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Alice Reyes On Pursuing Excellence At The Ballet Philippines Fifty Years Later

“I just danced," she says. "Which is one of those things: I ate, I slept, I danced”

Alice Reyes is resplendent in red.

Wearing a scarlet silk dress designed by the late James Reyes, the 77-year-old returning Artistic Director of Ballet Philippines has the stance of a prima ballerina and the gait of a woman who has spent her entire life dancing—of course, she’s very much both. Her grip on her cane is sure and firm, and her silver hair glistens in the incandescent light of a small corner dressing room in the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“I am comfortable with my ageing process,” says the dancer, both warm and commanding at once. Music floats in the air as old and current members of Ballet Philippines rehearse in the next room, which just so happens to be the main theater of the cultural complex, the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo.

Alice—or AR, as she is known amongst BP alumni, stagehands, production managers, and glam teams—has been walking these halls and dancing on these stages for fifty years now. She’d been born into a family of artists, all musically-inclined: Ricardo and Adoracion, her parents, were voice teachers and pianists with degrees in Music from the University of the Philippines, and two of her sisters—Denisa Reyes and Edna Vida, in case you’re keeping score—are dancer-choreographers themselves. Suffice to say, dancing, for Alice, was as natural as breathing. “I just danced,” she says. “Which is one of those things: I ate, I slept, I danced.”

Her eyes fill with tears as she thinks back almost half a century ago, in 1969, when Ballet Philippines—then still known as the CCP Dance Workshop Company—was just beginning. Together with Eddie Elejar, Alice had founded the CCP’s resident dance group, ushering it into a long and illustrious history of excellence in the performing arts. “It’s a whole slew of different emotions coming down,” she says. “Joy, delight, amazement, and disbelief that this company is here on its 50th year.” She begins listing all that she is grateful for: board members for raising funds, supporters and subscribers for their loyal patronage, dancers, the men and women who’d been artistic directors and carried on the company’s legacy. Her voice breaks a little, her throat thick with emotion, but she continues: “It’s really just very satisfying that it’s been everyone’s passion to keep it going,” she says. “So here we are.”

Here we are, indeed. This September, Ballet Philippines’ 50th year will open with a gala fashion show featuring a 50-piece collection by Dubai-based fashion designer Michael Cinco, whom Alice refers to as a "soulmate." After all, she recognizes talent when she encounters it. “I saw the five pieces that he brought in. I just fell off my seat. I was so astounded, overwhelmed, in awe. Because of his attention to detail, his eye for design, his creative imagination, the fact that he was tying all these gowns to Swan Lake was just awesome.” 

She hasn’t been around fashion shows in a long time, she shares—a far cry from how it had been when she started the company in the late 60s. “I always had these couturier friends,” she says, naming Ernest Santiago and Pitoy Moreno as two of them. “And then I retired and lived an under-the-radar life with my husband in San Francisco. This was a sudden return to a world that I had left a long time ago,” she admits.

Alice had come back as Ballet Philippines’ Artist Director for its 49th season after leaving in 1989, and she’s been enjoying every moment of it, especially the opportunity to collaborate with someone as talented as Michael. “I’m thrilled that he’s doing a piece for me,” she gushes. “He’s an absolute artist. We share that attention to detail; we’re always pursuing what is excellent and perfect. No shortcuts.”

“And that’s exactly the principle that we have always insisted on here in Ballet Philippines,” Alice adds, her voice strong and unwavering. “That’s the guiding force and light.” Passion, discipline, determination, and hard work have always mattered to her, and these qualities, she says, make a dancer. “I look at all the dancers now. It’s a hard life. They have to come here at 12 or 1 and they don’t leave until 10, 10:30, 11—and that’s a regular day! When we have performances, we’re here from 9 o’clock in the morning all the way to 10:30. That’s a long day of physically moving.”

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VISIT LINK IN BIO TO SUBSCRIBE! Almost 50 Years Ago, Alice Reyes began the first CCP Summer Dance Workshop where she trained dancers in the modern dance technique, one of the first ever in the country. It culminated in a performance at the CCP Main Theater, a start to the regular season of performances, for what was to be the first resident company of the CCP.⠀ ⠀ Ballet Philippines, the country’s preeminent dance company, is celebrating 50 years of dance excellence. Don’t miss the celebration! Get your Golden Ticket by subscribing to Ballet Philippines this season in the bio link.⠀ ⠀ You can also call 551-1003, 09566379432 (Globe), or 09212921282 (Smart) to subscribe or go online at Choose, reserve, and get the best seats before anyone else!⠀ ⠀ #CelebrateBalletPh #BalletPh #BalletPhilippines #BP50 #Golden #GoldStandard #ballet #Manila #dancecommunity #dancephotography #dancepics #dancers #ilovedance #instagramfordancers #worldwidedance #choosephilippines #explorephilippines #explorerph #ilovephilippines #philippines⠀

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“But everybody’s happy,” she says, “Because they want to be dancing. They’d rather be dancing than rested. They’d rather be tired but dancing.” A woman who’s been dancing and teaching dance her whole life would know, of course. But beyond being amidst all the bright lights, Alice has often been on the other side of the stage, too, and it’s something that she treasures and cherishes just as much. “It’s one thing to be a performer when you dance on that beautiful stage, when you’re centerstage. A dancer is a creature in space and this is one of the most beautiful spaces that can be given to any artist—opera singers, a violinist, a dancer. So that’s what I felt when I was still dancing,” she says.

“I have always had the blessing of being able to sit in the theater and rejoice in somebody else’s exquisite performance. Not everybody can do that. Some people are more of themselves,” Alice says cheekily. “I am gifted with the ability to be as victorious as one of our dancers doing a fabulous role.” So Alice is a dancer, choreographer, director, producer, and patron of dance. She’s also, first and foremost, a student of it, and that’s remained unchanged even decades after her first dance lesson. She has been fortunate enough to be mentored by some of the most distinguished teachers of her chosen art: from Rosalia Merino Santos to fellow National Artist for Dance Leonor Orosa Goquingco. We ask her whether she thinks becoming a National Artist is something to aspire to, and Alice shakes her head.

“No,” she says. “I don’t think you aspire to become a National Artist,” she continues. “I think you aspire to be what you want to be.”

And in dance, Alice Reyes gets to do exactly that.

May we'll all be so lucky.

The Ballet Philippines 50th Anniversary Gala Fashion Show will take place on September 29 at the Manila Marriott Hotel Grand Ballroom. 

Photos courtesy of Women of Style and Ballet Philippines