Dance Icon: Felicitas L. Radaic

Felicitas L. Radaic, dancer, teacher, and choreographer, has been an indefatigable trailblazer of Philippine ballet for almost five decades. She choreographed ballets that radiated distinct Filipino aura, established first-rate dance schools, trained some of the most excellent Filipina ballerinas, and brought ballet to the people.

After honing her exceptional talent in dance and choreography in Paris, Madrid, and London, with the likes of Valentina Kaschubas, Xenia, Tripolitof, and Karen Marie Taff; and after becoming the first Filipina to become a member of United Kingdom’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dancing, she came back to the Philippines to further ennoble the art of ballet to generations of Filipino dancers and audiences.

With one bold stroke, she and Sister Nieves Valdes, ICM, then director of St. Theresa’s College, broke the ten year religious ban on ballet which threatened girls from Catholic schools with expulsion.

In 1986, she organized the Philippine branch of the Royal Academy of Dancing, founded her own dance school, and awarded scholarships to deserving students. In the same year, she co-founded the Dance Theater Philippines (DTP), and served it as teacher, choreographer, and artistic director for more than twenty years.

Radaic’s DTP ballet productions “Mir-I-Nisa” (1969), “May Day Eve” (1971), “The Prey” (1973), “Japonsina” (1975), “Nan-Pangkat” (1975), “La Inamorata” (1983), “Oy Akin Yan!” (1968), “Tanan” (1968), and “Tubig!” (1979) were highly acclaimed for their distinctly Filipino sense of style. She made it her mission to bring ballet closer to modern Filipino audiences by staging DTP performances at the Rizal Park for thirteen years – and during Martial Law at that!

To inspire creativity and pedagogical rigor among young choreographers and dance educators in the Philippines, she and Noordin Jumalon conceptualized and authored the National Ballet Syllabus that addresses the needs of Filipino ballet students. To date, close to 300 classical ballet teachers from all over the Philippines have trained under this syllabus, a number that will surely continue to multiply in the coming years.

Through DTP and her schools, Radaic trained renowned dancers Irene and Hazel Sabas, Sophia Radaic, Mary Anne Santamaria, Eloisa Enerio, Anna Villadolid, Lisa Macuja, and Mylene Saldana.

For an artist who made ballet closer to the Filipino, untiring in the promotion of the art of dance, choreographed outstanding ballet productions, and who advocated respect for Filipino dancers, and choreographers.

The Gawad CCP para sa Sining (Dance) was given to Felicitas L. Radaic on the 10th of September 2008.

“I would dearly love to make you see ballet through my eyes.”
– Teacher Xiao to Li Cunxin in Mao’s Last Dancer

Out in Rizal Park and like Xiao in China, Tita made her dancers see ballet through her pedagogical, aesthetic eyes. Among these were Anna Villadolid and Lisa Macuja (both exemplary Giselle, Tita’s own signature role), Irene and Hazel Sabas, Mary Anne Santamaria, Eloisa Enerio, Sonia Domingo, Mitto Castillo, Victor Madrona, daughter Vinki, etc.—who ranged the world, from Munich to Manchester, St. Petersberg to Pacifica (USA), Beijing to Barcelona (where Irene now has a company with David Campos), etc. Many others carry on the same dedication at home, in their schools, through Tita’s syllabus.

In the more hegemonic times of the ‘70s and ‘80s, virtually single-handedly she toured DTP four times abroad in Asia in Britain. It went into debt, but Tita paid these conscientiously from out of the miniscule Ballet at the Park subsidy. And from where she carefully dispensed academic scholarships for boys who auditioned into ballet at St. Theresa’s College.

Moreover, Tita crossed boundaries to help even those not in her turf. After finding great rewards in her own grant from Goethe Institute or British Council, she negotiated grants abroad for her gifted brother Luis Layag and Basilio, Gener Caringal and Effie Nañas of Ballet Philippines, and later Eric V. Cruz of Philippine Ballet Theatre/Ballet Manila. Her fidelity was to talent not branding.

In those days of rare travels for less privileged groups, she brought along dancers from other companies – from Damian and Cruz’s Dance Concert Company for one – and was among the few directors who invited outside choreographers for DTP and her own school recitals.

Moreover, she has one of the most cosmopolitan of tastes. Beyond stocking DTP’s repertoire with varied contributions from various choreographers, she herself is a phenomenon for bridging her works between as serious pieces as “The Prey” (to Rosalina Abejo) and “Nan-Pangkat” (to Angel Pena) and her unforgettable comedies as “Oy, Akin Yan!” and “Tanan” (both to Juan Silos), so rare in Philippine ballet repertoire. To Eliseo Pajaro, she and Julie choreographed a CCP inaugural landmark (1969), “Mir-I-Nisa”, story by Jose Garcia Villa.

What more can one ask of a one life? With an undying dedication to the dance? A clear and meticulous mind? A most rational generosity? An exaction of neat, honest, and productive work, both from herself and others? (Tita is not one to make bili or bola; she is too intelligent for such.)

By her sustained fidelity, never blind – and her other personal, professional concerns, at one time in the ecology of Antipolo and now of Palawan – the [Gawad CCP] award is really not for Tita. What she has done is her own gift to the hundreds she has tutored and encouraged, to her art and its felt necessity in Philippine society.

From a ballerina she has become one of our truest mentors in dance – as Beijing’s Teacher Xiao was to danseur Li Cunxin who became a star there, U.S.A., Australia, the rest of the world. She and Ziao have one mind in common: Nothing is impossible with assiduous, intelligent work. (She has also brought several delegations – from her and other schools – to the Beijing Dance Academy to observe the intensive pedagogical work there. Like a real teacher, she continues to learn.)

– excerpted from Basilio Esteban S. Villaruz’ tribute to Felicitas Layag Radaic on the 2008 Gawad CCP para sa Sining (Sayaw)