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Novy Bereber: Dancing from the Heart

Introducing Novy Bereber, who is making the Philippines – not just the LGBT community – proud as an accomplished dancer cum choreographer.

NOVY J. BEREBER
Dancer/Choreographer

Novy Bereber believes that “dance is a marginal and risky way of life. Openly gay men in the Philippines have already made a commitment to truth in their lives, just one example of the courage which they need to exist as honest and whole human beings. I hope we bring this commitment to honesty, truth, and the beauty which underlie them to what we do in dance.”

It wasn’t in the plan.

“I was at a crossroads in my life (when) my favourite tita suggested I join the dance troupe of the Dagyaw Theatre and Dance Company (DTDC) at the Iloilo National High School (INHS), basically to keep me out of trouble because I was kind of wild, and the (company’s) director was famous for his strictness,” Novy J. Bereber recalls. It was then when “I suddenly discovered I loved to dance.”

That was in the 1990s, prior to Bereber’s receiving citations from the dance company to start it all for him as the most outstanding dancer for 1998, seven years after he first received a similar accolade, in 1991. It was somewhat providential, therefore, for him to, years later, pursue a career in dancing – ending up as the most outstanding scholar of Ballet Philippines (BP), before he, himself, took up dance teacher’s courses (2001 and 2006).

It wasn’t always easy, Bereber recalls. “Well, (for one, we) weren’t very well-off,” he says, noting how financial limitations often end many would-be dancers’ careers – something, in his case, remedied by scholarships, so that, even if, fortunately, he was still able to get a graduate diploma in the class of performing arts of INHS. Related to this, and a bigger – if not biggest – hindrance he encountered in dancing is the “low status given to dance and dancers in this country, (consequently the low) financial remuneration,” so that, when he started, “my barkada wasn’t particularly supportive (while I was) trying to graduate from high school, so that finding time to combine dancing and study, AND maintain the level of dance training needed to be in DTDC was really hard.”

After noting that, “to achieve high positions in our profession we undergo more training and education than lawyers, and yet are paid less than tinderas,” Bereber actually finished a bachelor of science in commerce degree from Iloilo Doctors’ College. But in dancing is where he found, and still finds, the fulfilment he looks for.

DANCING GAY

Bereber believes that “dance is a marginal and risky way of life. Openly gay men in the Philippines have already made a commitment to truth in their lives, just one example of the courage which they need to exist as honest and whole human beings. I hope we bring this commitment to honesty, truth, and the beauty which underlie them to what we do in dance,” he says.

What Novy Bereber finds inspiring in the GLBTQI community is “our constant ability to re-invent ourselves in the face of new challenges; our way of facing those challenges with humour and not anger. The fact that when we get mad, we don’t get even, we just get much more fabulous,” he says.

Not that society has truly completely embraced the GLBTQI community. “Though the Philippines has been accepting of its(GLBTQI) community since time immemorial, this acceptance has included a perception that this community is second-class, somehow to be tolerated and not really taken seriously,” Bereber notes. “This is ridiculous. The (GLBTQI) community provide a hugely disproportionate percentage of artists in this country, in every discipline, actually, and frankly, people should just get over it. Hello!”

Bereber adds: “The Philippines is a strongly religious country, and sometimes the line between church and state gets blurred. Perhaps our religious leaders should remember that Jesus said ‘God is Love.’ He didn’t say ‘this’ kind of love or ‘that’ kind of love.’ Though I am a practising Roman Catholic, I don’t think anyone should be penalized for loving someone, whatever their gender, or, of course, lahi, religion, or social status.”

What Bereber finds inspiring in the GLBTQI community is “our constant ability to re-invent ourselves in the face of new challenges; our way of facing those challenges with humour and not anger. The fact that when we get mad, we don’t get even, we just get much more fabulous,” he says.

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And in “fabulousness” is where Bereber finds some hope.

“(GLBTQIs) should just continue to be fabulous. The rest of the community will think, ‘Gosh, they’re persecuted, put down, not given full civil rights; and they continue to be fabulous. Perhaps they’re doing something right. Perhaps we should be more like them,” he says. “We should just stay fabulous. It wears them down. Whenever the straight world pauses to think that here is a historically persecuted community which has managed to remain caring and kind and funny and – especially – despite all the trouble they’ve thrown at us – gorgeous, another bit of the bad stuff crumbles. Every time a great entertainer comes out, another part of the wall of senseless intolerance crumbles.”

VARIED EXPERIENCES

Bereber, even for his relatively young age, has already made the rounds in the field he chose to stay in.

“Though the Philippines has been accepting of its (LGBT) community since time immemorial, this acceptance has included a perception that this community is second-class, somehow to be tolerated and not really taken seriously,” Novy Bereber notes. “This is ridiculous.”

He was soloist in Augustus Damian’s Soledad and An Angel Earns His Wings; Agnes Locsin’s Anak Asia; Alden Lugnasin’s Fan Three and Buhay; Alvin Erasga Tolentino’s Field 1; and Denisa Reyes’ In the Name of the Mother, among others. And then he choreographed CCP/Department of Tourism’s Windows to Paradise: Pride of Country and Eight Windows to Paradise, Waterfront Theatre’s Musical Wonderland, CCP’s Tribute to National Artist of the Theatre: Daisy Avellana, Broadway Asia Entertainment’s The King and I (Broadway Musical Asian Tour), also among others. And for freelance work, he choreographed Barbie Production/AKS Live Events’ 12 Dancing Princesses: A Musical Fairy Tale; Tanghalang Pilipino’s Bakeretta (Ghost Operetta); Wi-Fi Independent Contemporary Dance Festival’s Taong Bola; and CCP Dance School’s Gloria, Gloria and Hampang Ta (Playtime), yet again, also among others.

What he considers as his biggest achievement? “That the boy from Iloilo could become a member of our national company, become the youngest choreographer working for it, and have success with a very individual and personal style,” he beams, then immediately adds: “I don’t think I’ve come close yet to my biggest achievement.”

This far into his career, though, he has no regrets, quoting Edith Piaf’s “Non, Rien De Rien, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien – I just love Piaf,” he smiles.

Bereber considers as mentors many of the Philippines’ arts who’s who, including DTDC’s Edwin C. Duero (the one to start his dancing), Ballet Manila’s Lisa Macuja and Osias Barroso, New York City Ballet’s Frank Ohman, Jazz de Montreal’s Edward Hillyer, Jeune Ballet de France’s Ernest Mandap, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group’s Ramon Obusan, and Ballet Philippines’ Edna Vida, Alice Reyes, Denisa Reyes, Agnes Locsin, Susan Nakauchi, Cecile Sicangco, Victor Ursabia, Noordin Jumalon, and Nonoy Froilan.

“I happily and readily embrace every opportunity to expand my artistic vision, training, and experience overseas. But I am, first and foremost, a Filipino dancer. I will always come back. My heart and my commitment are here,” Bereber says. “I truly believe in creating a choreographic and artistic language that expresses, reflects, and extends the extraordinary mix of cultures and influences that is Filipino. More than any other Asian nation, we have a national background that can help us show the world a new way — artistically, choreographically, whatever.” Then, with a wide smile: “Go, go, Philippines! Todo na ‘to!”

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