Passions and Obsessions

‘A Christmas Celebration’: Dancers return to live performance

December 12 show at newly opened CCP proves PH ballet’s talent, resilience and courage to surmount the pandemic

Dance- Kevin Cascano (Steps Dance Studio) As The Wolf from Sleeping Beauty (Photo by Victor Ursabia)

In a system where pandemic unemployment assistance is unheard of, Filipino dancers have been finding ways to survive and even thrive in their art. Some have ventured into virtual teaching. Others do on-site classes and rehearsals and bear the discomfort of wearing masks which obstruct their breathing.

After 22 months of no live performances—performing is the heart of a dancer’s career—these artists are finally treading (more like tiptoeing) the boards again as the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), recently opened, presents A Christmas Celebration on December 12, 2021.

The program features classic excerpts from Sleeping Beauty and Tuloy ang Pasko, a jazzy take on popular Filipino Christmas songs. The event is mounted by dancers gathered from different companies.

Dance – Tuloy Ang Pasko cast (standing) Monica Gana, EJ Arisola, Johan Ababon, (seated) Erl Sorilla, Jessa Tangalin

National Artist and artistic consultant Alice Reyes nixes rumors that she is forming a new dance group, but instead, to help dancers in these uncertain times, she has been raising funds and guiding them.  Last year, the CCP Dance Workshop (CCPDW) was formed to give teaching jobs to displaced dancers of its resident company. These dance artists, who primarily teach virtual classes under CCP’s Arts Education and Arts Online programs, find their platform of expression in the series of virtual shows produced by CCP.

Ronelson Yadao, CCPDW’s rehearsal master for contemporary dance, teaches technique  and company repertoire such as an excerpt from Reyes’  Rama Hari  for Arts Online.

He said navigating 2021 was better than last year. Initially, CCPDW artists had to grapple with the technicalities of teaching via Zoom and working in their cramped quarters. They developed a system where the teacher could monitor the students on the screen while the assistant demonstrated the movements.

“The teacher and the demonstrator receive fees from CCP on top of the patronage support for the CCPDW. The earnings are less compared with company work. We have managed to survive. The dancers understand the situation,” he said.

When there were COVID cases, albeit asymptomatic, CCP would be shut down for a few days for sanitation.  During the long lockdowns, dancers had to work from home, making do with cement floors and tiny rooms.  Upon the easing of restrictions, they would cope with the difficulty of regaining stamina in rehearsals.

“We anticipated that it wouldn’t be easy. During the run-throughs, they were panting. They couldn’t finish their variations,” said Yadao. Nonetheless, their determination saw them through.

CCP formed the Professional Dance Support Program (PDSP) with dancers from Ballet Manila, Philippine Ballet Theater, Steps Dance Studio

CCP recently formed the Professional Dance Support Program (PDSP) which has invited displaced or furloughed dancers from Ballet Manila, Philippine Ballet Theater and Steps Dance Studio, to keep them in shape.

CCP produced Dance On,  a series of virtual shows presenting the dancers’ versatility in ballet and contemporary dance. It enabled the PDSP members to work with the CCPDW and choreographers with different contemporary styles. Yadao observed that the dancers from other companies shared the experiences of working under challenging restrictions yet they all continue to strive for quality.

This year, Victor Ursabia, another BP alumnus, became the ballet master who restaged Le Corsaire for the video and the dances from Sleeping Beauty. He noted that the dancers, who were cast according to seniority and technical capacity, managed to pull off difficult variations.

Like most artists, he was challenged by the limitations of the virtual platform. “Teaching online is harder for people after a certain age,” he said. “I have to keep repeating the demonstration because of the lags in the internet. It’s tiring.”

On the return to live performance, CCP revived the on-site press preview of A Christmas Celebration. At the Little Theater, the ushers and usherettes, who were normally dressed in elegant barong and kimona were clad in androgynous white PPE’s.

“Am I in a hospital?” asked my companion Brehznev Larlar, a BP alumnus and dance mentor.  People sat one seat apart form each other at the Little Theater.

