On August 14 and 15, 2015, Maricar Drilon, artistic director of the Northwest Classical Ballet in Oregon, brought along 20 of her students to perform at the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod City during the Composition and Movement Analysis Program (CMAP) Choreographers Festival International.
“The festival turned out to be bigger than we had thought,” she gushed upon her return to Manila.
Maricar was impressed at how the Filipino children who participated in the festival had so much energy, with some saving their own money or looking for sponsors just so they could attend the event. “Filipinos have always been very passionate, giving 100 percent of themselves to their work.”
Maricar added: “the children know they cannot take anything for granted.”
Once upon a time, Maricar was one of those young dancers, deciding in her teen years that she would pursue ballet not as a hobby but as a career. Under the CCP Dance Company which later on became Ballet Philippines, she trained under the esteemed Alice Reyes who would later be named National Artist.
Then again, the education started early—her mother Mercedes Lauchengco Drilon ran a dance school in their home in Los Baños, Laguna. Mercedes was the wife of the first Filipino executive of the International Rice Research Institute in the town, but she could not shake off the need to express herself through movement. After all, she had also been a ballerina, and one of the pioneer dance teachers at the National Arts Center in Makiling in the 1970s.
Maricar and her sister Marilou were both dance students of their mother. Marilou, who later on pursued a business education and is now an economist at the Asian Development Bank, said she was always reprimanded for goofing around during rehearsals. She, like her sister, attended summer classes at the CCP. But it was always Maricar who was serious about dancing.
Maricar was so bent on pursuing dance that kept a grueling schedule as she balanced dancing with college—her father said no degree, no dancing— and even after finding out she had a hip condition called hyperplasia. She moved to the US at the age of 20 and became a member of several dance companies, eventually establishing Northwest.
Years later, the hip resurfacing surgery could no longer be put off. “It was very painful at first, and you cannot even cross your legs.” She let this phase pass.
And then, naturally, she danced again.
* * *
And then, too, history repeated itself: Mom puts up a studio, kid learns to dance.
Maricar’s son Derek, used to be only known as a “studio rat,” hanging out at the studio and making friends with his mother’s students. But he inevitably learned ballet—and excelled at it. Now 18, Derek won first prize at the Youth America Gran Prix in San Francisco in February this year.
At the dance festival in Bacolod earlier this month, Derek was most touched by the dancers’ eagerness to learn and their desire to pursue ballet whatever the odds.
“I am glad to have been an inspiration to some of them,” he said.
Derek will soon leave home and become a dancing apprentice at the the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, to take his dream further and see where dance will take him.
His mother will miss him, of course, especially since she has come to rely on him a great deal in running the studio, choreographing performances and producing shows. Then again, this is exactly where she was many years ago before leaving for the US: at the cusp of change but confident that she would always be home when dancing, wherever it may be.
So what makes a ballet dancer stand out from similarly-clad and similarly-formed contemporaries?
“It’s many things,” Maricar says. “Of course, it’s how physically fit and healthy you are. It’s also attitude: how receptive you are to criticism and correction. And it’s not just technique but passion —what you are willing to do and how far you are willing to make sacrifices for your dream.”
The dance festival will happen again in 2017, this time aiming to have 12 countries participate in an event that is both collaborative and celebratory. “Governments should step in and be a more active supporter of the arts. What we have here are treasures,” Maricar says.
And treasures need to be kept alive, passed from one generation to the next.