Lisa Macuja marks silver anniversary with dance concert

Lisa Macuja marks silver anniversary with dance concert
By Walter Ang
September 28, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Via Ballet Manila Facebook
Lisa Macuja-Elizalde will hold a thanksgiving ballet concert on Oct. 2 at the Aliw Theater Hall to mark her 45th birthday and her silver anniversary as a dancer.

Laptop manufacturer Sony hosted a gala cocktail for her during the launch of its new Vaio collection in Peninsula Manila Hotel.

Sony Philippines lauded Macuja's "unmatched achievement of a valued and loyal customer who has touched audiences throughout the Philippines and in more than 85 cities in five continents around the world," and described her as "a cultural icon, a champion for Philippine art, and a visionary."

Macuja started taking ballet when she was nine years old at St. Theresa's College. After high school, she was accepted into the Vaganova Choreographic Institute (now the Academy of Russian Ballet) in Saint Petersburg as a scholar of the USSR Ministry of Culture. She graduated at the top of her class in 1984 and became the first non-Russian to be invited to join the Kirov Ballet. With Kirov, Lisa performed as principal ballerina in ballets like "The Nutcracker," "Giselle," and "Don Quixote" (that she performed with a ruptured thigh muscle and received a 20-minute curtain call).

She returned to Manila in 1986 and became the first artist-in-residence of the Cultural Center of the Philippines while dancing with Ballet Philippines. In 1988, she became a ballerina of Philippine Ballet Theater. In 1996, she founded her own dance company and school, Ballet Manila.

As a dancer, Macuja has performed close to 300 different roles. For BM, she juggles the roles of principal artist, artistic director, teacher, and company administrator. From an original complement of 12 dancers, BM now has more than 70 dancers.

Macuja has been a moving force in bringing ballet to the masses. BM's regular season productions are staged in the Star Theater and Aliw Theater, two venues that are conjoined to the Star City theme park. Patrons of the park get to watch her shows as part of their entrance fee.

As for the rest of the country, BM has performed outreach performance tours in more than 45 cities and towns. "Our motto is `have floor, will dance,'" Macuja says. "We've even danced on wooden softdrink crates while on tour!"

While steeped in the Vaganova method and committed to presenting the classics to Filipino audiences, BM also makes an effort to present works geared towards Pinoy audiences. It has staged "High School Musikahan," a take-off from the popular Disney musical and it recently staged "Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang," an original Filipino ballet production. Macuja choreographed "Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Maria," one of the stories featured in the production. "My first time to do so for the company," she says.

Tech savvy artist
"I have been using Vaio laptops since 2001, even before it was available in Manila, and I've had three so far. I am like a `techie-wannabe' because I am interested in learning but do not have the time," say Macuja. Nonetheless, she has incorporated her laptop (and her digicam and videocam) into almost every aspect of her life.

Aside from using it in her office to manage BM, she relies on her laptop to serve the needs of her own and her dancers' craft. She does basic music editing when needed and uses it to playback videos of rehearsals and performances for critiquing. In out-of-town venues, her laptop occasionally fills in for audio-video equipment.

For personal use, Macuja uses it to access the web to maintain her social networking accounts and website ( She has blogged about why "Don Quixote" is special to her and plans to add "more videos, interactive features, and links." She considers her laptop as the "study partner" that helped her complete a Management Degree (with honors) from the University of Phoenix online.

She's even nurtured the same love for technology with Missy and Mac, her children with industrialist and painter husband Fred Elizalde. Both children each have a laptop of their own and Macuja encourages their self-expression through their blogs (where they advocate for issues like the environment and endangered species).

More than dance
Macuja's dance career has resulted in numerous accolades such as a silver medal from the Asia-Pacific Ballet Competition, Tokyo; The Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World, USA; and the Order of International Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Her work in dance has always incorporated civic service. BM provides scholarships for deserving students. She also recently founded Project Ballet Futures with the Philippine Christian Foundation to provide ballet training, milk, vitamins, and stipends to indigent scholars.

She has served as Commissioner of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and is currently Vice-Chairman of the Philippine UNESCO National Commission. She also serves as founding treasurer of the Artists Welfare Project.

Silver anniversary
The gala cocktail kicks off Macuja's series of performances for the 14th season of BM, featuring highlights from her career. "When I decided to become a professional ballerina at 14, I did not expect my career to bring me this far. I am very, very fortunate to still be dancing as a ballerina; very, very lucky that my body, my instrument, is still up to the physical stress and pounding that dancing demands from it," she says.

"Every chance I get to dance onstage in the same world-class quality that I demand from myself is a celebration for me and my art. I do not want to miss any chance to be able to celebrate my dancing with every performance. I love to dance and I hope that dancing will continue to be a part of my life at least for the next five years or so," she adds.

