Touring with Ballet Philippines' "Shoes++" around the country

These shoes are made for dancing 
By Walter Ang
Aug. 18, 2002
Philippine Star Week Magazine

July 29 Thursday
I wake up at the ungodly hour of 4am so I can be at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by 6am. I'm lucky enough to be part of the cast (as the lone actor) in Ballet Philippines' National Tour of their highly acclaimed show, "Shoes++," and we leave Manila today.

By the time we get to the airport, it is raining hard and Artistic Director Denisa Reyes is worried. The menacing Manila weather has already given one dancer dengue fever. Having our flight delayed is the last thing anyone wants. We are relieved when they announce boarding for our flight. There are some first time airplane riders among the delegation that includes the dancers and they get a lot of good-natured teasing.

BP's last national tour was in 1997, so this time around, everyone is excited and raring to go. I grew up in the city so the travel to 6 different venues is appealing. And, of course, who wouldn't pass up the chance to work with one of the country's premiere dance companies.

We arrive in very sunny Cagayan de Oro and buckle down to work shortly after lunch. We are being hosted by the Cagayan Capitol College and we have our first Lecture Demonstration in the Gymnatorium (gym+auditorium). The Lec-Dem is a short program geared towards students that features the history of dance development from classical ballet to post modern dance.

In the question-and-answer portion, a little boy fires off a great first question: "How do you do it?" Reyes is amused and challenges her dancers to answer such a "loaded question!" She talks to the students with enthusiasm, pride and passion. It was great to see the students gamely asking about dance or dancing as a career. The one question that tickled everyone's fancy was if dancers were allowed to have "sweethearts." The much cheered answer is yes.

July 26 Friday
"Shoes++" features dances with different kinds of footwear like the usual toe shoes for ballet dancers as well as rubber shoes and get this, diving flippers. The last dance, "Tambok and Padyak," showcases bakya in fun, foot-stomping choreography. One truly interactive part of the tour is that we'll be having local kids dance in "Tambol" as part of the show. There are apparently more kids than originally anticipated and we have to buy extra pairs of bakya for them to wear. Thus, I spend the morning with Production Manager Dennis Maristany on a last-minute buying spree for materials we need for the show.

We arrive at the venue to see our set already in place on the stage. The staff and crew (sets, lights, sounds, and tour managers) work fast, are efficient and always try to make the venue as comfortable for the performers as they can. Reyes has great rapport and synergy with them and it's great to see them working together. No egos or tempers and they all work together to iron out kinks in the production.

During our rehearsal in the evening, everyone works hard to get used to the new venue, as well as making the local kids feel welcome as part of the show. Associate Artistic Director Alden Lugnasin had already made the rounds of all our venues a month before and he's had to choreograph the kids from each venue in preparation for our arrival. Reyes gives out copious "notes" after rehearsals to the dancers. "Put your leg up higher in this part. Lower there. Jump wider. Move to your left."

July 27 Saturday 
We had a great matinee and evening show today! One of our tour managers from the CCP Outreach Division tells us how the audiences were so overwhelmed and awestruck with the show that they find it hard to applaud. "They're so mesmerized!"

I can relate to the feeling because when I saw "Shoes++" for the first time last year, I had the same reaction. The show is a great way to introduce dance to audiences because it's not the usual classical ballet with leotards and tutus. Instead, it makes dance a fun thing to watch. Hopefully, it will make audiences interested enough to explore other dance forms as well.

For many of us who are on tour for the first time, we slowly begin to realize the great importance of what we're doing. Reyes has been constantly reminding us that bringing the arts to our countrymen is a very big deal. Now that we've actually experience doing a show for the tour, we finally know what she's talking about. It gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling all over to see the smiles of the audience's faces. There is a real and palpable hunger for the arts! I find it frustrating that so many people living in Manila City ignore the performing arts when they have access to the most choices.

Denisa recounts her own experience coming back from training in New York City. "I thought I was this New Yorker who knew it all, but when I went on my first national tour, I realized how wrong I was." She tells me, "I really want my dancers to go on a national tour before they go on international tours." She stresses the value of teaching and sharing with our countrymen. Sometimes we Pinoys think being nationalistic is baduy, but talking to Denisa makes you ashamed to even consider such a notion.

