BALLET, in the Philippine setting, is not a usual occupation for the masses. For a performer or as an onlooker, the cost can be steep. But not for ballet master Gregory Aaron, an American balletomane who came to the Philippines with Nicolas Pacaña in 2000 for the 50th anniversary of Fe Sala Villarica’s Balletcenter. From 2000 to 2006, Mr. A (as Gregory is called) and Nico (Pacaña) came back and forth from the United States to the Philippines, with them also exploring the ballet schools in Davao and General Santos.
In 2006, the two took over Balletcenter and that was when Mr. A’s advocacy began, to propagate ballet in the grassroots, with his first outreach in Pasil. Ballet, believes Mr. A, can be a source of livelihood, hence, his program to help improve the quality of life for people in the grassroots.
This month sees three of these grassroots scholars take center stage as solo or lead dancers for the center’s Coppelia to be performed on Dec. 9 and 10 at 6:30 p.m. at Onstage, Ayala Cinema One. Playing the lead for the second day set of performances are Eddie Carl Garcia, who started training with Mr. A in the island of Jao, Bohol, and Jamyma Aragon, from Mr. A’s first batch of scholars in Pasil. Also from Pasil’s first batch is soloist Khynloyd Genson.
In an interview, Eddie revealed that his father is a fisherman and his mother, a housewife. When he graduated from high school, Mr. A and Nico were in his home island, Jao, Bohol. “They encouraged me to dance as they can help me to become a successful dancer, and to help my parents improve their lives. I danced modern dance in high school but not ballet. I tried ballet and fell in love with ballet.”
Jamyma, on the other hand, started ballet when she was eight years old. When the summer ballet program was announced in her barangay, she did not know anything about ballet. It was her mother who encouraged her to join the program. “I became a better dancer and they took me to Balletcenter so I could continue dancing.”
Khynloyd, now 17, is also from the first batch in Pasil. When his mother learned about the program, she “grabbed the opportunity to make me a ballet dancer as she once had a boyfriend from one of Manila’s ballet companies. So, she wanted me to be a ballet dancer.” Mr. A has also brought him to the studio and considers him a “pre-pro.”
All three of them are one in saying that they are doing this as it is a good opportunity for them to help their parents improve their lives. And they are constantly encouraged to continue with their dance, to better themselves in their dancing thru the mentorship of Mr. A and Nico. Eddie, whose parents still live in Bohol, said they are happy with what he has accomplished as they get to see him perform. Mr. A, he said, always shoulders their transportation cost so they can see him perform.
Balletcenter’s outreach program is not just in Pasil and Bohol but also in Labangon and Punta Princesa in Cebu City; Subangdaku and Cambaro in Mandaue City; and Looc in Lapu-Lapu City. Some of these scholars have realized Mr. A’s dream for them to earn their living through teaching ballet. He has brought some of them to Thailand and Vietnam. Right now Mhynard Etis and Julius Lagare are in Vietnam while Jush Ann Rocomora and John Rocamora are just back from Thailand.
Indeed, ballet can be a livelihood as envisioned by Mr. A.