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Dancing with masks

By Ivan John Castronuevo Published Dec 06, 2021 5:00 am

The lights are coming on and the curtain’s about to go up. Things are abuzz at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center as the first live—onstage—show since the pandemic struck prepares for eager audiences on Sunday, Dec. 12, with shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

“A Christmas Celebration” is the culminating activity of the year-long Professional Dance Support Program (PDSP), spearheaded by Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) chair Margie Moran-Floirendo and CCP president Nick Lizaso and a CCP board-funded support program for displaced artists from the CCP Dance Workshop (CCPDW), Ballet Manila, Philippine Ballet Theatre (PBT) and Steps Dance Studio.

Aptly, it’s a Christmas piece,Tuloy ang Pasko, paired with excerpts from Sleeping Beauty, that will begin what is hopefully a revived schedule of shows at the CCP’s Main Theater.

Veronica Atienza (PBT) as the Lilac Fairy and Katrene San Miguel (artist of CCPDW) as Princess Aurora

Tuloy is pandemic-related, the story of four old—literally and figuratively—friends, separated by years and distance, connecting over Zoom and reminiscing about Christmases past, when they were young, carefree and mask-free.

It features dances by young choreographers of the PDSP—Erl Sorilla, Lester Reguindin, John Ababon, Bonifacio Guerrero, Danilo Dayo, AL Abraham and Ronelson Yadao—all mentored by National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes, artistic consultant for the PDSP.

“When the pandemic hit last year, there were all these displaced dancers. What some friends and I tried to do was to help them continue earning a living by looking for opportunities to keep them dancing and teaching,” Reyes explains. “We’re very fortunate that the CCP came in with this PDSP program so these artists not only had income, but continued to dance and teach and choreograph.”

Artists of CCPDW Victor Maguad and Katrene San Miguel

The dancers have been rehearsing under the watchful and strict eye of CCP’s health officer, first at the Main Lobby, with doors thrown open and electric fans keeping the air circulating; then, when quarantine rules relaxed, onstage. All the dancers, as well as stage and technical crew, are fully vaccinated and undergo regular swab testing.

Taking and teaching class, choreographing and rehearsing these past months have been challenging, to say the least. They started out at home, connecting by Zoom. Through the months, masks have been as much a part of their outfits as leotards and pointe shoes. “Wearing a mask while dancing is definitely a challenge,” says Monica Gana of CCPDW. “Especially when we have dances that are more like cardio, it becomes harder to breathe.”

Artists of PDSP in Garland Waltz from Sleeping Beauty In Rehearsal

Renzen Arboleda of Steps agrees: “The sweat accumulated in our masks as we dance makes it even harder to breathe.”

But after a while, they seem to have gotten used to it. “Dancing with a mask on was really the biggest challenge, but I eventually got used to it and was able to set the way I should breathe with the limited oxygen I get,” admits Veronica Atienza of PBT. “From this, I learned that dancers can easily adapt to this situation without affecting our performance in class or onstage.”

CCP Dance Workshop artists Monica Gana, EJ Arisola, John Ababon, Erl Sorilla, Jessa Tangalin in Tuloy Ang Pasko

Adds Monica, “It's a good way to make us learn how to work smarter. We need to learn how to manage our bodies even with difficulties like wearing a mask.”

There were a few scares, though. Sarah Alejandro of CCPDW, a licensed medical doctor, shares: “We had a dancer who had asthma attacks dancing a highly cardio dance with a mask on. I had to put him on meds and had him tested (antigen, CBC, X-ray) a few weeks since the first attack. But he’s all good and clear!”

And yet there are positives to dancing with masks. Explains Kevin Cascaño of Steps: “It does get better over time. I can’t wait to start dancing again without masks and see how much stamina I’ve gained.”

Artists of CCP Dance Workshop in Tuloy Ang Pasko (2020)

Renzen agrees: “We may not like wearing it but I guess it also boosts our stamina in a way.”

Masks off

As the masks come off during filming and—finally!—in performance, the dancers appreciate their newfound, mask-less freedom. Boni Guerrero of CCPDW said at first it was a bit strange to see faces without masks, but it makes him more aware of his facial expressions. And he relishes “feeling free…Nababawasan yung bigat sa pagsayaw… ang gaan-gaan, maaliwalas at buo mong katawan nakakahinga, hindisuffocated.”

Sarah adds, “What I like most about the unmasking is how much stamina is gained (that it’s much easier dancing) and the appreciation that dancing should really be done unmasked.”

To finally dance before a live audience affords an energy and “honesty” that online or filmed performances lack. CCPDW’s Victor Maguad says the “rawness and honesty, even the jitters,” of a live performance are just different. “Nandoon yung kaba,rawnessng sayaw at yunghonesty.Iba pa rin ang‘live’ performance.”

But is watching the show in the theater safe?

According to the CCP New Normal Protocol, the theater will be at 30-percent capacity, with alternate seating. Face masks are required. Only those fully vaccinated will be admitted. Vaccine cards, a completed health declaration form and temperature checks will be required at the entrance.

Portable air HEPA filters, physical-distancing markers, disinfection mats and automatic alcohol dispensers are installed around the building.

The show, after all, must eventually go on.

“A Christmas Celebration” ushers in the Yuletide spirit on Dec. 12, 7 p.m., with matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets for the show are available at the Ticket World and the CCP Box Office.To ensure that everyone will have a safe theater experience, check out CCP's new normal health protocol.