"Lisa@25" will be a multimedia live dance concert in three parts: a classical ballet medley, a pop medley, ending in "Prinsipe ng mga Ibon," the first story from "Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang." The Oct. 2 performance will be followed by an after-show party to celebrate Macuja's 45th birthday. "I always like dancing on my birthday. It makes the day extra special and gives me a chance to celebrate onstage," she says.

She will then give her farewell performance as Kitri in "Don Quixote." "I suppose being able to dance Kitri, with all those prerequisite high jumps and speedy turns, during a silver anniversary is a feat in itself," she says. "Knowing that it is my last shot at my dream role, a signature role that I have been fortunate enough to dance many, many times after that winter morning in Saint Petersburg will make these final three performances like no other."

Lisa@25 runs Oct. 2-4. Don Quixote runs Oct 9-11. Call 400-0292 or 525-5967.

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Shamaine Buencamino in 'Mother Courage'

Shamaine Buencamino in 'Mother Courage'
By Walter Ang
September 21, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Audiences may be familiar with Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino as the ubiquitous "mother" in TV shows like "Precious Hearts," and "SRO features Iza Calzado," or in films such as "One Last Chance" with Bea Alonzo, "Ang Lihim ni Antonio," and "Agaton and Mindy."

Theater audiences will now get a chance to see her as one of the most iconic mothers on stage as she plays Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage in Tanghalang Pilipino's Filipino translation/adaptation "Madonna Brava ng Mindanao" at the Tanghalang Huseng Batute, CCP.

A graduate of the Philippine High School of the Arts and a theater arts major from the University of the Philippines, Shamaine had been absent from the theater scene until recently. Ironically, many non-theater audiences are familiar with her because of a commercial she acted in years ago for a multivitamin with real-life husband Nonie Buencamino (and a more recent commercial for an electricity distributor). In fact, she's actually been working in the advertising industry behind-the-scenes as an assistant director for commercials.

"Years ago, Nonie and I decided that he would pursue his acting career while I did advertising. I felt that I couldn't juggle both production and acting work," she says. A request from Tanghalang Pilipino artistic director Nanding Josef in 2004 to act in "Hudhud" reactivated her theater career. "I realized that it was possible to do both after all."

She did a string of plays for Tanghalang Pilipino such as "Troyanas" (Trojan Women) and "Orfeo sa Impyerno" (Orpheus Descending). Last year, she made waves in a major way via the titular roles in Dulaang UP's "Atang" and the Virgin Labfest's "Ang Kalungkutan ng mga Reyna." "Reyna" cinched for her the Aliw Award and Philstage Gawad Buhay Award for Best Actress.

This year, she continues to ride her wave of success with leading roles in TP's "Madonna Brava" and immediately after its run, in DUP's "Mary Stuart/Maria Stuarda." She reprised her role in "Atang" in a restaging a few months ago and will be reprising her role in "Reyna" for "Tanyag," a trilogy of award-winning plays that is set to tour the country.

Though based on Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," Shamaine notes that "Madonna" is actually a reworking of the play. "Major characters have been cut out and new scenes have been written in so we can better tell the story and share the views of the Moros," she says.

"Our intent is to explain to audiences what happened in Mindanao from the late 60s to the 80s. While it's impossible to understand or explain everything in just one play, it's important that we create awareness about and for what is happening to our countrymen in Mindanao," she says.

Together with members of the TP Actors Company and actors of the Mindulani Group from Mindanao, Shamaine went to Mindanao for an immersion trip. "We all hear such terrible things, but when we went there, we really enjoyed our stay. People there are so frustrated at how the news is always sensationalized. They just want business and life to go on," she says.

Her character is described as a woman who "needs to survive with her family in a milieu of uncertainty, terror and death" as she "takes her tri-ethnic brood?a Moro, a Christian and Lumad (each from a different father)?to long distances and unseemly spaces of war-torn Mindanao." Instead of a cart, she has a multicab, "a veritable mobile mini-bazaar loaded with an assortment of wares that cater to soldiers."

Shamaine says, "My character is actually Visayan who is based in Mindanao. There was actually a wave of migration of Visayans to Mindanao in the 60s and 70s. We are using real-life political background facts to stage this play." To this end, she has been working closely with her co-actors to work on their accents. "We keep laughing during rehearsals because all of our accents sound different and funny! But our co-actors from the south are helping us out."

"The situation in Mindanao is a really complex issue. It's important is that we actually care that there is a war there, that we do whatever we can in our capacities to do something about it. In my case, I am doing theater work to create awareness," she says.

