The performance arts industry was one of the most affected by the pandemic. When strict lockdowns and quarantines were enforced across the globe, the world as we once knew it was at a stand still. This held especially true for the dance community. Theaters and halls, once filled with music and movement were unceremoniously shut. Dancers, whose days had been dedicated to endless hours of in-person rehearsals and live performances were–just like the rest of the world–confined in their homes to weather the uncertainty.
A COMMITMENT TO KEEP DANCE ALIVE
As a response to the crisis, Ballet Philippines immediately sought to pivot with the times. During its 51st Season, which coincided with the worldwide pandemic, the company pledged to keep dance alive. They swiftly migrated online, with a grand season launch via Zoom that set the benchmark for succeeding online events and performances. An enhanced experience of ballet online saw the birth of Ballet Philippines’ On Stream website.
“We had to swiftly pivot and innovate so that we could ensure that we could continue supporting our dancers and the entire community,” recalls Ballet Philippines President Kathleen Liechtenstein. Expanding this mission beyond the sphere of ballet and its core dancers, Ballet Philippines also taught to extend support to the other dance companies in the country. “We put our heads together and initiated a Guest Artist Program that would support dancers through employment, training and the opportunity to grow as artists.”
The program’s model opened doors for dancers from Ballet Manila, Philippine Ballet Theatre to seek employment and growth opportunities. Since it was put into effect in 2021, the Guest Artist Program has helped to support remarkable performance artists in the country. Kathleen intimates, “We wanted to bring together the best dance companies in the country under one shared goal of keeping Philippine performance arts alive.”
Dancers who are invited into the program are trained, employed and compensated by Ballet Philippines. Through these initiatives and the cooperation of these three companies, the dance community has banded in a unified effort to survive, pivots and thrive during uncertain times. Kathleen adds, “The program has also forged a sense of unity for the three dance companies where there is not a real sense of cooperation and collaboration.”
THE GUEST ARTIST PROGRAM FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF BALLET MANILA
Ballet Manila Founder and Artistic Director Lisa Macuja recalls how events of 2020 took a toll on the dance world: “The pandemic has been cruel to the performing arts–and for Ballet Manila. It came a few months after our home, Star Theater and Aliw Theater burned down… When we had to close, my team and I went through stages of grief.”
The company found its footing shortly after. Confined in her home, Lisa busied herself with company classes online. The school’s restructuring to fit into the reality of a “new normal” also occupied the company. Lisa adds, “I paid my dancers in full until the end of their contracts despite the fact that there was no work and no income. I kept 14 dancers under contract for the next season where they were mainly teachers and demonstrators for our online school.”
Around the same period, Ballet Manila dancers who held foreign passports boarded planes back to their homes. A good number of the company’s apprentices and young performers hung up their pointe shoes and tutus. Lisa shares that 11 of her dancers stayed on. “They would sometimes dance, teach in school, and work creatively to put up recitals for our students,” explains the artistic director. “We had to adjust and change, but we survived.”
The company is navigating its way in the new normal. “Personally, my goal is to get my company back to pre-pandemic levels. It’s not going to happen right away but I can always dream,” intimates the world renowned ballerina. The home, the Aliw Theater, had just reopened after it was engulfed in flames where LIsa plans to mount a “scaled down season.”
In the meantime, the Guest Artist Program of Ballet Philippines contributes to the fulfillment of these dreams. Lisa shares that when the concept was presented to her, “ I was all for it! I was immediately thinking of my dancers and their wellbeing. If I can't offer them performances and a chance to grow as artists, then I am glad someone else has.” For the five Ballet Manila dancers selected to take part of the initiative the program meant performances, creative and learning opportunities. But more than that, Lisa emphasizes, “it forged a sense of unity and collaboration in our greatly fractionated dance community.”
The esteemed CEO, Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Manila ends: “I think it is high time we realize that it’s never going to be the same. And realistically, the fact that we have three ballet companies performing to the very limited audiences of Manila is unsustainable. I am hoping that because of the experience of the last two years our dance leaders and community will be able to put egos aside and work together more. Again it’s not for us, but for the dancers and dance students who are dreaming of a professional career in dance here at home. We need to be able to work together. For our mutual benefit and survival.”