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MANILA, Philippines – Meeting Basilio Esteban Villaruz is to be escorted through his consummate love affair with dance.
“Sir Steve,” as he is fondly called by his younger proteges, holds the distinction of establishing and sustaining the 32-year-old dance program at the UP College of Music and the UP Dance Company, thus mentoring several decades of dance practitioners in the country.
He has also received the NCCA Dangal Haraya award for life achievement in dance, presented his dance papers internationally, published two books on dance, and has choreographed more than a hundred dances for various companies here and abroad.
He is currently professor emeritus of the University of the Philippines and artistic director emeritus of the 25-year-old UP Dance Company.
Indeed, dance seems to follow Sir Steve like a shadow. Even before he was born, his mother already had premonitions of the child’s fate.
“My mother said she always dreamed she was dancing when she was pregnant with me. She was always singing over her Singer machine. We were poor, so I used to sew my dance trunks and ballet shoes in my mother’s sewing machine,” Sir Steve ruminates about his humble beginnings and his resourceful nature. His intense love affair with dance would eventually lead him to wear a gamut of many hats in the Philippine dance world – as dancer, choreographer, teacher, critic, scholar, and one of the few certified dance notators in the country.
Sir Steve, born on March 15, 1939 in Negros Occidental, fondly recalls that his first dance performance was in his elementary Rigodon de Honor in his town Talisay. His mother, the town’s sought-after seamstress, was his best friend, rallying behind him in his ardent desire to make a career in dance, despite his father’s opposition.
“After high school, I really wanted to study just dance. With my little training in Bacolod but great desire to make dances, I started teaching ballet in Iloilo when I was teaching literature at Central Philippine University. I was encouraged by its president Joseph Howard and my pianist Elora Jordan. I taught high school students and choreographed for them, a choral group, and myself for convocations and special events.”
Among their performers then, he proudly shares, were Edwin Duero who later ran Dagyaw Theater and Dance Company, and international tenor Otoniel Gonzaga.
Even after taking his graduate degrees in Asian Studies (at FEU) and Comparative Literature (at UP), Sir Steve was still led back to dance as his main passion and profession. He was instructor at the UP Department of English for a while before he ventured to dance full time, namely with the Hariraya Ballet Company and Dance Theater Philippines. In the ’70s, he joined the Alice Reyes and Modern Dance Company (now Ballet Philippines). He also got his advance diploma in Benesh Movement Notation System in 1980.
Sir Steve is also one of the people to be credited for helping Tita Radaic — together with Luis Layag — start the Dance Theater Philippines’ Ballet at the Rizal Park. On top of this, Sir Steve managed to juggle other teaching stints in various dance schools in Mandaluyong and Makati (Julie Borromeo’s), Manila (Radaic’s), and Malabon (Borromeo’s cousin). “That was the way to survive then, as we were only paid performance fees — or occasionally from Pilita Corrales’s weekly show on TV,” Sir Steve enthuses about his way of making a living in a not-so-profitable profession.
At 73, Sir Steve is far from retired. He still teaches dance theory classes and the general course “Reading Dance” at the UP College of Music, while also enjoying dance majors’ improvisations and compositions. “Their own imagination and efforts sustain my continued interest in creativity in dance.”
Besides this, he still reads through dance theses and dissertations in the dance programs of his own college and of the UP College of Human Kinetics.
He has also sat as chair for 8 years at the ballet competition of NAMCYA (National Music Competition for Young Artists), and sits as an external examiner of the University of Malaya. He was also judge 8 times at the Asia Pacific International Ballet Competition, in Tokyo for the Japan Ballet Association.
He presently serves as President of the World Dance Alliance-Philippines, which has been responsible for the yearly Wi-Fi Body events that feature contemporary dancers in the country.
Indeed, reading through Sir Steve’s 3-volume Walking Through Philippine Theater (UST Publishing, 2012),a collection of dance and theater reviews through 40 years, shows us an unmatched depth and breadth of knowledge in the Philippine performing arts, especially the much-neglected art of reviewing dances. His over 40 years in the field has allowed him a full range of historical insights and analyses that make him not just a reliable critic but also a rare dance historian of our times.
From the works of Leonor Orosa Goquinco and Anita Kane, to soloist Manolo Rosado, to Anna Villadolid and Myra Beltran, Sir Steve gifts us with the diligence, rigor, and insight of one who has seen, experienced, practiced, and thought deeply about one of our ephemeral yet most enduring of human art forms. – Rappler.com
(In celebration of Arts Month, Prof. Steve Villaruz’s book, “Walking Through Philippine Theater” will be launched on Feb. 21, 2013, 4pm at the Claro M. Recto Hall, Faculty Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman.)