"Madonna" is written by Don Pagusara and directed by Nestor Horfilla, founding artistic director of Kaliwat Theater Collective of Davao. The production also features music composed and arranged by Davao City-based, all-female music group Mebuyan. Mebuyan's members recently won at the Tunog Mindanao Annual World Music Competition held in Davao City.

"Madonna Brava ng Mindanao" is the second offering of Tanghalang Pilipino for its 23rd season, which has the theme "Women of Substance." The show runs until Oct. 11. Call CCP Box Office (832-3704) or Ticketworld (891-9999).

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Atlantis Productions stages Duncan Sheik's 'Spring Awakening' musical in Manila

Spring awakening in Manila
By Walter Ang
September 17, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Atlantis Productions is staging Tony Award winning musical "Spring Awakening" this September. This rock musical, featuring the music of Duncan Sheik, is an adaptation of the controversial 1891 German play of the same title by Frank Wedekind. It went through seven years of development, finally debuting Off-Broadway, and eventually winning four Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, and eight Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Set in late-nineteenth century Germany, it chronicles the challenges faced by star-crossed young lovers Melchior Gabor and Wendla Bergman against a backdrop of sexual awakening. The original play was banned in Germany due to its portrayal of masturbation, abortion, rape, child abuse, and suicide.

"If your children watch TV shows like 'Gossip Girl' or 'One Tree Hill,' this musical is nothing. Those TV shows are actually worse!" says Cheska Inigo, who plays Female Adult Figure. Cheska started as a child actor with Repertory Philippines and moved on to film and television.

She plays five different roles in the musical. "I play a slew of mothers from supportive ones to ones that are negligent or in denial, but as a mother to three children myself, I want parents to give this musical a chance. The teenagers in this musical are not going through anything that we don't also have in our real lives. At least with a musical, audiences will see real people, and hopefully, that will bring the message home closer," she says.

With Cheska is The Dawn lead vocalist Jett Pangan who plays Male Adult Figure. Also portraying five different roles, Jett says, "I play roles that range from a loving and supporting father to a forbidding and abusive schoolmaster. Just like in the musical, there still exists a communication gap between the young and old in certain homes and communities. This musical is not just about adolescents yearning to learn about their sexuality, but also about themselves in general."

Both Cheska and Jett have experienced working in milieus that are iconic of youth culture. Cheska was immortalized in the movie "Bagets 2" along with Eula Valdez and Yayo Aguila while Jett's music with The Dawn has spoken to an entire generation of young people. That both are now parents and portraying roles that represent the "institution" is an ironic and funny situation that is not lost on them.

"It's surreal," says Jett with a laugh. "But while I was reading the script in preparation for our rehearsals, I realized I had to play a principal who is a real jerk and it made me remember my own days as a student. I became more conscious of how strict I am to my own kids."

Cheska adds, "I think parents in the audience will, just like me, have some sort of rude awakening. But it's an awakening in a good sense. When I was reading the role of a mother who was just so detached from what was going on in her daughter's life, I thought to myself, `This could possibly happen to me as a parent.' So it gave me a reminder to be constantly involved in my children's lives."

Concerns with the musical's subject matter aside, both actors enthuse about the music. "Duncan Sheik's music is great," says Jett. "I used to cover his songs with The Dawn and now I'm in a musical the he made."

"The music is beautiful!" says Cheska. "There is a range from hard core rock to bubble gum pop. The music is so emotional, it really carries you. In fact, one of the songs in the show, `My junk' is now my ringtone."

Both Cheska and Jett will be working with a young cast led by Joaquin Valdes as Melchior and Kelly Frances Lati as Wendla. Joaquin has been on the performing since he was just eleven years old and was recently seen in the musical "Into the Woods," while New York City native Kelly makes her professional Philippine theater debut. Kelly has been in musicals like "Pippin" and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

"Spring Awakening" is part of Atlantis Productions' 10th Anniversary and is directed by Chari Arespacochaga. Chari has directed musicals like "Honk!," "Altar Boyz," and "Avenue Q." She's also served as Assistant Director for Bong Quintana at Pagcor's "Wanders" and "Flow."

An actress, choreographer and educator, Chari actually had a chance to watch the show Off-Broadway in New York City even before it won any awards. An usher did show up for work and Chari was offered to take the job in exchange for a free seat. "I left the theatre in a daze," she says. "I knew I wanted to direct this musical!"

She is collaborating with Rajo Laurel for costume design, Tuxqs Rutaquio for set design, Dexter Santos for choreography (both Tuxqs and Dexter were recently involved in another Wedekind play, "Lulu," as actor and director, respectively), Voltaire de Jesus for lights design, and Jojo Malferari for musical direction.

