RENE Hinojales, Dwight Rodrigazo, Ana Gabriela Locsin, Cecile Sicangco, Kaye Tabisura, Katrina Silverio, Lydlyd Gaston, and Nicole Marie Gaston have two things in common: they are all Negrense artists who have carved a name in dance and musical theatre, and they were former students of Lydia Madarang Gaston.

Hinojales is a former artistic director of the University of Saint La Salle’s Jean Baptiste Dance Company; Rodrigazo is a former principal soloist of Ballet Philippines and currently the artistic director of Dance Pull School of Performing Arts;

Locsin is a former member of Ballet Philippines; Sicangco, a former artistic director of Ballet Philippines; Tabisura, a faculty member of National Ballet of Canada; Silverio, a former member of Swiss Dance Theatre;

Lydlyd is a former principal dancer of Baltimore Ballet and Dennis Wayne’s Dancers Ballet Company and currently a freelance musical and stage actress in New York City; and Nicole Marie, a former principal soloist of Ballet Philippines, Memphis Ballet, Connecticut Ballet and New York Ballet, who is also currently a freelance performing artist and dance teacher in New York

Tita Lydia, as she is fondly called by her students and friends, passed away on November 13, 2011, after a year of battle with cancer.

But her legacy in the dance world prevails with the continuing operation of her school, the Lydia M. Gaston School of Dance, to continue giving the young talents of Negros Occidental the gift of dance.

Now under the artistic direction of Aljana “Cheenee” Alicia Rose Marie Limuaco, with her stable of young and competent dance teachers, the school has maintained its consistency in imposing dance discipline and maintaining the quality of teaching it is known for.

After all, the school has persevered and endured four and a half decades of good as well as difficult years.

Lydia Gaston finished her bachelor’s degree in Education from Maryknoll College and Masters in Education from Fordham University in New York City.

Her first teacher in classical ballet was the late Totoy de Oteyza. She studied with and performed for Paul Zilard and Trudi Dubsky on their ballet productions during their visits to the Philippines.

She was awarded full scholarship to the Ballet Russe School in New York where she studied under famous ballet and modern dance personalities, including the legendary Martha Graham.

She performed with the Dance Theatre Philippines under the directorship of Paul Gnatt of the Danish Royal Ballet and with the Alice Reyes Dance Company, renamed Ballet Philippines, which is one of the resident dance companies of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

She taught at several summer dance workshops of CCP, where she personally brought her outstanding students from Bacolod who had been granted scholarships.

She also taught at the Baltimore Ballet School and at the Mt. Vernon Ballet Center, in Maryland. She lectured on the history and development of dance in Negros Occidental during the 1999 International Dance Congress in Cebu sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

In recognition of her contribution to the country’s cultural development in her capacity as a dance mentor and choreographer, the NCCA honored her with a national award in Dance Education. She was also awarded by her beloved province, Negros Occidental, with a Pasidungog Award for Dance during the Cinco de Noviembre celebration in 2011.

On the 50th anniversary celebration of the Lydia M. Gaston School of Dance, one of the former students of the school played the lead role in the production of “Giselle.” She was also the associate artistic director of the school during that time.

Now the artistic director, Cheenee Limuaco, recalls with fondness how she started dancing with Lydia Gaston at the age of six. She was given scholarships in the summer workshops of Ballet Philippines upon the recommendation of her Tita Lydia, and in 2011, she was also awarded a full scholarship in the STEPS Dance Studio of Sofia Zobel-Elizalde.

It was in 2006 when she became a member of the Kahayag Dance Troupe of Silliman University in Dumaguete City where she was chosen as one of the Philippine delegates to the International Youth Dance Festival in Macau, China in 2007 and at the Nanning International Folk Song Art Festival in Nanning, China in 2008.

In 2009, she returned to Bacolod and continued her ballet training under her mentor and they staged several shows and full-length ballet recitals.

The fairy doll

With Lydia’s husband, Sir Toy Gaston as the school director, Cheene is proud to bring back on stage in 2014 “The Fairy Doll,” one of the famous ballet pieces mounted by the Lydia M. Gaston School of Dance.

It will be presented on March 22, 7 p.m., at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, popularly known as the Diocesan Cultural Center at the Sacred Heart Seminary in Lupit, Bacolod City.

Originally titled “Die Puppenfee” by the composer Josef Bayer and was first performed in 1888, “The Fairy Doll” is considered as one of the most successful productions in the late 19th century.

The ballet happens in a toy shop where the owner displays all the mechanical dancing dolls, including the prized Fairy Doll, to a wealthy farmer and his family, as well as an English lord and his family, all prospective buyers.

A magical moment occurred when the store was closed as witnessed by the young store assistant and eventually, by the store owner himself.

When the lights open and the orchestral music starts to play on March 22 at the stage of the cultural center designed by fellow Negrense, the National Artist for Architecture, Leandro Locsin, Lydia Gaston must be smiling at a vantage point in her balcony seat, as she watches the presentation attended by her former students, her family, relatives, friends and the new batch of choreographers and dancers. (Rudy Reveche)