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Expanding our Reach

Ballet Philippines works with foundations, companies and organisations worldwide to enhance the skills of our dancers through residency, training and exchange programs

Swans for Relief

A Noble Dance of Swans 

Swans for Relief brings together ballerinas from around the world to raise funds for struggling artists disadvantaged by the pandemic 

By Anna Isabel C. Sobrepeña 

Limbs quivered to the sonorous tremble of a cello’s strings. Saint-Saëns’ music played as dancers emerged one by one in a succession of frames, each on the throes of dying. It was a dance of pain evoked by the very real struggle of artists around the world. The corona virus pandemic has cancelled shows and closed theaters, effectively leaving the dancers with no income to meet their living expenses. In a show of solidarity, 32 ballerinas from 22 dance companies in 14 countries performed Le Cygne in a virtual presentation to raise funds for their fellow ballet dancers. Leading the effort is American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Misty Copeland and her former ABT colleague Joseph Phillips, now the new Development Officer of Ballet Philippines for International Desk and BP guest artist.

“...the purpose of the dance is not to display that technique but to create the symbol of the everlasting struggle in this life and all
that is mortal.”

- Mikhail Fokine

Dancers in Distress

“Dancers didn’t know what they were going to do,” Joseph Phillips says in a exclusive online interview. He felt for fellow artists who were displaced by the world-wide malady. “Everybody is a bit anxious and just sad because as a dancer you’re so used to being in a studio every single day of your life. I think younger dancers especially feel like it’s all passing by because the first five to six years are so important in becoming who you want to be and develop who you will be in the dance world.”
 
Ballet’s Golden Boy, so known for having won the most number of gold medals in international ballet competitions, wanted to do something for them. The idea came upon him after watching a video forwarded by BP President Kathleen Liechtenstein of cellists rendering the Dying Swan together. He got back to her and proposed to create an online performance with ballet dancers. Within two hours, the project was hatched. He reached out to Copeland, whose wide following would hopefully help in generating the resources that would provide assistance for dancers in distress.
 
The first African American woman principal dancer of the 75-year-old company bought into the idea. “Originally, I thought we could do this with four or five dancers,” Phillips recalls. Copeland, however, thought of asking more dancers who generously responded to the invitation to be part of Swans for Relief, the name of their fundraising project.

Philippine Connection
 
Copeland, who has never been to the Philippines, makes her connection to the country through a Filipina ballerina. “I know a little bit because of my close friend and ABT colleague Stella Abrera who was born in Manila, and has done some recent
work with children there,” she shares in an email interview. “I’ve never been to the Philippines. Though I have no plans to come, as of yet, I’d absolutely love to!” Phillips, who made a side trip to the country a few years ago, ended up staying and
is now married to Ballet Philippines dancer Denise Parungao. Both Copeland and Phillips worked together to create the virtual performance to raise awareness and financial support for fellow artists. “She’s really very good at marketing and did all the email correspondence asking people [to be part of the dance], doing all the coordination. I received all the videos and did the editing,” Phillips says.

The Noble Spirit of Dancers 

The participating ballerinas danced to Saint-Saëns music, rendered by cellist Wade Davis, in their private spaces to the choreography of Mikhail Fokine. Phillips deftly put them all together in one cohesive video. “It’s quite hard because we dance on the music,” he explains. “You have to know the steps, what order they are in. Every dancer is doing a sequence from The Dying Swan and they’re not doing it in just a random beat.”

The six minute video was uploaded on YouTube and hopes to generate at least US$500,000. All proceeds will go to relief funds of participating artists’ respective companies, or other arts/dance-based relief funds for companies not set up to
receive donations.

“I think Swans for Relief is a clear proof of the family community environment of the ballet world,” Copeland says. “The fact that all of the dancers came on board with no hesitation because we are helping one another speaks volumes.

“Everyone has a beautiful response,” she continues. “Every ballerina has been grateful to be part of the project and to be representing their company. It’s been really nice to get the support of the artistic staff and directors of all 22 ballet companies. I think we are setting an example for how the world should be uniting at this time.”