THE performing arts had taken a massive blow once the pandemic hit our shores, including ballet. Shows and dance schools were among the first to be canceled and the last to recover. Pre-pandemic normal meant that our country’s dance companies mounted three or four shows at premiere venues while our local performing arts schools mounted at least two recital shows per year.

As we embrace our lives in the new normal, I admire and appreciate how one dance school in our province was quick to innovate and come up with virtual solutions in promoting dance as an art in spite of the numerous challenges we face. Rhythm and Dance Center in the City of San Fernando, Pampanga under the leadership of its artistic director Rolby Lacaba ensured that its students were able to continue honing their talent and craft albeit through a mainly digital platform, even producing several performances on video in lieu of its traditional summer and Christmas recitals. As a ballet mom to my daughter Sunis, the twice weekly virtual dance lessons, while initially challenging, gave a semblance of normalcy to our household’s schedule and taught us how to be more resilient.

Teacher Rolby, whose long list of credentials includes impressive performances with the Philippine Ballet Theater and producing international award-winning dance students, puts the City of San Fernando on the ballet map yet again with the first ever Pampanga Ballet Festival today, 28 February 2021, perfectly capping off the National Arts Month. In the midst of the pandemic, he found inspiration in his resolve to bring ballet closer to Pampanga and the rest of Central Luzon, believing that local audiences need not go to Manila to access professionally produced ballet shows with the wealth of local talents waiting to be tapped. As teacher Rolby shares, “It is my vision that the Pampanga Ballet Festival will be the primary proponent of excellence in classical and modern ballet in Central Luzon and bring inspiration and innovation in this art form through a creative and collaborative exchange of expertise and artistry.”

This year’s Pampanga Ballet Festival involves a series of workshops given by top-caliber ballet dancers and instructors, culminating in a virtual gala night through the PBF Official Youtube Channel with an enviable list of our country’s ballet stars and international guest artists.

For its first year, PBF has attracted the participation and support of dance schools from all over Central Luzon and beyond such as ArtsInMotion Studio (Bataan), Ava’s School of Dance (Laguna), Beats and Steps Arts Academy (Metro Manila), Bulacan Ballet and Arts Academy (Bulacan), Capa Dance Academy (Bulacan), Dance Basics (Metro Manila), Dance Theatre Arts (Metro Manila), Danspace Ballet School (Metro Manila), Hampton Court Ballet (Metro Manila), House of Dance (Metro Manila), Little Steps Ballet School (Tarlac), Rhythm and Dance Center (Pampanga), Symmetry Dance Studio (Metro Manila), and JRC Zarate Dance School and Performing Arts (Rizal Province).

Dance workshops in classical and modern ballet will be taught by a pool of internationally acclaimed ballet dancers and choreographers. Multi-awarded American danseur Joseph Phillips, known in the ballet world as its very own golden boy and a well-loved guest artist of our country’s premiere ballet companies, will lead the Classical Ballet Workshop for teens. Philippine Ballet Theater’s lead soloist and acclaimed teacher/choreographer Lobreza Pimentel will teach the Classical Ballet Workshop for the 9 to 12 age group. A longtime dancer of the Ballet Philippines and an award-winning choreographer Erl Sorilla will share his expertise in the Modern Ballet Workshop for the 9 to 12 age group. Dance expert and the artistic director of the University of the Philippines Dance Company Elena Laniog-Alvarez will take charge of the Modern Ballet Workshop for teens and up.

The first ever PBF gala night will also feature captivating performances from Ballet Philippines’s very own Ian Ocampo and guest artists from the Philippine Ballet Theater Kim Abrogena, Matthew Davo, Regine Magbitang, Clarise Miranda, and Loby Pimentel.

The Pampanga Ballet Festival is not only a gift of the arts, but a gift of hope and happiness for all of us, reminding us that dance is a language that transcends the universe and even pandemics. Kudos to all the organizers, participants, and guests of the first ever Pampanga Ballet Festival and may this be just the first of many!