Saturday 8 October 2011

Filipinos Shine in the World Stage of Ballet

Candice & JM in "Diana and Acteon"

Candice Adea and Jean Marc (JM) Cordero have been consistently putting the Philippines in the international dance map for the last couple of years.  Both principal dancers of Ballet Philippines, resident dance company of the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, the onstage & offstage partners have been representing the country in prestigious international ballet competitions.  
Candice in "Don Quixote"
Most recently, they represented the country in the 8th Seoul International Dance Competition held from July 24-31, 2011.  The pair made it to the Finals, despite a raging fever during the elimination rounds for JM, and with a Bronze finish for Candice.  Last May,  the pair garnered Special Awards in the 1st Boston International Ballet Competition (BIBC).  They won the Lead Role in Russian Ballet Performance, an award given by the Artistic Director of Chelyabinsk State Academy Opera and Ballet Theater to a dancer/pair of the highest level.  They will be dancing the lead roles in the full length production of Don Quixote.  Candice also won the Maris Liepa Prize for Outstanding Artistry.  This special prize, presented by BIBC 2011 judge Andris Liepa, son of late ballet legend Maris Liepa, is an invitation to perform in Paris in 2012 along with stars from Bolshoi and Marjinsky Theatres (two of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world) presenting Fokine ballets as part of the Russian season in France.  Candice will be performing “Firebird.”
JM in "Don Quixote"
In June 2010, they competed with 119 other contestants at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi, considered the Olympics of Dance.  Candice won the Silver Medal in the Senior Division, the first Filipina to ever win a medal in this competition.   Cordero was a semi-finalist, the farthest any Filipino danseur has placed here in Jackson.  It is worth mentioning that they were early favorites in the competition, receiving a standing ovation as early as the first round.
Their partnership started in 2007 for the New York Ballet Competition.  From then on, they have been essaying soloist and principal roles in the seasons of Ballet Philippines.  In 2009, Candice received the Gawad Buhay Award for the Most Outstanding Female Lead Dancer.
in Augustus Damian III's "Evacuation"
I first saw Candice when she was preparing for the ballet competition in Tokyo, Japan, as a student of the Makiling High School for the Arts.  This was for the 9th Asia Pacific Ballet Competition and at the young age of 13, finished as finalist.  I remember then feeling the thrill in the gut that you get when you see someone special, a person of real promise.  Then having worked with her in Ballet Philippines, I have witnessed her dedication, her love for dance and also her quirkiness, which are lovable and amusing, nevertheless.  JM, on the other hand, is a surprise since he was really just taking ballet to while away the time he was waiting for Candice, his girlfriend since their Makiling days.  To have achieved all these, despite starting training at the age of 18, is indeed quite a feat.

Candice in "Diana and Acteon"
Today, with all their international achievements and recognition, they have acquired an artistic maturity that is achieved through the rare combination of hard work, commitment and humility.  And with this, it is only inevitable that they attract more admiration, support and recognition.  Their achievements also prove that the Filipino talent, provided with the support of both the artistic and business community, is indeed world class.  In an interview after her Jackson competition feat, Candice was quoted as saying, “We Filipinos are not far behind from the rest of the world, especially if we put our heart and mind to it.  Everyone was good, but what set us apart was our soul in dancing.”  And what beautiful souls they have, I can attest.

* this article was written for Pinoy Living, launch edition

Saturday 1 October 2011

Pinoy Singing Sensation 3

* this article was written for Pinoy Times, published in the September 2011 issue

Darren Espanto, Pinoy Singing Sensation 3 Champion
The Pinoy Singing Sensation (PSS) had its Season 3 Finals Night last August 20 at the Gateway Alliance Church in Edmonton.  With contestants from Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan, the young singers went through vigorous rounds - American Idol style, singing Billboard Top 100 and OPM (original pilipino music) songs, complete with judges’ comments and scoring, and audience and web voting.
The PSS was established by Tony Surtida of Le Tigre Entertainment Productions to discover the untapped talent pool in the Filipino community in different cities.  It is open to anyone who is of Filipino descent and has attracted these past years both citizens, permanent residents and temporary foreign workers.  The annual competition has slowly extended its scope through the years: by conducting auditions in areas outside of Edmonton and even out of province; by launching a Junior edition; and by adding web voting, thereby allowing anyone from anywhere in the world to cast their votes.  Future plans are to add a Masters’ edition for ‘mature’ singers, extending the geographic scope of the competition, an online competition and raising the financial awards for contestants.
This year’s crop of contestants unexpectedly whittled down from 27 contestants to 13 due to health reasons, logistics and inability to secure leave from work, particularly those from outside of Alberta.  The age range was from 8 to 35 years old.  I had the privilege of hearing the singing prowess of all 13 contestants since they requested that all be allowed to sing in the Finals, rather than the originally planned Top 12.  The evening had the American Idol like atmosphere - what with the crowd cheering for their own candidates and applauding for every sustained and high note sang by each contestant.  It was incredible to witness unassuming, shy and at times awkward young people walk on stage only to transform in a matter of seconds, as soon as they open their mouths to sing.  Gleaning from the judges’ comments, the contestants have taken to heart the critiques they have received in the previous rounds and have over all improved their performances.  But in general, these young performers will benefit from more singing opportunities and voice coaching in the future to overcome nerves, develop audience rapport and improve performance technique.
the 6 finalists
After the first tally of audience and judges’ votes, the contestants were pared down to the 6 finalists and with another round of voting, the winners were announced:  
  • Darren Espanto - a 10 year old who made PSS history by scoring a perfect score from all judges during the previous round and whose angelic voice, boyish charm and strong stage presence earned him the Championship
  • 15 year old Alexandra Villamar, a powerhouse of a girl who landed in 2nd place
  • Charmayne Javier - a new immigrant from Davao, with a very good voice quality (3rd)
  • Jade Pearl Dancel - who exudes a maturity and confidence beyond her age (4th) 
  • Sunshine Bautista - an English teacher who was tone deaf but was able to overcome this through determination and hard work; she is the contestant who understands most about imaging and packaging herself in accordance with her choice of songs (5th)
  • Rofelle Antonio - a winsome girl with a captivating voice and expressive face (6th)
Prizes at stake were: $ 3000 (1st Place), $ 1000 (2nd Place), $ 500 (3rd Place) and $ 150 (4th-6th Places).  It was interesting to watch the final round and witness one singer after another stepping up to the plate, singing their hearts out and thereby heating up the competition and erasing all previous notions that a particular candidate had the win in the bag.
the judges
It was admittedly a long evening (4 hours) but taking into account that it allowed one to share in somebody else’s shining moment of fame made it worth it.  There were some moments when I got the goosebumps when faced with what was apparently God-given talent.  I remember an instance way way back in my past when I was so impressed with a singer in an amateur show.  So much so that I did not forget her name.  She was Chona Velasquez who later on changed her name to Regine Velasquez.  And so with these young singers, who joined the competition either for fun, for a learning experience or as a stepping stone for a professional career, there is the hope that they realize and develop their potential.  
The Pinoy Singing Sensation then serves its purpose of being a platform for young talents to indulge in their vocal prowess for whatever purpose they will decide on.  It is now up to the organizers to develop a format that would make this more interesting and marketable to the general public.  One that would create an audience who would view the show for its program content and not just for relatives and friends who would come to vote for their respective candidates.  Undoubtedly, the Filipinos are a talented race and something that we should always showcase and continually be proud of.  And seeing how this competition has improved in its 3 years of existence, it is anticipated that the organizers would find a way to meld the artistic and commercial aspects of this endeavor.