Spring Awakening runs from Sept. 25-Oct. 18, 2009 at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza, Makati. Call 892-7078 or 840-1187. Due to explicit content and some nudity, Parental Discretion is advised.

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The family that bakes together stays together (Annabel Lee Cheescake Cafe and Bistro)

The family that bakes together stays together
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

The sweet success of a cheesecake shop, reports Walter Ang, 
confirms that
The family that bakes together stays together

TUCKED somewhere along the long stretch of Timog Ave. in Quezon City is a cheesecake shop called Annabel Lee. Once inside, customers will see colorful murals and a hodge-podge of floor treatments, from multi-colored tiles to rough stone. No interior designers were needed to develop the vibrant atmosphere, since the family that owns and runs the shop did it all on their own.

"We wanted it to look homey," explains Timmie Lee, the younger brother of the sibling tandem that manages the shop. "It started out as a different design in our plans, but we kept adding and adding elements, just like in a real house. We even put up seasonal décor like cherubs for Valentine's and tropical fish and tie-dyed lanterns for summer."

Whimsical pieces such as wall-mounted coffee mugs with metal smoke swirls and coffee mug motifs in the iron fence are just some of the "elements" Timmie speaks of. "My family designed the whole place. The murals are original designs by my older sister Tanibel, and we had an artist reproduce them. We had the wall-mounted coffee mugs custom-made in Taguig, and the grillwork of the fence custom-made in Antipolo. Even the shop logo was designed by us in just one night, while sitting around at home," he says.

It's no wonder that brother and sister are wont to discuss family ties when their shop is the topic. Annabel Lee is, after all, named for their mother. Both grew up enjoying baked goodies prepared by their mom. "Even though our mom took basic cooking classes, she developed her skills on her own, since she baked a lot for us," says Tanibel. "She bought a lot of books and played around the kitchen in her free time."

Annabel began focusing on cheesecakes because "she couldn't find any that she liked," says Tanibel. "Her recipes evolved from those found in cookbooks. She made different kinds like mango, mocha, and chocolate."

Appreciation for Annabel's creations started growing outside the family circle, such as when she would bring one to the occasional potluck affair at the bank where she works. Eventually people started to request for her goodies, offering to pay them. It wasn't long before Annabel was selling cheesecakes during the year-end holidays.

The whole family would help in the preparations. Mom baked the cakes, and their stockbroker father, Dennis, created special toppings to complement the cakes. "Since cooking is a family passion, we didn't really mind helping out when we were kids," recalls Tanibel. "We would buy felt paper and cardboard boxes in bulk from Cartimar. We had fun." This family's ventures in the kitchen took on a more entrepreneurial spirit when, "we started printing our own boxes to make them look more `professional.'"

Improved packaging inevitably gave way to the idea of opening their own little space to serve up the family specialty in 2002. Word of mouth has brought in a healthy number of customers, and success is evident with the opening of a second branch in Promenade, Greenhills in 2005. One thing that certainly helps attract traffic is the shop's name. Who wouldn't be intrigued by a name that's the same as the title of Edgar Allan Poe's poem? Yes, the same one that most of us are introduced to in high school literature class. "We have customers who come in and recite the poem!" says a visibly amused Tanibel.

With her background in marketing, Tanibel was tasked to handle operations, while brother Timmie, with a hotel and restaurant management degree tucked under his belt, is in charge of helping mom with the food. "She's still the one who primarily makes the cheesecakes at home. So here at the shop, we really serve `home-baked' cheesecakes," says Timmie.

From the simple experiments Annabel used to prepare, the range has expanded for the shop's menu. "With a wide variety of cheesecakes, we have flavors that appeal to almost everyone. We serve baked cheesecakes that are rich, heavy, and creamy. We also have chilled/cold-set cheesecakes which are lighter and have a more `marshmallow-y' texture. This is usually chosen by those who are conscious of their diet. Bestsellers include the classic blueberry cheesecake, mango, chocolate mint, and strawberry," Timmie says.

After much prodding from customers, the family now includes savory items in the menu. "Our best sellers include our US steaks, either grilled or pan-roasted. Our Stuffed Chicken is also a signature dish, with sun-dried tomatoes, bacon, and ricotta cheese. It's served with a rich real demi-glace sauce that takes 10 to 12 hours to make. We also have items that are good to share like our Persian Curry Fondue. We also serve Halibut steak cooked to perfection," says Timmie.

To keep things fresh for the customers, Tanibel changes the menu every so often. The latest introductions include sizzling salmon belly sisig and pita pizzas in three different flavors. "We play with new ingredients in the kitchen to create new interests for our customers' ever-changing tastes," Tanibel says.

