By Tats Rejante Manahan
The Philippine Daily Inquirer
November 17, 2014
[Manila, Philippines] – In a culture that hails machismo as an asset, in an art form predominantly peopled by females, it is seldom to chance upon young males who declare their intent to pursue dance for the plain and simple reason that they like it.
In recent decades in the Philippines, the average age of males choosing to take up dancing is about 17. In other countries, like the United States, for example, it is not unusual for young boys to take to dance studios at an earlier age like 8 or 9.
Perhaps times, indeed, are a-changing because the male dance population is slowly getting younger. To the dance aficionado, this is good news because it will mean that good male dancers will have longer stage time. In the ballet world and in a more rarified dance form, flamenco, two young men have set their eyes far into the dance world.
At age 10, Lope Lim, on a family vacation in Las Vegas, watched a show that featured a hip-hopping Fil-American masked dance group called the Jabbowokeez, which in 2008 won Best American Dance Crew.
Lope recalls: “The first dancer entered doing a back flip and just started dancing. I remember the feeling he gave me… You know the unexplainable connection to dance. You were with him in that connection. So I went home completely inspired.”
The four months following had Lope dancing to music in his room at least four times a day. ” And it wasn’t necessarily hip-hop or ballet or modern. I was just dancing to the music.”
Finally, he raised up the courage to ask his mother to enrol him in dance class. It must have been around this time that Sofia Zobel-Elizalde, directress of Steps Dance Studio, saw him jump. Her eyes, trained after 20 years of running a dance studio, and many more years spent as a dancer herself, recognized the potential in Lope.
Ironically it wasn’t a hip-hop class he joined but ballet.
It has been five years since Lope stepped into a dance studio. Finishing an intensive summer workshop at the Alvin Ailey Dance Studios in New York, he looks forward to six months training at the Kirov School in Washington, DC, an award given to him as the silver medalist in the Junior Division B in this year’s Asian Grad Prix held in Hongkong.
Given his lean physique, Lope is aware it is ballet that suits his body type. ” Ballet likes my body,” he says. He does not, however, inhibit himself from dancing jazz, contemporary and hip hop.
He mulls over his dance preferences, citing the neoclassical style of Hamburg Ballet’s John Neumier, while also attracted to the work of choreographer Ohad Noharin of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company.
Noharin has developed his own dance style called Gaga, which has a seemingly free-style flowing movement that requires the dancer to be so intimately knowledgeable of his body that the movement it produces stems from an incredible discipline of knowing how far or how tight it can move.
Neumier’s neo-classical pieces are highly intellectual.“The dances they produce are just so versatile and innovative that you can’t help but want to dance for them,” enthuses Lope.
In a recent preview for a competition, the Lope whom I had first seen dancing lyrically at age 10 in a Christmas presentation of Steps Dance Studio, had now grown into a 14-year-old adolescent, lean and handsome of face.
And even this early, he exhibited strength and determination in his dancing. In a neo-Filipino piece, his sharp accents cut the air, his musicality obvious in his phrasing. The assuredness in the precision of his movements, specifically his footwork, showed a mastery of his anatomy on the choreography. It was a breath of fresh air.
Meanwhile, 22-year-old Russell Wisden has chosen flamenco, particularly Nuevo Flamenco, perhaps the purest form of flamenco, as it almost remains faithful to the original form the Gypsies originated in their wanderings from India to Spain.
Where ballet urges the dancer to use his core to defy gravity, flamenco, with its rhythms and counter-rhythms, requires the dancer to use his core just as strongly, enabling him to execute zapateo (footwork) in rhythmic precision, yet rapidly, and on a downward emphasis.
Russell was 3 and living in Singapore when he would accompany his mother to take his older sister to ballet class.
“From those days, I developed a love for music and rhythm which took me through the multi-disciplines of classical ballet, ballroom, jazz, modern and hip-hop,” he recalls.
In 2009, his mother enrolled him and his two sisters, Rosanna and Rosvera, in a 24-session flamenco program under Cecile de Joya at Fundacion Centro Flamenco.
De Joya, whose patience in teaching beginners the complexities of flamenco is well-known, spotted the talent in the siblings, and in Russell particularly, being the only male in her class.
Shortly after, the siblings were sent to Spain, where they spent two months studying flamenco. They go back there regularly “to study the rhythmic patterns, stanzaic form and mode of the various palos (rhythms). It gives us a depth of the feel for the Gitanos ethnicity of Andalusian flamenco,” enthuses Russell.
Flamenco traditionally is only complete with a quadro: the dancer, the guitarist, the singer and the one who claps.
Intrigued by each of these, Russell learned guitar and percussion, and has also started to compose music and even attempts to sing (“medyo kulang pa sa vocal”).
Russell’s innate talent for this dance form and its music has already made him a qualified teacher for dance, guitar and cajon in the flamenco Center, at the Ballet Philippines Studio in SM Aura, Makati Sports Club and Symmetry Dance Studio in Parañaque.
He performs regularly at tablaos with Centro Flamenco and in Singapore, where he is occasionally invited to perform, at times with his sisters.
Being half-British helps in the stereotyping of what a bailaor should look like. To even add to that mystique, Russell keeps his hair long. Lean and tall, he possesses that undefinable quality called duende, which sets apart an ordinary dancer who knows his steps, from a performer who feels his dance. In Russell, the package is complete.
Lope Lim and Russell Wisden are two young men who have had a calling so unlike any other, and both pursue it with a determination and a passion; and for us potential spectators, the better for the refinement of our lives.
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