By Susan A. De Guzman
FOR the first time, two teenage Filipino dancers have been accepted as competitors in the junior division of the prestigious USA International Ballet Competition to be held in Jackson, Mississippi in June.
Ballet Manila (BM) company artist Nicole Barroso, 16, and junior company artist Joshua Enciso, 18, are among just 53 dancers from around the world selected to compete in the division for those aged 14 to 18.
“I feel like a winner already that Ballet Manila has a junior couple in Jackson. It’s a first for our country!” enthused artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde who herself was a semi-finalist in the same competition in 1990.
Ballet Manila principal dancer Katherine Barkman, 21, meanwhile was accepted into the USA IBC senior category in a field of 65 competitors aged 19 to 28. She will dance with non-competing partner and fellow American Joseph Phillips who is currently a Ballet Manila guest artist.
Barkman is returning to Jackson, having been a semi-finalist in the junior division in 2014.
The USA IBC received over 300 video submissions this year and the selection committee trimmed down that number to only 118 dancers whose names were officially announced March 15. It is regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious competitions for its rich history, quality of judging and level of competition.
Competitors will dance a classical piece in the first round, a contemporary piece in the next round if they advance and a classical and a contemporary piece should they reach the final round.
Macuja-Elizalde said the junior competition is tougher than the senior one but added that Barroso and Enciso could have an edge over their peers.
“Nicole and Joshua have been dancing together for quite some time now whether in competition, festivals or gala performances so they should have relatively more performance experience than their counterparts in their division,” she said.
Ballet Manila co-artistic director Osias Barroso underscored the strengths of the two dancers who will compete as a pair: “Nicole is a turner and her ability to conduct herself on stage is quite impressive. Joshua has high jumps.” He also said Barkman’s ability to analyze herself will serve her well in the competition.
“Katherine is now more experienced and a wiser, more polished performer. I am very sure she will do exceedingly well,” said Macuja-Elizalde of Barkman who, since joining the company in 2015, has already danced the lead roles in the full-length classics Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Don Quixote and Swan Lake.
Macuja-Elizalde noted too that Barkman, who is from Pennsylvania, will have a “hometown” advantage.
“She will have her family’s presence and support.”
Barkman will have Macuja-Elizalde as her coach, while Enciso and Nicole Barroso will have Osias Barroso as theirs in Jackson.
The three dancers have already had considerable experiences as performers, and have earned an array of awards in various international and national competitions.
Barkman, representing BM, romped off with the top prize at the annual Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition in Hong Kong in 2015. She also received the Gold Medal (Women’s Senior Classical Division) at the 2014 Youth American Grand Prix in Philadelphia, and was a finalist at the 2014 Youth American Grand Prix in New York City.
Barroso won first place in the junior category of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Ballet Competition in 2016. She also received back-to-back silver medals in the Asian Grand Prix in 2015 and 2016.
Enciso was a finalist in the 2017 Asian Grand Prix last August, and in the 2016 CCP Ballet Competition. Both he and Nicole Barroso have also represented Ballet Manila in the Dance Open International Ballet Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the Beijing Dance Performance Series for Dance Schools, both in 2016.
Though already seasoned performers, Osias Barroso noted that the three dancers will face even more meticulous training in the next two and a half months in preparation for the USA IBC. He insisted it is their daily classes in the studio that will give them stamina and consistency.
His repeated mantra for all dancers preparing for any performance or competition: “Work, work, work!”
Macuja-Elizalde offered three suggestions to the dancers, based on her own experiences as a competitor: “Tip#1: Don’t look at the competition. Dance and perform to the very best of YOUR abilities. Stop comparing yourself with everybody else. Tip #2: Try to arrange your schedule so that either you start working and dancing on USA time in Manila or get to the USA earlier. Jet lag is a major disadvantage. Tip#3: Cross train. Prevent injury. And enjoy the journey!”
For the past week, the three dancers had been nervously awaiting the results of their video submissions.
Both Nicole Barroso and Enciso received their respective email messages from USA IBC last Saturday, March 10. At first, Barroso said, she did not want to open it because she was afraid as to what it would say.
When she saw the notification, she hesitated. “Babasahin ko ba agad o magdadasal muna ako? (Should I read it immediately or pray first?)” she laughingly recalled.
After saying a short prayer, she read the email, heart pounding. “Nu’ng nabasa ko na, nagsisigaw po ako, nagulat si Mama. Binasa ko pa rin po ng paulit-ulit baka mali lang ang pagkakaintindi ko. Tapos totoo nga! (When I finally read it, I was shouting that my mother got so surprised. I read the message repeatedly because I was worried I might have misinterpreted it. But it was real!)” related the young ballerina who said she feels both happy and motivated.
Enciso shared that he also made sure to re-read the email accepting him into the competition. “Habang binabasa ko ‘yung… ‘You have been selected as a competitor…’ kinakabahan ako. Kasi bagong gising ako, baka mali lang ang basa (While I was reading that I had been selected as a competitor, I was so nervous. I had only just woken up so I was thinking I might have misread it.)”
He said he would exert twice the effort in training for the competition. “I have to set my mind that this is a big competition and we were chosen because we have potential. So we have to prepare for it and be ready to dance. It’s another stepping stone for our career as partners. Laban lang po!” (We will continue the good fight.)
After hearing that Barroso and Enciso had already gotten a response, Barkman was left to wonder about her own fate. She worried if her video submission had actually gone through and if she would make the cut. She would spend the next two days checking her inbox practically every hour.
“The video submission to be accepted is always a challenging process. It’s very hard to get accepted as they only allow 100 to 120 competitors. I remember rehearsing for many weeks and then filming our pas de deux. It was stressful because if one thing goes wrong, you have to start over! But luckily we managed to get our video done in just a few attempts.”
The waiting game for her finally ended on March 12.
“I woke up startled at 4 a.m. I could barely open my eyes but I looked at my phone and saw the acceptance letter in my inbox. Right away I messaged Ma’am Lisa then my mom then my Ate Anjie (Ureta) to tell them the good news. I said a short prayer and fell back asleep with a smile on my face! I’m just full of excitement and gratitude to be a part of this.”
Being a veteran of several competitions, Barkman knows what’s in store for her in the coming months. “Rehearsal from now on will be rigorous and intense. My goal for preparation is to simply enjoy the process. There is no other way. It is my plan to arrive in Jackson as my best, happiest and strongest self possible. I am focusing on my own work and presenting the best version of myself.”
She pointed out that having a strong body and a calm mind would put her in an optimum state come June.
“Of course there are pangs of anxiety and nerves about competing, but I choose to flip it around and focus on the excitement of it all. At the end of the day, there is nothing to lose… except my own fears.”
Two other dancers from the Philippines were named in the official list of competitors released by USA IBC: Veronica Atienza and Denise Parungao, both of whom are in the senior division.
The IBC was first staged in Jackson in 1979. In 1982, the city was named as the official home of the IBC through a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress.
The competition is held every four years and is sanctioned by the International Theater Institute of UNESCO.