Passions and Obsessions

Now, Cecile Licad will play to movement by American Ballet Theater

The renowned pianist and ABT in a milestone dance-piano program

Cecile Licad
Cecile Licad: 'I usually dance around my house privately so I can feel the groove of what I am doing'

Photos courtesy of the artist

Cecile Licad’s body language has always been greatly expressive whenever she performs. She hums while she plays, nodding her head, sometimes too vigorously, when she reaches the fortissimo sections. One wonders sometimes what it would have been like if she had taken another path, like maybe becoming a conductor like Daniel Barenboim or the movie character of Cate Blanchett in Tar. Such passion, such fury!

To her, the next best thing is she herself dancing while learning a piece. She told “I usually dance around my house privately so I can feel the groove of what I am doing. And once I was practicing and the janitor outside my apartment told me, while he was sweeping the floor, he would be dancing near my door.”

It’s typical of Licad to talk and share this way instead of citing past memorable collaborations with prima ballerina Lisa Macuja Elizalde in The Legends and the Classics at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Main Theater. There, the pianist played Debussy’s The Swan on the left side of the stage while the dancer emerged from the dark, floated on her feet, if that were possible, her arms seemingly boneless as they made liquid motions.

Cecile Licad

Taking a selfie

Then there’s Stella Abrera of the American Ballet Theater (ABT), who asked Licad if she was interested in collaborating with dancers. The former was then also the artistic director at the Kaatsbaan Festival two summers ago outside New York City.

Cecile Licad

Licad with a friend’s dog Dante named after Franz Liszt’s sonata

Licad said, “I remember having goose bumps just watching the ballet dancers move in connection with the music. It was beautiful. I had a very exhilarating experience. And different, which I like.”

The experience will be recreated when Licad and the ABT mount a dance-piano performance to benefit Ayala Foundation’s CENTEX program on April 20 at 7 p.m, at the Samsung Theater of Ayala Circuit in Makati.

‘I remember having goose bumps just watching the ballet dancers move in connection with the music. It was beautiful,’ said Licad

The program will open with Tatum Pole Boogie, with choreography by Daniel Ulbricht, music by Art Tatum, to be performed by Cecile Licad and dancer Vince Pelegrín.

Ulbricht described his work thus: “Tatum Pole Boogie is virtuoso solo that aims to match the musicality and showmanship of the great pianist Art Tatum. It pushes the dancer to the limits of speed and artistry, featuring fast footwork, split-second timing, and charisma…The piece is challenging but incredibly satisfying to perform.”

Licad will also play three Chopin etudes: Étude Op. 25 No. 10 in B Minor, Octave; Étude Op. 25 No. 11 in A Minor, Winter Wind; and Étude Op. 25 No. 12 in C Minor, Ocean.

From the notes, Licad, considered worldwide as one of the greatest interpreters of Chopin, shared, “The etudes are considered a milestone in the history of the technical literature of the piano. Each of Chopin’s etudes presents a specific technical issue. Opus 25 no. 10 is a study in legato octaves. It is a pandemonium of sound. Between the storm and its return, there is a magnificent lyrical section in B major, and No. 11 in A minor is a study in chromatic passages descending and ascending in a gigantic explosion, which ends with a scale passage, with both hands traversing the entire keyboard. No. 12 is a volcanic eruption with arpeggiation in both hands throughout the work.”

The notes added: “These three etudes transcend technical difficulty and expose the wild heart of the great Polish Master.”

The last part of the program is The Go Between, based on the novel of the same title by L.P Hartley. The book was published in 1953 and remains his best-known work. Choreography is by Gemma Bond with music by Scarlatti to be performed by Licad.  This work in five movements was commissioned by ABT Studio Company. Its performers are Madison Brown (pas de deux), Kayke Carvalho (pas de deux), YeonSeo Choi, Brady Farrar, Ayami Goto, Lilia Greyeyes, Vince Pelegrin, Sylvie Squires, and Alejandro Valera Outlaw.

The selected Scarlatti sonatas Licad will play are Keyboard Sonata in C Major, K. 86, Keyboard Sonata in A Major, KK. 114, Keyboard Sonata in G Major, K. 241, Sonata in D Minor, K. 32: I. Aria, and Sonata K. 98 in E Minor.

Coincidentally, she will release in the US her latest CD entitled American Dances. She said, “I had just finished a CD of dances, and here I am playing with dancers. Two pieces in the CD were actually choreographed for ballet.”

Coincidentally, she will release in the US her latest CD entitled ‘American Dances’

Would that said CD would become commercially available in the Philippines soon, not just for piano aficionados but for dance buffs, too.

The international world of music has unofficially bestowed the recognition that Licad is a master of her game, so to speak. So she has been invited to judge a number of chamber music competitions, enabling her to see a new crop of young musicians, even prodigies like she once was, emerge.

Van Cliburn studying Cecile the young prodigy’s right hand

What was it like watching these talents unfold before her eyes? She answered, “It’s very interesting, especially chamber music competitions, because I have never done that. But it’s very hard to judge. I think the one I usually like loses.”

It may be that she has also made her mark as a mature artist, so she has been invited to conduct master classes across the US. Of her fairly new development as a teacher, she said, “I don’t know if I have matured, but yes, I do a master class sometimes, but it’s pretty superficial, since you spend so little time with the students. But the students who played for me said they loved it ,so what do I know?”

Cecile Licad

Licad conducting a masterclass

Licad’s Facebook account has many posts about her foodie side. She seems to be especially partial to meat. She said, “I love tripe, gizzards, pig knuckles because they’re so tasty. I was just in an Italian restaurant and I ordered two big plates of tripe. The cook was like, ‘I am proud of you.’ It’s a restaurant where Frank Sinatra ate. And there is a room in the back in honor of him.”

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About author


She is a freelance journalist. The pandemic has turned her into a homebody.

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