For inquiries on Annabel Lee cheesecakes and branches, call tel. no. 926-6994 and 926-6995.

A sweeter world with ingredients from Ferna

A sweeter world
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Walter Ang goes to Navotas to find out more about a little-known outfit which has, in a big way, helped create
A sweeter world

There was a time when flavored shakes were the rage in Manila. The flavors, colors, and variations seemed endless. Flavors ranged from the usual chocolate and vanilla to more Pinoy flavors like buko pandan and ube macapuno. What most people didn't know was that the key flavoring ingredient that almost everyone used to make the concoctions was manufactured by a little company called Ferna Corporation.

"We actually set the standard for the powdered flavorings for shakes here in the country," says Ferna president Giovanni "Vanni" Co with pride. While the shake mania has ebbed, Ferna is still around. It's an institution and brand known to bakers and chefs since it has been importing and manufacturing food and baking ingredients since 1996.

With just a little more than a hundred employees in a factory in Navotas City, Ferna was actually spun off from its older sister company, Purechem Corporation. Founded in the early 70s by Vanni's father Fernando, Purechem's humble beginnings were in the family living room.

"It was the typical Chinese entrepreneurial effort. Our living room was the office and we had some equipment in the backyard," says Vanni. "Our father entertained clients at home and our mother, Ester, ran the admin matters while taking care of the kids. She would go out to check on the equipment one minute and oversee the cooking in the kitchen the next. My four siblings and I were squeezed into one bedroom. "

Growing up in such a milieu gave Vanni an appreciation of the sacrifices made by his parents. "We saw how hard it was to run a business," he says. Even though Vanni wanted to take electronics communications engineering in college, his father prevailed upon him to take up chemical engineering instead.

In the end, Vanni took up commerce major in marketing in San Beda College. Though he may not have gone in the same academic footsteps as his father, Vanni's choice proved to be useful for the family business in the long run.

Purchem had dealt mostly in trading with other companies. In 1996, it was decided that Ferna was to be born to cater to mid-level businesses like commissaries, bakeries, restaurants, hotels and, yes, the everyday consumer. The non-professional home cooks and bakers will certainly be familiar with the Ferna brand and its products like seasonings, spices, gelatine, food colors, and liquid flavorings.

"The flavorings are used for a host of foods like yema, cream fillings, frozen desserts, cakes, breads, and cookies," Vanni says. "Aside from the typical almond, banana, and strawberry flavors, we also have tropical fruit flavors like pineapple, melon, sweet corn, and watermelon. We also have native flavors like pandan, ube, langka, and even durian."

Aside from the usual baking ingredients like yeast, baking powder, baking soda, and corn syrup, Ferna also has siopao and donut premixes. It distributes the Franklin Baker line of coconut products that come in flaked, toasted and desiccated variants. "Coconut is rich in healthy medium-chain triglycerides and it has one of the highest fiber content among all plant foods," Co says.

Ferna is also the exclusive licensed manufacturer of Nutrasweet in the country. "One of the ingredients of Nutrasweet is aspartame, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar. But Nutrasweet Tabletop Sweetener is formulated in a way where one packet is equivalent to two tablespoons of sugar. It is a good sugar substitute for people who are conscious of their weight because it has no calories," Co says.

For food service industry clients, Ferna has its Nova line. "The Nova soft serve ice cream mix uses only vegetable fat instead of dairy, resulting in less than 2% fat. It also contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber. The Nova whipping cream powder is gluten-free and complies with Halal requirements," Vanni says.

Ferna remains a family enterprise until today. Vanni's wife Thefania handles finances, and his siblings have at one time or another been involved in the business. It is the patriarch Fernando's guiding principles that the company stands by. "We make sure that all the ingredients we make are 100% food grade. He always reminds us that we are creating products for other people to eat. It is a very big responsibility," Vanni says.

Vanni is proud of the fact that Ferna's factory consistently passes the audits performed by their multinational clients. "We have to always be very careful to uphold the utmost quality. There are no compromises. We want to make sure that people view Ferna as a reliable, long-term partner," he says.

The sense of partnership extends to not just creating food products and selling them, but also providing people with a way to earn their own living. "We invested a lot of time and effort establishing a network of clients in the provinces. We support them by doing regular demonstrations using our products so they can find out the latest trends in baking or cooking since some of them may not have the resources to come to Manila for further training," Vanni says.

Vanni makes it a point to go abroad every year to see what is going on in the food ingredients industry. "We want to make sure we are on top of new developments," he says. Vanni has taken his father's advice to heart, never resting on current laurels. "We can't consider ourselves successful because there is still a lot to do and a long way to go for Ferna."