Since the Sleeping Beauty  dances were performed out of the context of a full-length narrative, the pieces were more of  exhibitions of technical competency and in some instances, the lack of it. No thanks to the internet, but the accessibility of online rehearsals and performances of major companies made it tempting to make unfair comparisons, but we held back comments, considering that Filipinos have been dancing in tougher and illogical conditions in this pandemic.

The first part of the show tested the dancers’ mettle in the classics. The excerpts showcased the picture-perfect lines and strong balances of Veronica Atienza (Philippine Ballet Theater) as the Lilac Fairy, the feline quality of the nimble Nicole Barroso (Ballet Manila) and introduced the long-limbed Kevin Cascano, a scholar with soaring leaps from Steps Dance Studio. CCPDW’s reliables—the dignified Victor Maguad as Prince Desire and the pristine Katrene San Miguel as Princess Aurora—executed a technically secure Grand Pas de Deux.

Dance – Veronica Atienza (PBT) as the Lilac Fairy (Photo by Lester Reguindin)

Yet, back-to-stage jitters added to the unevenness of the ensemble work and some duets. Some of the soloists fudged their movements while others involuntarily raised their shoulders while moving that it made them look stiff.

They express truthfulness in being an artist. They know what’s lacking so they work hard….’

Nonetheless, Ursabia commended the dancers for their dedication to mount a substantial show. “They’ve been struggling through these times, yet you see the hard work. They express truthfulness in being an artist. They know what’s lacking so they work hard to make up for it. You will appreciate their sincere effort.”

Dance Artists of CCPDW Victor Maguad and Katrene San Miguel

Produced as a video in 2020, Tuloy Ang Pasko  featured the memorable songs by such composers as Levi Celerio, Felipe de Leon, Ryan Cayabyab and the Apo Hiking Society.

Tasked to direct the dance, Yadao held a nightly video conference with seven choreographers from CCPDW for Tuloy ang Pasko.  Since there was a different choreographer for each song, they had to find movement styles that would create a seamless choreographic theme. This year, the dancers are doing it live without the benefits of camera close-ups and zooms.

Tuloy Ang Pasko told the story of a silver-haired Filipino expatriate named Val, played by former BP star Nonoy Froilan, who took his photo holding an LP and shared it with his former barkada in the Philippines. One of them sent their old group picture taken in the ‘70s via Messenger. The dance suite developed into a sequence of flashbacks establishing the unrequited love between the young Val (Earl John Arisola) and Sab (Monica Gana) and the community atmosphere of Pinoy Christmas, replete with dancing star lanterns and celebration of the Midnight Mass. Ultimately, Val virtually reunited with his buddies and a mature Sab (Liliane “Tats” Manahan) on Christmas Eve.

The movements from jazz and musical theater expressed dance as social joy. The soubrette Gana and charismatic Arisola dominated the stage while others performed with bursts of vigor and upbeat groove.

Gigil yung mga bata (The young ones can’t contain their thrill),” said Yadao. “They lost two years of performances and the experiences that they could have gained from them. Regardless, they just want to do it.”

Nerves notwithstanding, said Larlar, the dancers’ excitement  was infectious. He rescheduled his dialysis just to watch the run-through. “Their high energy was better than any therapy.”

 A Christmas Celebration will be held on Dec 12 at 2 pm and 7 pm at CCP Main Theater, For more information, updates, and ticket inquiries connect with us through the following: Facebook: @culturalcenterofthephilippines | @artists.ccpdw Instagram: @culturalcenterph | @artists.ccpdw E-mail: [email protected] | [email protected] Mobile: (02) 832 3680 | 8832 3704 | 0945 807 1016 TicketWorld: GLOBE +63 917 550 6997 | SMART +63 999 954 592

Read more:

The pandemic didn’t stop PH ballet

About author


She is a veteran journalist who’s covered the gamut of lifestyle subjects. Since this pandemic she has been giving free raja yoga meditation online.

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