“We will be back after a short intermission.”

As soon as this is heard in a usually packed theater, soloist ballerina Monica Gana would have been busy running off to a bustling scene backstage: dancers stretching, changing costumes, ribboning a fresh pair of pointe shoes, and mentally preparing for the second act.

Monica Gana. Photo by Fern Dy.

But then the pandemic happened, and the world came to a halt. Within weeks, economies were down, mobility was reduced, borders were closed, and the performing arts stages all over the world have gone dark—devoid of glamour, bows, and claps.

Curtains down, empty theaters, and the hallways are no longer filled with cheerful dancers finding spaces to barre.

What should have been a brief intermission, dragged on for more than a year, causing a crippling blow to the performing arts world. Some performers are struggling financially, while others have temporarily put down their pointe shoes, and looked for a job elsewhere.

Curtain closing

Despite being a multi-awarded ballerina, Gana was not immune to the effects of the pandemic.

The dancer was preparing for the full-length production of Alice Reyes’ Rama, Hari when the pandemic hit. “I felt like my career had been cut short,” says the 27-year-old Gana. “There were mixed feelings of sadness, fear, hope, and determination among dancers.”

She compares dancing to “moving in space, moving through time, and moving in the moment.” And this dynamic art form, unfortunately, has not fared well in the age of social distancing.

Ballet requires a physical connection between dancers in order to deliver a performance that will resonate well with its audience. “It’s how we speak,” Gana explains. But that, too, is now a threatened language.

Local dancers were forced to take an indefinite leave from the stage as a result of continued community quarantines, theaters and auditoriums closing, and ballet companies struggling to stay afloat.

“What the pandemic has taken away was the performance aspect of it, the adrenaline rush of being in the moment, connecting with a theater full of thousands of people, and sharing the energy with them,” Gana shares.

Keep moving

Resilience, however, is something innate for dancers like Gana. Apart from its benefits to individual fitness, ballet fosters a determined mindset among those who practice it. Performers are trained to keep moving despite physical and emotional challenges.

“You have to keep going even if you’re not comfortable. Even if things are not in your favor, you have to keep fighting,” Gana says.

And the pandemic is no different for the young ballerina. The health crisis, more than anything, is teaching her to thrive and survive. For her, there is no time to ask, “what’s happening?” The more pressing question is, “how do we surpass this?”

Positive self-affirmation, patience, and being smart about every situation are Gana’s ways to deal with the pandemic. “It teaches all of us to really be smart, hold tight, and just keep pushing, so it builds resilience, resistance, and tenacity.”

The Cultural Center of the Philippines. Photo courtesy of the Department of Tourism.

Grand pivot

Over the pandemic, Gana continued dancing and connecting with young and aspiring dancers through online lessons as a faculty member of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Dance Workshop. This is an educational program run by displaced dance artists in partnership with the CCP Arts Online and the center’s Arts Education Department.

She teaches advanced pointe classes (levels 3 & 4), focusing on pointe work and the finer details of classical ballet. The group also gives dance lectures and workshops for school teachers as part of the Department of Education’s special arts program to help them learn more about different dance styles and techniques.

The pandemic has also provided the ballet community the chance to broaden their perspective on dance. Gana says that the pandemic has led to exciting new developments in dance, allowing them to “collaborate with other art forms, like film” and present dance in a whole new light.

While it cannot replace a live performance on stage, a filmed dance production empowers the dance community to reconnect with existing ballet audiences while also reaching new audiences.

Aimed at keeping the art of dance alive and thriving in the country, the artists of the CCP Dance Workshop, Ballet Manila, and the Philippine Ballet Theater are now collaborating on a filmed dance production that will be accessible for streaming online in July.

The show is a combination of classical ballet and modern dance. Gana will return to the stage as Medora in an excerpt from the classic pirate adventure Le Corsaire. Production choreographers are collaborating with film directors to guarantee that the creative shape of the choreography is preserved during the filming process.

The highly-anticipated performance is the culmination of the CCP-sponsored Professional Dancers Support Program (PDSP), which also provides financial and training assistance to displaced dance artists throughout the pandemic.

CCP Complex at night. Photo by Ryan Ang.

CCP Complex at night. Photo by Ryan Ang. Leaping back onto the live stage

With the COVID-19 vaccinations becoming increasingly accessible to Filipinos, “everyone is hopeful that we are soon getting out of the pandemic.” While nothing is definite at this time, Gana feels that “working together as one creative community” will be the key to overcoming the health crisis.

The dancer is full of hope for the local community, and she can’t wait for the curtain to rise and the ballet to begin once more.

“There’s a reason for everything. There’s a reason for the pandemic. There’s a reason why we’re struggling as much as we don’t like it. There’s a reason why this has happened,” she says. “We just have to accept it and try not to be too emotional about it because soon all of these will make sense, and we’ll be glad we all went through it.”