Weight specialist Dr. Roland Angeles explains how energy levels affect weight

Energy in, energy out
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

The basic concept of the calorie diet, reports Walter Ang, is 
Energy in, energy out

A results of a recent U.S. study that followed the diets of monkeys for 20 years showed that a reduced-calorie diet paid off in less disease and longer life. The researchers note that these findings could apply to humans.

Of course, the mere mention of "calories" and "reduced" will most probably result in a lot of teeth-grinding and hair-pulling by a lot of humans. But a "reduced-calorie lifestyle" is not impossible to do and does not have to be painful.

Calorie is a measurement unit of food energy that is made available to the body through digestion. Everything we eat and drink (except water) has calories. Everything we do burns calories. By simply sitting down and breathing, your body is burning off calories. Of course, more strenuous activities burn off more calories.

"The reason why people become overweight is an imbalance in the amount of calories ingested and the amount of calories burned off," says weight-specialist Dr. Roland Angeles. "If you consume the exact amount of calories that your body burns daily, your weight would remain the same." However, many of us live sedentary while having, admittedly, slightly decadent diets.

Counting the calories of what you eat can help you lose (or gain) weight. "To lose weight, you need to eat less calories than what you are usually used to so that your body will start using up the 'reserves' that are stored in fats," he says.

"However, it is important to know that drastic or crash dieting is harmful to the body. If your body is used to eating, for example, 3,000 calories a day and you suddenly started eating only 1,000 calories, your body would react in ways to counteract what it acknowledges as starvation. Your metabolism (or how fast your body burns calories) will actually slow down to keep every calorie it can because it wants to keep you alive. Not exactly the results you'd want out of dieting." he says.

This is aside from feeling cranky and weak among other side effects like fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Losing weight too rapidly can even lead to severe complications like gallstones.

People who try to loss weight usually try to change everything in their lives all at once and the sudden pressures and stress of all that change becomes too overwhelming, leaving nothing done. "Small steps, specifically gradual reduction of calories, and consistency are important in achieving weight loss," says Dr. Angeles. "There are about 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. If you ate 500 less calories each day for seven days, it would equal the 3,500 less calories required to lose one pound of body fat."

You don't have to slash out huge amounts of calories from your diet right away. If you start eating less (for example, 250 calories) while becoming more active (for example, burning 250 calories by walking for about half an hour), then you would have ended up shaving 500 calories from your body. "Your weight loss won't be instant, but small tweaks can, and will, pay off over time," he says.

Counting calories can be tedious and time-consuming, so an easier approach is to find low-calorie substitutes for the foods you usually eat, or lessening the portions of your servings.

Instead of sugar, try a low or no calorie substitute. Instead of a whole cup of rice, you don't have to go half right away. Try filling the cup only two-thirds full. Forego the whipped cream in your iced mocha latte. If you like having ice cream after a meal, slowly get used to fruit-flavored yogurt instead. Once you're used to that, slowly switch to a non-fat variant.

Counting calories, of course, is not an excuse to cheat or fool yourself. If you ate only non-fat ice cream and nothing else every day, of course, you would definitely lose weight, but your body would become malnourished.

"If you do start watching your calories, you will also need to make sure that you eat a variety of foods so that your body is properly nourished with different vitamins and nutrients," he says. "This is why junk food like chips and soda are known to contain `empty calories,' in that they pack a lot of calories but have very little or no nutritional value."

While there are free online calorie calculators that can help you figure out how much calories you usually eat and how much you usually burn off, before starting any kind of diet, always be sure to consult your doctor or nutritionist first.

Dr. Angeles also warns against any kind of diets that are discussed in magazines, TV shows or from friends, especially diets mentioned from foreign sources since the eating habits of people in other countries (and the caloric amount in their usual diets) may differ vastly from yours.

"Your dietary needs (including how many calories you should be taking) depends on several factors, including age, gender, height, weight, your usual activity level, and the rate of your body's metabolism," he says. "Children, adolescents, and pregnant women should never start a diet without a doctor's approval."

A certified health professional will help you establish all of these "base" information and help you come up with a plan on how to gradually introduce change to your eating and exercise behavior to achieve your desired weight.

A breath of life: Jac Vidgen teaches Buteyko breathing method

A breath of life
By Walter Ang
September-October 2009 issue
Asian Dragon Magazine

Walter Ang writes about how a half-century old breathing method can provide
A breath of life

"The perfect man breathes as if he is not breathing" - Lao-Tzu

People seem to want more of everything and anything in this is the age of overconsumption. According to Jac Vidgen, aside from overeating and overspending, most people even over-breathe. Vidgen is a senior practitioner of Buteyko breathing, a method that enhances one's heath and healing originated by Russian scientist and medical doctor Konstantin Buteyko in 1952.

