The dance that keeps you on your toes: backstage at the Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition

By YP cadets Jessie Pang and Allyson Yeh

YP cadets Jessie Pang and Allyson Yeh went to the Asian Grand Prix to meet ballet dancers waiting in the wings

By YP cadets Jessie Pang and Allyson Yeh |

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Ballet dancers from all over the world competed at the Asian Grand Prix.

The lights dim, the music begins and all eyes are fixed on a brightly lit stage. The pressure is high, but you'd never know it as a dancer comes soaring through the air and the audience erupts in applause.

Only standing backstage would you ever know the stress these dancers feel. And at the Asian Grand Prix International Ballet Competition (AGP) 2015, the pressure was even higher. Each performance was being judged by a panel of eight ballet experts who score the dancers on their technique. From August 10 to 14, dancers across all age groups from all over the world competed in Hong Kong.

This was the fifth year of the AGP, and only about 30 per cent of participants were from Hong Kong.

The rest had flown in from the Philippines, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Britain, Canada and the United States.

Photo: Jessie Pang

Watching the dancers both on and off the stage, Young Post cadets got a close-up look at how physically demanding ballet really is. It's the dancer's job to look effortless, but every movement requires strength, agility and perfect control over the whole body - from the tips of the toes all the way to the ends of the fingers. Dancers have to keep in character the entire time on stage, but as soon as they're behind the curtain, they can relax.

Robert Peralta, 21, is a dancer with Ballet Manila. He's been dancing for almost six years, but this was his first AGP. He says that dancing and acting have quite a lot in common.

"Every time I do a ballet performance, I embody a different character," he explains, showing off some different poses - from angry and strong, to happy and fluid.

"Except I can't use words. It's all in my actions. I have to feel it in my bones and somehow translate that in how I move."

Being able to express yourself only through the movement of your body takes years of dedication and training. "I research everything about my performance," Peralta says. "I know the choreographers, the directors, each character, their back stories, the people involved."

While all this may seem excessive, Peralta says that is what it takes for a ballet dancer to fully understand their role on stage. "I memorise it over and over again," he says.

Ballet is not just about pretty tutus.
Photo: Jessie Pang

"I know the history, background, production. These details give me an image in my mind of what the character should be."

This attention to detail and dedication to the art of dancing isn't for everyone. But for those that have made the commitment, they can't see themselves doing anything else.

Mari Nette Franco, 15, also from the Philippines, says she knows being a dancer isn't the easiest career choice. "Ballet is hard no matter where you are," she says. "But as long as you enjoy it, you won't give it up."

Peralta agrees. "You need to love what you are doing," he says. "It's so much more than dancing."

Most picture the prima ballerina in a pink tutu when they think of ballet, but Peralta highlights the importance of male performers, too.

"Ballet is very female dominated, but the role we, the male dancers, play is still quite important," he explains. "For example, I have to lift my partner in the air when we dance, hold her as she spins - these small things I do create an even better performance."

At the end of the day, these dancers are athletes. And just like with any sport, to be the best requires practice. Ballet Manila dancer Katherine Barkman, who won the Asian Grand Prix Award this year, recalls the endless rehearsals of her early career.

"I used to practise six hours a day," she says. "There's a different kind of hardship in ballet, but you always want to strive for the best, create beauty, and develop artistry."

Photo: Diva Saha