by KERRY TINGA
Past, present, and future were whisked together in a flurry of passion through performance and dance for two nights only.
Late last week, at the Globe Auditorium of the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, the Ayala Foundation was pleased to present “Stella Abrera and the Rising Stars of American Ballet Theater featuring James Whiteside, Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theater.”
“Each of the American Ballet Theater (ABT) Studio Company’s performance is special,” says Sascha Radetsky, the artistic director of ABT Studio Company. “But our Manila performances bear particular significance. Access to the arts should be a human right. The arts are to the human spirit what oxygen is to the human body.”
The sold-out performances raised funds for CENTEX (Center of Excellence in Public Elementary Education), Ayala Foundation’s flagship education program for the underprivileged youth of the Philippines.
The night itself was an educational and emotional experience for all of us in the audience, who learned of the primal power of movement and dance when backed by a cause we all believed in. The intimate venue allowed each person, on and off stage, to connect to each other in the name of equality. The arts does not, should not, see color or race or gender or age, but simply truth and heart. That is what ABT showed us that night.
It was announced just on October that Stella Abrera would retire June of next year, after 24 years with the company. Her final performance will have her return to the lead in Giselle, which she first performed the month before she was promoted to principal dancer of ABT, the first Filipino-American in the Company’s history.
The poetry in that is not lost on me: bookends of a masterful career coming to a full circle. It is apt then that the mood of the gala night felt like a blend of a homecoming concert and a farewell tour. At the same time, in one of her first performances with the ABT Studio Company, an ensemble and incubator of young dancers and creatives training to join the main company, she passes the torch to the next generation of movers, shakers, and dancers.
“Philippine audiences got the chance to watch this young and incredibly gifted group of dancers who are rising stars and the future of the American Ballet Theater. They showcased classical ballet at its finest and featured in exciting pieces put together by Mr. Radetsky,” says Sofia Zobel-Elizalde, chair of the organizing committee, which also includes Kit Zobel, Joanna O. Duarte, and Mia Borromeo.
We were entreated, first, to the pas de deux from Flames of Paris, performed by Kanon Kimura and Duncan McIlwaine of the ABT Studio Company.
This was followed by opening remarks from Radetsky, who was beaming with pride on behalf of the whole company, eager to showcase the high-level of artistry on our humble stage.
A modern number, called Escapades, was staged by Teresa D’Ortone, Seon Mee Park, Yoon Jung Seo, Aleisha Walker, Tristan Brosnan, Arthur Erlanson, Andre Robare, and Elwince Magbitang. The creation was developed during a residency at Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, New York, showcasing ABT’s commitment to the future of dance.
Abrera, along with featured principal dancer, James Whiteside, performed the pas de deux from With a Chance of Rain. It was my first time seeing for myself Abrera performing live, just a few feet from where I sat, and it was as radiant as I had read in articles such as the one I am now blessed to write.
After intermission, Chloe Misseldine, Leah Baylin, Melvin Lawovi, Joseph Markey, D’Ortone, Kimura, McIlwaine, and Robare captured our attention again with On the First Star of the Night, commissioned in partnership with The Royal Ballet School.
Magbitang executed “Gopak,” a solo. He was barely on the ground, if at all, for I would not be surprised to learn of some super-natural skill he possessed that allowed him to jump and float so magically as he did. A CENTEX and STEPS Dance Studio scholar from Tondo who now performs with ABT, he is a testament to what equal opportunities to the arts and education can do. The audience roared with pleasure, enamored with his energetic performance, overjoyed that he represents our country in every extension and pose.
Tilli Glatz and Robare performed the first pas de deux from The Leaves Are Fading choreographed by Anthony Tudor, and presented by arrangement with The Anthony Tudor Ballet Trust.
The finale, a suite from La Bayadere, brought together the entire cast for a sublime performance that brought together the past, present, and future of ABT. Abrera became Nikiya, the titular bayadere, or temple dancer, in her movements and expressions.
No words can do a performance such as this justice. Not just because it has a moving, visual component that is lost on an audience who has to read it in words, no matter how highfalutin they may be. It is lost in translation, from the language of movement to the written word.
Part of the beauty of live performance is that it is ephemeral, as is part of the beauty of life itself. Abrera retires from ABT at the height of her career, with obviously much more she could give to her audiences from the stage, that it can only be said to be a shame. She, however, has gone to show how much more she can give off stage to the future of ABT, to the future of the Philippines, and to the future of the Filipino.
From last year’s performance fundraiser, the Ayala Foundation was able to put up the Stella Abrera Dance and Music Hall in CENTEX Batangas.
“I see parallel missions with CENTEX and ABT,” says Abrera. “Both organizations offer a sanctuary where young people can be nurtured by passionate mentors to go on to bright futures.”
“Stella Abrera and the Rising Stars of the American Ballet Theater, featuring James Whiteside” was co-presented by Patek Philippe and supported by STEPS Dance Studio, SEDA, Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land Inc., Globe Platinum, Noble House Enterprise Distribution, Malongo, Distinqt, Lacoste, LBC, Capezio, Sharp Travel Service, and ARC Gin by Full Circle Distillers.