Buteyko theorized that overbreathing disturbs the delicate ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside the body, therefore, less oxygen reaches vital areas of the brain and body. Resulting symptoms range from lightheadedness and dizziness to palpitations, skipped heart beats, muscular spasms, and different degrees of anxiety. Buteyko's more than 40 years of research has uncovered up to 200 diseases or conditions that can be linked to incorrect breathing.

With the "less is more" philosophy gaining ground on all fronts of our lives, it can now apply to breathing as well. "Breathing is neither taught nor learned," says Vidgen. "It is a function of the body that we just do naturally, without thought or effort. But it is also taken for granted and incorrect habits can develop as a way of coping with the stress of our modern lifestyle." He also notes that breathing is an integral component of Asian practices such as pranayama breathing in yoga and chi-gong or tai-chi breathing.

He points out that the Buteyko breathing allows people to re-train their breathing patterns as a way to improve health and to reduce or eliminate dependence on medications. "It normalizes the breathing rate and depth so that an effective metabolic process can be achieved. Buteyko is perfect for people with asthma and other respiratory ailments. People say asthma and other breathing disorders are caused by pollution and the environment, yet asthma can strike in clean environments, while some people who live in polluted environments never suffer asthma. The way people breathe is certainly a major factor," he says.

Vidgen became involved with Buteyko breathing in the early 90s in Australia. "When I started to learn the method, I had immediate benefits to my lifetime symptoms of allergic rhinitis and back problems," he says. He trained under Alexander Stalmatski and Christopher Drake, and eventually introduced the method to the Asian region. He has been based in South East Asia since 1998, teaching classes mostly in Manila, Thailand, and Hong Kong.

Classes are usually done in a series of five sessions, each lasting one to two hours, spread over one to two weeks. "Most participants have symptoms which they want to reduce, like asthma, but some learn the method as a tool for general health - to strengthen immune and hormone function or to improve or refine sports or exercise performance - and, of course to have a healthier old age," Vidgen says. He now also teaches the method through internet chat or phone.

Students with asthma usually experience immediate relief "often within the same day of the first lesson or by the following day." Vidgen notes that Buteyko breathing has helped his students deal with issues such as allergies, eczema, sleep apnea (when people stop breathing while sleeping), migraine, and weight control, among a host of other conditions. Athletes and scuba divers, on the other hand, report increased stamina, better performance, and reduced recovery time.

"Generally, my students are delighted to find an increase in vigor, concentration, and the elimination of many symptoms that one would not necessarily attribute to improved breathing. Often, the more severe the problem the more dramatic the improvement," he says. "Increasingly, I have been getting students that suffer from fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. It's indicative of the way we live our lives and the way we use our bodies in modern society. We need to slow down and simplify our lives."

The results that can be achieved using Buteyko breathing have been documented in five scientific studies conducted in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Scotland. The "British Guideline on the Management of Asthma 2008" allows British health professionals to recommend Buteyko, stating that the method "may be considered to help patients control the symptoms of asthma."

Vidgen points out, however, that results vary from individual to individual. "It depends on many factors such as the age and health of the participant, as well as their degree of practice and their willingness to be aware of their breathing. Some students will require more than five sessions, depending on their individual condition," he says. "Children as young as three or four can learn the method but parents need to be present. I've also had students as old as 90."

Aside from bringing the method to Filipinos, Vidgen also hopes to find individuals who are interested to become trainers. "It's kind of sad that I'm the only one teaching Buteyko in the Philippines right now," he says. "I'd love to teach new trainers so we can spread the method, after all, everyone would benefit from a more optimal breathing pattern."

For details, visit or call +63919-635- 6060.

Cynthia and Ivy Almario explain how small spaces can have big ideas

Small spaces, big ideas
By Walter Ang
September 2009 issue
Metro Home Magazine

When you live in a small space, either by choice or circumstance, there is no reason why it should not be designed to create a comfortable, stylish environment. Interior designers and sisters Cynthia and Ivy Almario of Atelier Almario gives tips and tricks on how to deliver the most impact in intimate spaces.

Illusion is the name of the game when dealing with small spaces. "You can use design elements to create the illusion of a bigger space," says Ivy. "Mirrors automatically double the size of the area and add a sexy element to the look of the place."

Aside from using it as an entire wall, in the case of the living room in the single lady's nest, notice how the designers incorporate mirrors in unlikely areas such as the backsplash of the kitchen counter or the back portions of the shelving in one of the bedrooms.

"We usually advise our clients to have one wall of the bathroom lined with a mirror since it's usually one of the smallest rooms," says Cynthia. "Either that or use frosted glass for the door of your bathroom."

