The rehearsal hall is charged with raw energy as young men of all shapes and sizes attempt ballet combinations in sheer abandon—awkwardly for some, and a piece of cake for others who display some obvious dance training.
For now, uniformity of movement is not the issue, but rather the level of energy and chutzpah which can carry off the scene. In a country of natural dancers, everyone seems to look good.
Calmly calling out the drills is choreographer Patrick John Rebullida—former company member of Ballet Philippines, later Lunberg Theater in Germany, former collaborator of Daloy Dance Company—who bravely leads the attempt at a dance-heavy production of “Newsies,” a 9 Works Theatrical and Globe Live project which recently opened at Globe Iconic Store, an open-space venue in Bonifacio Global City.
Loosely based on a historical event in 1899 America, where newsboys pulled a strike hoping to improve compensation for the child labor force of news hawkers, the musical film was screened in 1992, then later premiered on the Broadway stage in 2012.
Unlike previous 9 Works/Globe productions, “Newsies” demands a three-pronged training regimen of singing, dancing and acting for its mostly male cast. Working every afternoon from Monday to Friday to get them into shape, Rebullida has created some sort of syllabus to include ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, gymnastics and voice training.
In past productions like “American Idiot,” his attempts at making nondancers dance have been successful. He works within the limits of actors who may be untrained, but can carry a dance step.
Unlike other productions, however, “Newsies” calls for authentic dancing. The music demands it. The score is made for dancing. Listening to the music, Rebullida says he “hears the pirouettes… the jumps.”
The score is written by award-winning composer Alan Menken, whose work is heard on many Disney movies, including “The Little Mermaid,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Beauty and the Beast.”
But even more challenging than that is matching the choreography of Kenny Ortega, famed for his work with Cher, Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan; and films like “Xanadu,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Dirty Dancing” which starred Patrick Swayze, actor and a former dancer trained at Harkness Ballet and Joffrey Ballet in New York.
For Rebullida, following in Ortega’s footsteps can be the biggest challenge. Choreography dictated by lyrics and a narrative poses for a choreographer not the “coach the copy,” for instance, not to take the movements literally with the lyrics, but rather to complement them. In a sense, it requires a lot more creativity and imagination.
“There is a storyline to follow,” says Rebulllida. “That’s harder because you have to know how to plot point when the highlight happens.”
The dancing expounds on a highlight, and how to pull a dance number out of it to emphasize the moment, and bring it to a grand “tah-dah!” is what makes musical theater exhilarating. The dancer’s final hold should elicit applause.
It helps that former company members of ballet companies have crossed over to the musical theater side. Lately, as in the past, formally trained dancers have hung up their tutus and tights to try their skills in other dance formats for various reasons.
Ian Ocampo, formerly with Philippine Ballet Theater, felt happy to be singing, dancing and acting.
Unlike ballet, which can be insular, Joni Galeste, also from the same company, sees bigger chances of getting more projects, and has found another medium to express herself. She has also found time to work in their family business.
Ronelson Yadao, a former soloist with Ballet Philippines, finds dancing for musical theater more physically demanding, though the message sent is more immediate.
It’s no guarantee, however, that ballet-trained bodies can easily find their groove in musical theater. To rid themselves of the formal stance of balletic posture and movement requires an unlearning of muscle memory to forego the ethereal upward flow of ballet body language, to the sharper more angular earthbound movement of Broadway jazz.
There is also the challenge of interpreting the choreography. In musical theater, movements are directly related to the narrative line, as opposed to ballet, in which one emotion is extended in a series of dance phrases.
Ocampo, Galeste, Yadao and other classically trained dancers in the production are embracing their entry into another dance genre.
“We’re not making it easy for them,” says Rebullida, referring to the entire cast of dancing ‘Newsies,’ as he emphasized the need for training. “We’re raising the bar. My goal is that everyone does a double pirouette, taps clean.”
This will help create an entirely different niche for future dancers. Because Filipinos are such natural dancers, training is often taken lightly, minimal dancing prowess is acceptable.
There is, however, more to dance than just movement. There is discipline, drive and focus to meet the demands of one of the arts that calls for prolonged dedication.
In 9Works’ quest to push the production to the limit, we hope that the endeavor continues to create a demand for dancers who can make a truly livable profession out of the art they sweat for.
Leading the cast of “Newsies” are Jef Flores, Daniel Drilon, Torie Cortez, Alex Diaz, Danielle Chopin, Greg Dulcie, and veteran actors Pinky Marquez and Raymond Concepcion.
Rebullida is confident the double pirouettes will be clean, and the taps crystal clear
“Newsies” runs July 14-16, 21-23, 28-30, 8 p.m., at Globe Iconic Store, Bonifacio High Street Ampitheater, Taguig City. Visit www.globe.com.ph/newsies.
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