseph Phillips still representing USA but under the mentor-ship of Ballet Manila. In round one they performed the Grand Pas De Deux of Don Quixote. This being a signature piece of Barkman, they effortlessly made it to the next round charming the crowd with their flirtatious technique . For the contemporary section they performed "K.B.J.P", a daring pas de deux  crafted for them by Augustus "Bam" Damian.  For round three they performed Grand Pas Classique. For the contemporary session they performed "The Distance Between Us" choreographed by  Simon Hoy. Under Ballet Manila, they were coached by  Lisa Macuja and Osias Barosso. This BM pair  included in Pointe Magazine's live interviews. 

Round 1 Don Quixote Grand Pas De Deux
Joseph Phillips and Katherine Barkman
Round 2 K.B J P Choreography by Augustus Damian
Katherine Barkman and Joseph Phillips
Photography by Richard Finkelstein.

Round 3 Grand Pas Classique
Joseph Philipps and Katherin Barkman
Photo by Richard Finkelstein 

The recently concluded gala announced that  Veronica Atienza  got the Special Award for Jury Encouragement for Women Seniors and Nicole Barosso got the same award for Juniors. Yunting Qui from China won the gold. Soobin Lee from  Korea and  Katherine Barkman from the USA won the  silver. Chisako Oga from the USA won bronze . While Team Philippines did not get the top prize, their performance certainly left an impression.  What this competition proves is that the Filipino dance community is now an empowered one. Our dancers are brave enough to take on global challenges such as the USA IBC. Team Philippines represents a generation of dancers  who are willing and and able to represent our country's colors in a global landscape. Moreover , their success proves that even in the dimmest of situations, our dancers have the ability to shine. The numbers show a David and Goliath playing field. There were countries with double digit representation but at the very end, the Philippines belonged to the top crop of finalists and awardees. The win just proves to show that art is the ultimate equalizer. It's anybody's game. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Birth of Team Philippines

Interest in ballet competitions have amplified in the last twenty years in a global scale. The global trend, the strong influential nudge from social media and perhaps Candice Adea's sparkling win in the 2010 UIBC have inspired our Filipino dancers to become brave enough to go beyond their comfort zone and into the  artistic combat arena. Nowadays children as young as 7 years old are being prepped to compete internationally. Despite the boost, Philippine representation in international ballet competitions is still considered a small number.  I can count with my two hands the number of people who have joined the four notable career changing competitions in the world (which in my opinion are: Prix de Laussane, USA International Ballet Competition, Varna International Ballet Competition and Moscow Ballet Competition) in the last decade.  2018 is a game changer. 

Recently, Lisa Macuja and Ballet Manila spearheaded a fundraising event for all the dancers competing internationally this 2018. Presented to the audience was a legion of dancers that suddenly blurred territories and affiliations turning them all into one brave TEAM PHILIPPINES. It was quite lovely to feel the synergy of support from the audience. I would say that the event was a true mark of "bayanihan". Giving audiences the chance to support "The Filipino Artist" as one body is such a gift to the community. Not only does it paint a beautiful picture of unity, it also shows that the potential of our dancers is something to be proud of. If the performances were any indication of their showing in their respective competitions, I would say at a minimum our dancers will leave a mark for their exemplary artistry. 

At this time, the first group of Pinoy competitors have started their USA International Ballet Competition journey in Jackson, Missisipi. Often times it's called the Olympics of ballet because of the level of difficulty in the process of elimination. To survive the application round is ready an achievement.Round one of competition  is a display of classical technique. If you survive that round, you will get to perform your prepared contemporary number. After that is a third round where you will be asked to perform 1 classical number and 1 contemporary number. Competition at this level is brutal. With this in mind, TEAM PHILIPPINES is really up for combat.  In historic fashion, the three major ballet companies in the Philippines will be ably represented by their artists. Ballet Manila will be sending Nicole Barosso and Yulian Rey to compete in the Junior Category. They are the first Filipino pair to ever qualify and compete in the Juniors division.They will be 2 out of 153 contestants. 

The senior category has 65 competitors.   Ballet Manila's resident guest artist Katherine Barkman will be competing in the senior category with non-competing partner Joseph Philips. Rising star Veronica Atienza who will be representing Philippine Ballet Theatre. Denise Parungao Jr. Principal Dancer partnered by non-competing partner Garry Corpuz will be performing for Ballet Philippines.  Filipino dancers Eunice Suba from New Jersey Ballet and Derek Drillon are also contenders in the Seniors Category. The phrases "more chances of winning" and "strength in numbers" provides hope that a handful will come home victorious. Get to know  our TEAM PHILIPPINES for UIBC 


Nicole Barosso and Yulian Rey have been partnered together for quite some time. Both are no strangers to competition.  Barosso placed 1st in  the CCP National Ballet Competition in the Juniors Divion in 2016. She also got 2 silver medals from Asian Grand Prix in 2015 and 2016 . Yulian Rey placed 5th in the Asian Grand Prix 2017. At the Philippine Dance Cup he was 2nd Place in the 2012 Junior Division Solo Category and 6th Place in the 2014 Senior Division Solo Category. This promising pair is slithers with elan and appropriately playful in the spotlight. 


Katherine Barkman is obviously not a Filipino but she's lived in Manila for three years and have quite frankly captured the hearts of many. Just like in basketball, let's call her the "import" or "kabayan". She's a polished performer who practically glistens in bravura choreography. Sure-footed, she is able to play with her artistry and enjoy her moments on stage. She won the Gold At the 2015 Asian Grand Prix. This is her second time to join UIBC.

Denise Parungao is Manila's adagio princess. Her silken elasticity is what sets her apart from others. She often excites audiences with controlled extended balances and  generous extensions. She previously won the Luda Adameit Award in the 2011 Junior NAMCYA competition and won first prize in the 2014  CCP National Ballet Competition. 


Veronica Atienza is an unstoppable force of nature. From ambuiguity she introduced herself to the dance industry with a glorious performqnce in the Junior  World Ballet Competition by placing 4th. She has since then consistently pleased audiences with her fusion of  glorious femininity and youthful athleticism.  Her endless lines or multiple pirouettes are always  delivered effortlessly.

Derek Drilon is not based in Manila but has performed in the Philippines a couple of times. I have not seen him live but from what I've seen he can very well be our very own Pinoy Roberto Bolle. He has a princely  aura and a natural charm. His classical lines are impressive. He won the Gold in the Youth American Grand Prix San Francisco Qualifier and placed 6th in the overall final competition. 

Sourced from Drilon's Facebook
Eunica Suba lives in New Jersey and has been competing since she was a child. She was even featured briefly in the famous tv series "Dance Moms". Her latest achievement is winning gold at the Valentina Kozlova  International Competition . Her style is minimalist but she is strong, crisp and moves with oriental  mysterious flare. 

Courtesy of Eunice Suba

With the birth of Team Philippines, I hope that the dance community will display once again the act of bayanihan. With blurred lines and territories, I hope everyone says a little prayer and sends an unlimited supply of light and love to all our competitors as they start their journey. At the end of the day aren't we all proud of them ready? 

To TEAM PHILIPPINES. May you receive the blessing of a charmed experience. May you take home what you need to soar to greater heights.