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McCoy Libao performing Peer Gynt at the Bolshoi Theater. Photo by Kiran West

We are all familiar with that typical movie plot: talented protagonist struggling to achieve his or her dreams is in need of help in order to move forward, then suddenly a generous character lends a helping hand, allowing the protagonist to thrive and make something great of themselves. These movies are always uplifting, heart-warming and ever so inspirational. What more if it were real life?

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Photo by Holger Badekow

Well ladies and gents, this is all fact. Get ready to learn all about Marcelino (McCoy) Libao and how he has decided to Step Forward. 

“McCoy grew up in my school. He was a dream student at Steps. Talented, hardworking, focused, diligent and always with a heart of gold. He has all the elements to succeed!” – Sofia Zobel Elizalde, dancer, teacher, patron of the arts, owner of Steps Dance Studio.

McCoy joined the extremely difficult international competition Prix de Lausanne and although he did not win the Gold, he was offered a spot in The Hamburg Ballet School, but it did not end there… He was offered a total of five scholarships to five different world-class institutions!

This already was an incredible achievement as typically, only the winner is accepted into the institution, let alone offered multiple scholarships. To top it off, entrance into the Hamburg school (which he chose to attend, out of the 5) does not at all guarantee any placement in the company. However, after his time at the school, McCoy was indeed offered a permanent spot.

His experience with Steps Dance Studio changed his life and now, this shining star can't wait to give back to his country, hoping to positively impact the lives of others, through dance. 

Photo by Silvano Ballone
photo by Holger Badekow
Photo by Kiran West
McCoy Libao performing Peer Gynt. Photo by Kiran West.
John Neumeier and McCoy Libao
Photo by Holger Badekow
Photo by Kiran West
Photo by Daniel Nueckel

What is Stepping Forward:

Stepping Forward is a brand new NGO that focuses on promoting and preserving arts and culture, specifically, dance.  

What is Stepping Forward Planning? 

The organization is planning a fundraiser gala in the Philippines, featuring the dancers of the Hamburg Ballet – this is something you do not want to miss out on! All funds from their first show, eponymously named Stepping Forward, will go toward Steps Dance Studio's Scholarship Foundation, in partnerhsip with CENTEX, and Academy One's Tuloy Foundation, helping children in the country reach their dreams.

When is the show? : 

The performance (the Gala Night) will take place on August 12 but there will be a special performance on the 11th of August at 7pm for STUDENTS only where there will also be a forum afterward between the students and the performers.

In addition to the performances there will be workshops on August 7-10 in both Academy One (7-8) and Steps Dance Studio (9-10).

Who is behind Stepping Forward:

In collaboration with The Hamburg Ballet’s McCoy Libao, Sofia Elizalde of Steps Dance Studio and Cherish Garcia of Academy One will be working together to produce a show to remember.

Getting to know McCoy Libao:

He grew up in a typical Filipino family, 6 siblings in total. Raised by parents who adored the arts and loved education, McCoy has always been exposed to a world of art. His parents actually worked with many different talents, as they scouted and sent Filipino artists to perform overseas. Despite being surrounded by the arts from an early age, he had no idea what was in store for him in the future. 

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Photo by Kiran West

Philippine Tatler: How were you introduced to dance? To Steps?

McCoy Libao: When I was a child, I begged my mom to enrol me in dance school. I always accompanied her when she picked my sisters up from ballet class at the CCP. However, cause of age, they didn't accept me yet at the time, and traffic in Manila was, back then, already quite bad that even their ballet classes were put on hold because it was too tiring for them to go to school, then to ballet and then back home.

Years later, when Steps moved to Mayapis which was literally a block away from our house, we all knew it was destiny. We immediately enrolled. I remember loving every minute of it! I would stay after my class and just observe other classes. I was still sceptical about ballet as I thought… men shouldn't wear tights. I know, the irony of it now, haha! Long story short, we had a recital was coming up, my first recital at Steps, and that’s when I met Teacher Sofia (Sofia Zobel Elizalde). Right after that rehearsal, my mom was called for a meeting, and next thing I knew, I was a full-scholar at Steps and yes the tights were mandatory. 

