Ballet Manila explores Filipinos’ penchant for romance

By , on September 1, 2014

Ballet Manila kicks off its 19th season with the staging this month of Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika: An OPM Festival, featuring True Love Confessions, a series of snipets exploring love and life, with special guest performer Love Radio’s Papa Jack plus the special participation of Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BALLET MANILA
Ballet Manila kicks off its 19th season with the staging this month of Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika: An OPM Festival, featuring True Love Confessions, a series of snipets exploring love and life, with special guest performer Love Radio’s Papa Jack plus the special participation of Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/BALLET MANILA

The man behind the long-selling love counselling radio program is unapologetically brutal. But it is this frankness and no-frills approach to giving out advice on love and life that has endeared him to listeners of True Love Conversations (TLC) through the years.

Indeed, radio audiences worldwide tune in to Love Radio’s Papa Jack, John Gemperle in real life, to listen to him berate, scold, and diss callers, or humor, console, shoot down and empathize with the lovelorn or someone just needing to let something out.

The highlights of his program, of course, are the phone-in callers, most of whom in pain over a complicated relationship. The love jock believes these true-to-life stories resonate with the audiences who also have experienced yearning for love, being over the moon in love, and felt the same depth, delight, ecstasy and ache from these experiences. Sharing them with the whole world makes the life-changing moment doubly profound.

TLC, according to him, attracts an equal share of male and female listeners. He gets calls from college groupies, taxi drivers, call center agents, yuppies, housewives, even militants all eager for help with relationship issues. Papa Jack said, “When on air, I’m not a DJ but a friend.”

Based on reports, his program addresses audiences from A to E, in Mega Manila, Quezon, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Pangasinan, Davao and other parts of the country. With live streaming, it now reaches anyone with Internet.

A timely collaboration of Ballet Manila (BM) and Love Radio, kicks off in this month’s staging of Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika: An OPM Festival, featuring TLC, a series of vignettes exploring love and relationships with special guest performer Love Radio’s Papa Jack and the special participation of Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja.

Gala night was held on Aug. 22, at Aliw Theater. Other performances are slated on Aug. 29, 30 and 31. This 19th season opener celebrates Original Pilipino Music (OPM) and highlights Philippine culture and the Filipino’s love for romance.

Scheduled on Aug. 29 at 1 p.m., is Papa Jack’s Meet and Greet Fans Day with a special promo price of P350 each. Tickets still available at  On Aug. 30, 31 and Sept. 6 at 11a.m. and 3p.m. – walk-in tickets are available at P700 each.

BM puts together the broad appeal of Papa Jack’s radio program combined with dazzling ballet moves as choreographed by Ballet Manila’s in-house choreographers Jonathan Janolo, Francis Jaena, Gerardo Francisco, and Michael Divinagracia.

An integral part of the presentation is the fusion of dance with original Pilipino music.

All three choreographers, except Jonathan Janolo, are proud Ilonggos who started honing their talents in creating dance routines from the many school programs and festivals in the province of Iloilo. The three Ilonggos believe the vibrant culture of the Western Visayan city greatly enhanced their skills. It was also in Iloilo where they learned the basics of ballet under avowed idol Agnes Locsin.

The choreographers are avid fans of Papa Jack’s radio program. “Sometimes, we listen to the stories of callers and think about creating dance routines for them,” said Michael. “The challenge is how not to make the TLC series a variety show,” Jonathan said. “We assigned particular segments to each choreographer. We just had to make sure somebody has to stitch them all together,” he added.

Gerardo noted that they attacked each segment in different ways because of the uniqueness of   their personalities. All of them were conscious though, that this a group effort. “We have to consider a lot of things like the comments of co-dancers, the audience, our colleagues, artistic director, and the music,” he related. “It’s gratifying to see that everything jelled,” Gerardo added.

The in-house choreographers of Ballet Manila have varied methods of getting inspired. Michael admits to drinking alcohol to make him more creative. On the other hand, Francis goes to a mall or a park to allow his mind and eyes to explore. He said he doesn’t like enclosed spaces. He relayed that smoking cigarettes helps stimulate his mind.

Francis likewise confesses to watching his favorite shows, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Animal Kingdom to further explore animal movements and incorporate these in his ballet scenes. He said his ballet is oftentimes abstract. Sometimes, he incorporates the movements of animals, like the rattle snake or deer into his routines. “I’m inspired by the speed and dynamics of the animals’ movements,” he said.

All four are seasoned performers whose careers boast of performances here and abroad and being under the tutelage of ballet greats like Osias Barroso, Tatiana Udalenkova, Agnes Locsin, Ernest Mandap, Tony Fabella and more.

They all studied ballet formally and are in fact still active ballet dancers. Except for Michael, all three are married.

Jonathan trained as a Ballet Manila scholar in 1998 under Osias Barroso. He completed the special Vaganova Method Master Class program conducted by visiting teacher Tatiana A. Udalenkova of the Academy of Russian Ballet from 2001 to 2003.

Francis Jaena’s frenetic adventure in ballet is likened to a roller coaster ride. From the laid-back hometown of Jaro, Iloilo, he joined Dagyaw Theater and Dance Company, the Iloilo version of the Philippine High School for the Arts. His career took him to the U.S. where he got accepted at the California Bay Company. He risked everything for love however, after he got married in New York to his girlfriend, ballet dancer Naomi Talome. In the Big Apple, the two struggled as undocumented immigrants but eventually emerged triumphant. Now, they are together in Ballet Manila as resident dancer and choreographer.

Gerardo Francisco joined BM in March 2003. As with Francis, he started ballet training in Iloilo’s Dagyaw Dance Theatre and became an apprentice with Ballet Philippines. Eventually, he transferred to BM.

Michael Divinagracia, also an Iloilo native, joined BM in 2006. His repertoire includes Swan Lake, Carmen, Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker, La Fille Mal Gardee, Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, The Swan, the Fairy and the Princess, Alamat: Si Sibol at Si Gunaw, Le Corsaire Pas de Trois (Ali), The Nutcracker Suite (Prince) and many more.

The challenges in production abound, according to all four. “I’m not familiar with the story-telling type because when I choreograph, I do it with an abstract framework, all dances. It was difficult for me to make audience understand what’s going on with the choreography,” Francis explained.

Gerardo’s biggest challenge on the other hand, is how to make the audience, mostly students, relate with his creative imaginations.  “I want to grab the attention of the audience so they can relate with my dance moves,” he elaborated. Jonathan added that since he is considered the most neophyte in the group, it took him about two months to find the perfect music to go with the ballet. The other tricky thing for him is how to stitch his choreography to the story. “It’s a good thing we have an excellent director with an overall vision,” Francis said.

For Michael, the huge hurdle is how to insert the whole story in his allotted time of six minutes. But they overcame all hiccups during their many artistic meetings. “It pays that we were fed good food,” they said.