with performances and classes to maintain presence during pandemic

BEFORE THE pandemic hit, Ballet Philippines (BP) had grand plans and a hefty P74-million budget for its 51st season which included the introduction of a new artistic director, an announcement that caused a controversy and crisis on its own. Then the stages closed and performances were canceled because of health and safety restrictions thanks to the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, halting all of the dance company’s plans. But BP isn’t going down without a fight as with a revamped website it’s trying to make sure “to keep and maintain BP’s presence in everyone’s minds,” the company said in an e-mail.

“The birth of BP OnStream [is] a testament to BP’s determination to continue bringing to their audience enriching and relevant content while keeping the love and practice of ballet alive,” BP said in a release.

The website (ballet.ph) will feature exercise tutorials, lectures, and masterclasses. It will also be an avenue to discuss “lifestyles, personalities, health tips, and all relatable subjects,” Ballet Philippines told BusinessWorld in an e-mail on July 18.

Most importantly, the new website is the company’s new virtual stage, featuring performances from Ballet Philippines’ 50 year history. Its maiden offering is Opera, the ballet adaptation of Gabriel Barredo’s art installation of the same name. The 2016 production with choreography by Redha is touted as one of BP’s finest productions, in the words of its president, Kathleen L. Liechtenstein.

The website is the only stage BP will be able to perform in currently seeing that the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ stage is closed until December.

“It was the threat of COVID-19 that propelled us on what you may call our determination to survive and keep ballet alive. While some may say that dance and the arts are non-essentials during a pandemic, we beg to disagree. On the contrary, dance and the arts become even more vital during these unprecedented times,” Ms. Liechtenstein said during the site’s digital launch on July 14 via Zoom.

She explained that “art is the language of the soul [and] if that is squelched, all else falters and dies.”

Because of travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, Ballet Philippines’ new artistic director Mikhail Martynyuk wasn’t able to come to Manila, therefore his training and exercises have been done online. The company’s dancers have also been dancing from home.

In February, Ballet Philippines announced that Russian dancer and choreographer Mikhail “Misha” Martynyuk would be replacing National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes — the founder of Ballet Philippines who had returned to the company to mark its 50th anniversary — as the company’s artistic director.

BP Board Chair Antonio C. Cojuangco previously said that the appointment of Mr. Martynyuk, which set a fire under ballet patrons and artists alike on social media, was meant to improve Ballet Philippines saying, “we’re not the best in ballet. We may be good but we’re not the best,” signalling the need for a Russian artistic director trained in the Vaganova style.

(Read more: https://www.bworldonline.com/the-russians-are-coming-the-russians-are-coming/ and https://www.bworldonline.com/total-fail-how-communication-breakdown-broke-ballet-philippines-leg/)

The 51st season had a lot going for it, the company told BusinessWorld. They had planned five “extravagant” productions on the back of a P75-million budget — in contrast, the 50th season only had P14 million — but the pandemic threw a wrench in those plans. But not all of it though, as Mr. Martynyuk decided that this would be the best time to hold masterclasses conducted by artists from around the world.

“Thanks to the fact that online conferences became very popular and not replaced at this time. I invented a project for BP — Masterclasses from around the world,” he said during the digital conference.

Online masterclasses, he said, are easier to mount as they wouldn’t have to fly artists into the Philippines to conduct them.

Among those conducting the masterclasses are Eduard Akhmetshin, principal dancer and teacher at the Ballet Moscow Theater, George Bikdaze and Joy Womack of the Boston Ballet School, and Liza Macuja-Elizalde, artistic director and CEO of Ballet Manila.

This season’s guest dancers, Joseph Phillips and Joshua Serafin, will also be holding online training and rehearsals.

Mr. Martynyuk also announced plans for an online performance to be released late this year or early next year, before saying that performances lined up for the season “will resume” once everything is back to normal.

“I think right now is a new era for the company. And it’s very, very exciting because this is the first time that Ballet Philippines is really opening the doors for the rest of the world,” Mr. Phillips said during the conference, adding that having dancers from different backgrounds is “so important for all the dancers” because they get to “experience different cultures and grow.” — Zsarlene B. Chua