Glass partitions can also take the place of solid walls. The transparency of the material adds a lighter feel to the atmosphere and also serves to allow as much light to penetrate the space as possible. "Knocking down solid walls and replacing portions of it with glass can do wonders for a room," says Ivy.

"Light is incredibly useful in creating a sense of largeness," notes Cynthia. "Indirect lighting such as cove lighting maximizes the effects that light can have on a room. If you have mirrors, you'll definitely need light to bring out the reflections."

Color is also a design element that can be used to one's advantage. Painting a room in a single color creates the illusion of expanse. The bachelor's pad uses a faux wood treatment throughout most of its walls and doors to unify the space. "Paint the door and its jambs and knobs all in the same color as the wall to create a seamless look," advises Ivy. "You don't want to have a different color for the door so that you don't break the line that the color creates."

This is not to say that all four walls of a room should always be in the same color. "You can choose one wall as the accent wall by painting it a different or contrasting color," says Ivy. This will also serve to create a focal point where the eyes are drawn to (so it will be distracted and won't spend so much time assessing how small the space actually is.)

Notice also how the faux wood treatment in the bachelor's pad is used for only half the space, instantly creating a sense of "invisible division" between the kitchen and the living area.

Another way to "trick" the eye into experiencing a wall's scale is to cover it in design. The sisters used a forest silhouette graphic design done in black against a frosted background on the glass walls of the lady's unit to accentuate the height of the wall as well as to create a sense of depth. It also serves to provide privacy for the two bedrooms behind the wall but still allowing the eyes to see further through the partitions.

Clean lines
If there are windows, one technique to increase the sense of height and drama is to cover it with floor-to-ceiling treatments. "When you see a small window in the middle of a wall, it can feel constricted, but if you cover it up with a big curtain, it provides a line that creates the sense that there is a much bigger opening behind the curtain," says Cynthia.

The same principle applies to cabinetry and shelving. "It's much better to have your shelves and cabinets covered up so that it creates a clean area for the eyes. Open shelving or glass cabinet doors will show all your clutter and it will also require a lot of work because you'll have to constantly keep things neatly organized. If your knickknacks are hidden from view, you can just dump them all in," Ivy laughs.

Now that the architectural elements of the space have been covered, furnishings and décor come into play. "The furniture's colors should complement the wall colors. Neutrals work best," says Cynthia. From a practical point of view, dark upholstery hides stains, food or otherwise, more effectively.

Notice how the pillows on the sofa in the bachelor's pad are large and in the same color scheme as the upholstery of the sofa. The colors maintain the masculine tone of the room but the textures and shapes provide softening elements.

"If you really want to have color for your furniture, it's best to use throw pillows. Go crazy with the colors of your pillows if you like because you can always hide them, change them, get new slipcovers, or throw them away when you tire of the colors," suggests Cynthia. Besides, it's easy to change throw pillow color covers with the seasons for a quick sense of decoration.

Scale and proportion also play an important part. Most people make the mistake of filling up a small room with small furniture. "It just goes to show how small the room actually is!" says Ivy. "Also, many small pieces will create a cluttered look." The sisters advise getting a large central piece to anchor each room. A large sofa in a small living room that can accommodate guests is a better route than having fold-out chairs that are cumbersome and have to be rearranged constantly.

"It's best to choose furniture with clean lines to maintain a clean look for the space," says Cynthia. "Avoid ornate pieces with intricate or overly embellished elements. It will just make the room look busy."

Dual purpose
Double duty is also necessary when it comes to furnishing a small space. "Always think of how one piece of furniture can be used in more than one way," says Ivy. In the bachelor's pad, the sofa provides seating for the dining table parallel to it. The closet opens both from the bathroom and the bedroom, providing convenience and a central storage area for both rooms. "Think of how the spaces underneath beds, tables and sofas can provide storage spaces," she adds.

In the lady's nest, there are pull-out side tables flanking the bed in the main bedroom for additional storage space while the second bedroom's bed is designed to serve as a seating area where guests can lounge about or hang out. "It's not centrally positioned like the other bedroom so that a table could be added to the room. There are two mattresses and the top one can be laid out on the floor to accommodate extra guests," notes Cynthia.

"Be creative and imaginative when choosing décor," says Ivy. Utilitarian items such as wall clocks can also serve as artistic touches. A metal sunburst wall clock in the bachelor's pad is sandwiched between two paintings with bold graphic designs to add character to the bedroom.

"It's really all about clever uses of a small space," both sisters point out. Take a good look at your space and plan out how you intend to use it before selecting the best design and functional elements that suit your personality and, more importantly, suit your space.

Call Atelier Almario at 817-4016 or visit