Taking her cue, I try to interact with the audiences as much as I can. We only have a short time in each venue before we have to pack up and travel to the next. After the shows, I'd go up to some of them and talk to them a little bit. It's always great to find out the different reactions audiences have to a show. Younger kids love "Tambol," while most teenagers are titillated by "Love Lies Bleeding," a sensual chair-dance with two dancers in jazz shoes.

July 28 Sunday
We leave early morning via a bus ride for our next venue: Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Bukidnon. After lunch, the dancers invite me to join their Pilates class and routine barre work and floor exercises. Knowing how much Pilates sessions cost, I gamely said yes for a free session! As for the barre work, the writer in me couldn't resist a chance to experience something new. (So this is what ballet dancers do!)

A few hours later: my abdominal muscles are still trying to kill me for putting them through that class. Thank god I'm not a dancer! We never realize how much work dancers put into their craft. They jump and twirl on stage like it's the easiest thing in the world to do. Joining them in their workout made me feel like a complete dork with two left feet. I couldn't even get my leg up the barre.

It really is inspiring to work with these dancers. They work hard and dance hard all day long (6 ? 8 hours a day at least). It gets incredibly hot on the tour since most of our venues are open-air and there's no airconditioning. But they dance anyway, sweat dripping from their bodies like the CCP fountain. And if you only knew how much they get paid, you would cringe. "Our office messenger gets paid more!" exclaimed an incredulous friend when I told her the amount. Despite all of that, their dedication and commitment really shines through. I've never head them complain. They show up for work and they dance. Amazing. Calling philanthropists out there to give to BP's Salary Grant Program, please!

Rehearsals with the local kids after dinner. I like this bunch the best so far. Some of the kids here have no formal dance training (some are children of the local farmers) but I like their energy the best. They're so excited and bubbly and eager to be part of the show. Whenever we feel tired, we just take one look at them to get our energy boost.

July 29 Monday
Another two successful shows down, even if I do say so myself. We have 4 free days following since one venue cancelled at the last minute. The past few days have been very hectic and intense with set- ups, rehearsals and performances. The break will give everyone a chance to settle down a bit and finally relish the experience.

After dinner, we view a videotape of the evening's performance where we go through another round of notes. Reyes rattles off notes for the dancers as well as the technical staff: "More lights here. Louder music there. Too dark! Too much echo!"

"It always feels weird to see yourself on video," said one dancer. But everyone knows the importance of improving for the show and the rest of the tour. We pay attention and make mental notes on where and how to better ourselves.

July 30 to Aug 3
The next few days are spent touring different places in Bukidnon including swimming at a resort. (Mental note to self: don't ever swim with dancers again. They all have flat stomachs and I look like a fat-pregnant cow beside them.) Oh but the food! Plenty of lechon for everyone and fruits galore! Reyes teases some of the dancers, "You have to watch your weight! Tikim lang! (Taste only!)" First time durian eaters (like myself) take the opportunity to learn to like the exotic fruit.

We spend evenings vegging-out while watching (sheepish grin) telenovelas. "She's the real daughter but doesn't know it yet!" After the dancers wash their own costumes, we have little chats where we get to know each other more. Apart from their common thread in dancing, they come from all walks of life and have such interesting life stories to tell.

From my conversations with some of the dancers, what becomes apparent is how vital the CCP's Outreach Program is in the search for new artists. Several BP apprentices and members were discovered through these kinds of tours. Whenever a BP choreographer or teacher sees talent in local dancers, they recommend them for scholarships to the annual summer workshop and it goes from there.

In fact, students usually come up to Reyes after the shows to ask for workshop and scholarship information. Clearly, there is a hunger that needs to be fed. So who says the CCP is elitist? When you see the faces of audiences lighting up because they're experiencing an art form for the very first time, the letters CCP spell an entirely different experience.

Aug 3 Saturday
We're boarding the WG&A Superferry 14 as we move on to our next show in Sigma, Capiz--excited, eager and raring to go.

"Shoes++" will also tour Tagbilaran, Tacloban, Ormoc and Baybay, Leyte. It returns to the CCP on Aug. 23 to 25.