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John Neumeier and McCoy Libao preparing for new ballets. Photo by Holger Badekow

PT: How did you end up in the Hamburg Ballet and could you tell me about your journey in the Hamburg school and transition to its ballet company? 

ML: Having won the Gold at the NAMCYA ballet competition in the Philippines was a real eye opener. I finally decided for myself that ballet was/is for me. My long time mentor, Raul Sauz, really pushed me to my limits. That moment was important as I was asked by many, "what's your next step." Many advised me to join a company, others said that I should go to college, etc… but Teacher Raul and Teacher Sofia suggested that I join Prix de Lausanne. Thank goodness for that!

Prix de Lausanne is an international ballet competition for students. The prize is nothing short of a full scholarship to any of your chosen dream schools, or even an apprenticeship with your dream company. 

I trained first in Munich with the one and only prima ballerina Anna Villadolid and her husband, Thomas Mayr, who really helped me prepare myself to compete at the international level. I took classes with the Bavarian State Ballet at age 15 and was absolutely overwhelmed by every experience. Everyone was extremely good, and at that competition, the head of the jury was John Neumeier. He has been the director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet for the past 44 years… it was really intimidating.

I saw another side of ballet throughout this experience. It was a stunning side of ballet that I thought couldn't be possible. It made me fall even more in love with dancing.

After making it into the finals, and watching the intermission number by the Hamburg Ballet School and Hamburg Ballet company, I was in awe!!! I knew from that moment, I would do anything to get there. I thought, this is ART.

As the curtain closed I found out that I didn't win after all, but I sure felt as if I had won it all. And then… the unthinkable happened… John Neumeier started walking to towards me and offered me a full scholarship to study for two years at his ballet school!! I remember all my mentors saying, "this is your golden ticket!" And it was. Two years later, he offered me a permanent place in the company.

PT: How has dance impacted you? 

ML: Dance has changed me. Dance has made me a better human being. Most importantly, dance has saved me. Being a professional dancer now for almost 10 years, I find myself relying on dance more often than not. When I'm angry, sad, happy, frustrated, alone, or pretty much when I feel any emotion, I just dance. It helps me live. 
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Photo by Silvano Ballone

PT: How has the Hamburg Ballet and your experiences in dance, challenged you and what have you learned?

ML: My experiences with the Hamburg Ballet challenged me in so many ways. I have learnt how to handle myself under great stress, or how to work with all types of people because everybody comes from a different backgrounds, and most importantly I have learnt how to be a true artist. The hardest thing one can do is to be YOU on stage. Or how to find yourself in a role and then become that person on stage. That's something I will always be thankful for to John, my director, and for Hamburg Ballet. I will never go on in my life without being 100 per cent who I truly am. Why fake it? Why be somebody else if you could be you, right?

PT: What is something you want other young children in the Philippines to take away from your life experiences? 

ML: It would be to do everything with passion. Dance or not, I want every child in the Philippines to always do what they want, what they have dreamt about, and to do it with full commitment and passion and with compassion too! We are all just humans at the end of the day. 

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Photo by Holger Badekow

PT: What can we expect from the upcoming show? Will you be dancing and choreographing too?

ML: The program design came about by talking it out with John Neumeier. We had to pick pieces that we thought would connect well with the local Filipino audience, and pieces that have good themes for a night like Stepping Forward.

For example, I chose themes like "love", "relationship", and "friendship" which are topics I know as a Filipino, we all will enjoy. 

I chose masterpieces from the Hamburg Ballet because as a first show from Stepping Forward, I want nothing but the best. There will be top pieces choreographed by John Neumeier and a classic ballet repertoire (which are timeless).

All my dancers, including myself, are dancing pro bono. It really is all about giving back.