Dance troupe JNS walks away with top honors — in heels
After wowing judges for more than a week with high energy on-stage acrobatics, members of Philippine dance troupe, Junior New System (JNS), needed to up the stakes.
On Friday, July 15, the all-male ensemble floored the audience by donning glitter coated, six-inch platform heels as they leapt and somersaulted across the stage of the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California. They won the 20th annual World Championship of Performing Arts’ (WCOPA) most prestigious award with a gravity-defying set of choreography that drew a roar of applause from both spectators and rival competitors.
JNS added the 2016 WCOPA Senior Grand Champion title to the collection of 175 medals and awards that Team Philippines took home from this year’s events. A group of more than 75 Filipino models, actors, instrumentalists, vocalists and dancers competed against performers from over 60 nations in what WCOPA fans and representatives have called “the Olympics of performing arts.” After nine days’ worth of music, drama and dance, the team walked away with 39 gold, 65 silver and 43 bronze medals. Filipino artists also garnered 21 overall division plaques and 10 industry awards.
Jerry Mercado, the man who oversaw scouting and auditioning for Team Philippines, earned this year’s award for Outstanding National Director.
“I’m so proud of the team,” Mercado said after Friday’s Grand Finales performances. Before the event, he told his team to remember that “you are no longer singing for yourself, but for your country.”
International bragging rights and about $400,000 dollars worth of scholarships were up for grabs in this year’s competition. The week-long event also gave contestants a valuable opportunity to promote their careers by performing in front of talent scouts and entertainment executives, as well as an international audience watching live in person or streaming the show from around the globe.
In addition to JNS, six other entrants from the Philippine delegation made it to the WCOPA’s last night of competition. Models David Priego Walker and Patricia Polamay took to the runway and posed for cameras in formal, casual and swimwear. Junior dance competitor Marco Unabia delighted audience members with a light-hearted number inspired by the joys of reading.
Senior dance contestant Ira Sisa Aparra appeared to float effortlessly across the stage in a performance punctuated by leaping twirls and flowing arm gestures.
Veenen Nair, senior vocalist of Team Philippines, provided her own piano accompaniment to a rendition of Alicia Key’s “Girl on Fire.” She deftly showcased both of her talents and belted out soulful high-notes that inspired gasps and cheers from the audience.
“It was a big honor to be picked for the Philippines because the Philippines is a very strong team,” Nair told the Asian Journal.
Filipino contestants won both the Junior and Senior Grand Championship titles in 2013 and 2014. Vocalist Alexander Pantoja secured overall victory in the Junior division this year for team USA. JNS returns the senior title to the Philippines after the team was edged out in 2015 by dance group Chase and Jemima of South Africa in the junior competition, and vocalist Francoise Medley of Jamaica in the senior division.
Senior vocalist Jeremy Layug was just happy to have a chance to compete, according to his grandparents, Martin and Angelina De Castro. They said their grandson could hardly believe he had made it to the finals.
”This boy was just practicing in the choir. He doesn’t have a voice coach,” said Martin De Castro. “Once you have the microphone and you’re on the stage do your best because that might be your first and last performance,” he said to his grandson prior to the start of the show.
Despite minimal formal training, Layug managed to fill the Terrace Theatre with the raw power of his voice on Friday night.
“I notice that most of the countries, when they perform, are very technical,” said WCOPA hall of famer and 2005 senior grand champion Jed Madela, who co-hosted Friday’s competition along with Australian performer Britt Goodwin. “When it comes to the Filipino, talent is heart. It’s in our being and once a Filipino stands on stage it’s a different performance, a different experience.”