When Filipinos Had Holidays on Ice

Young people in North America (and perhaps in Europe too) talk about "running away to join the circus" when things aren't working out at home or in life in general. I sort of had my own version of that when growing up in Manila. Yes, I had been to one or two of the circuses that came to Manila; but when I saw my third “Holiday on Ice” (HOI) show, I wanted to run away and join them, and not because of any dissatisfaction or unhappiness in my personal life at the time. I was, as I'm sure many of you were, merely dazzled by the artistry and precision speed on ice, the costumes, lights, music--the total magic of the show.

And then here we are, for those living in the northern hemisphere, living through another winter. So those thoughts, plus the return of figure skating shows on US television and a seemingly innocuous news item in an old Manila newspaper that I accidentally came across the other day, triggered dormant memories of a unique occurrence in the Manila of the 1950s and '60s--when western ice shows came to the tropical Philippines.

The first HOI ice show that came to Manila was either in 1953 or 1954. My memory says 1954, but it was most possibly the year before, when it was timed with the Philippines International Fair (PIF) of 1953. There aren't too many surviving records of the 1953 PIF event. I was barely five years old at the time, but I certainly remember my dad showing me the ice stage the morning we went to get the tickets; we got up close and he lifted the canvas cover. It was held at an open-air especially built venue in the Mehan Gardens; so during the daytime, the ice stage was covered with heavy canvas. Wow, I thought then -- never having seen ice skaters before, what show was I in store for?

When I saw the actual show, I remember being so enchanted by a big “champagne glass” number, where six giant, over-size champagne glasses floated out onto the ice stage. The skaters did their moves and gyrations around the giant props; and then bubbles, signifying the champagne, floated out into Manila’s night air. It was magical, and I was captivated.  

The souvenir program of the 1953 Philippine International Fair when the first “Holiday on Ice” show might have run. (Thanks to Isidra Reyes for finding this.) 

The souvenir program of the 1953 Philippine International Fair when the first “Holiday on Ice” show might have run. (Thanks to Isidra Reyes for finding this.) 

In retrospect, the whole PIF of 1953, was overshadowed in later years by the bathetic soap-opera episode of someone who lost the absolutely trivial, first Miss Philippines contest, a certain, very young Imelda Romualdez, and then-Manila mayor, Arsenio Lacson (uncle of the adventuress Rose in another PF article), conjured out of thin air, the Mutya ng Manila (Muse of Manila) title, to appease the inconsolable loser. It was an uncontested title; so, if there was only one contestant, how valid and bonafide a title was that?

Still part of that 1953 PIF hoopla, were two romances that blossomed out of that fair. One was directly related to “Holiday on Ice” wherein an Ysmael Steel heir got so smitten with one of the ice skaters that they eloped shortly after the show's Manila run. The other, more prominent one was a slower burner in which social Manila got its first close-up glimpse of the first Miss Universe who would soon become one of their own. Armi Kuusela Hilario would be the first of many international title holders who would make Manila home. But that's a story for another day.  

Two years later, in 1955, an impresario named Sid Yaptinchay presented “Holiday on Ice” again, but this time it played in a covered venue, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. I had just turned seven at the time and being taken to the show was a birthday gift. What I remember most was an "undersea" number in which denizens of the deep, like sharks, octopi, mermaids, King Neptune, glowing minnows, were all making merry in an "underwater" ice world. Once again, I was totally enchanted and the images stayed with me for days.

Beginnings

There was a whole different vibe and culture to these traveling ice shows. As a result of Sonja Henie's fame over three successive Winter Olympic Games (1928-1932-1936), the “Ice Follies” was born in 1937 and became the first of the US ice show companies. “Ice Capades” followed in 1940; and “Holiday on Ice” in 1943. Through the 1940s-‘50s, the three touring ice shows were a big hit in North America and Europe. In the mid-1950s, “Holiday on Ice” built up its production capabilities in Europe; the shows that came to Manila in 1953-4, '55 and the '60s were assembled in Germany, although they would sometimes add cast members from Japan for the rest of the Asian tours. Today, HOI is headquartered in Amsterdam and no longer has operations in the USA (where “Disney on Ice” is the dominant ice show outfit).   

Cover of the souvenir program of the 2nd Manila engagement of “Holiday on Ice” in 1955, this time in a covered venue, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. (Source: Roy Blakey Collection.)  

Cover of the souvenir program of the 2nd Manila engagement of “Holiday on Ice” in 1955, this time in a covered venue, the Rizal Memorial Coliseum. (Source: Roy Blakey Collection.)  

In my research, I also happened to connect online with Roy Blakey, an actual, one-time “Holiday on Ice skater” and now an ice-show archivist. Blakey, who also performed in the 1963 and 1965 editions of HOI in the Philippines, shares some of his thoughts on being behind the footlights in those years, and what it was like to bring what was essentially a first-world entertainment to a tropical, third-world country where the concepts of snow, sequins and spotlights on ice were about as remote as the Russian steppes and icebreakers in the Arctic seas.

When the Araneta Coliseum opened in 1960, the next major engagement there to regale Manila audiences after the inaugural Flash Elorde-Harold Gomes fight was the return of “Holiday on Ice” for three weeks in a new, state-of-the-art venue where some 17,500 people could see this spectacle on ice.  

Wide-angle shot of” Holiday on Ice” at the Araneta Coliseum, 1962 edition. Because of Manila's warm climate, the ice shows were a great treat and often sold out. (Photo courtesy of Roy Blakey)

Wide-angle shot of” Holiday on Ice” at the Araneta Coliseum, 1962 edition. Because of Manila's warm climate, the ice shows were a great treat and often sold out. (Photo courtesy of Roy Blakey)

So successful again was that engagement that “Holiday on Ice” returned to Manila in 1962, skipping 1961 for some reason. 1961 was a particularly sad and challenging year in figure skating circles because, earlier in the year, the US Figure Skating team was nearly decimated in a plane crash near Brussels when they were on their way to the World Championships in Prague. The tragic loss of one of the major competitive teams, including top coaches, caused the abrupt cancellation of those championships, the first time that had happened in any major world championships. (That accident also led to the practice of never booking major assets of any family, corporation or group on the same flight.)

Q & A with skater Roy Blakey

As you look back now, what were you thoughts and feelings about bringing and participating in what is essentially a first world-winter-type of entertainment to a tropical, third-world country? 

I treasure the fifteen years I spent traveling around the world performing in ice skating shows. How very lucky we skaters of that era were that the "Holiday on Ice" company was bravely sending its productions all over the globe complete with tons of ice making machines, costumes and props, lighting and sound equipment, plus a cast and crew of 80 people. The excited cheers and delighted laughter and wild applause  of audiences seeing live skating for the first time, such as in the Philippines, made all that effort worthwhile. 

What did you take away with you from those Far East experiences?

Ice skating, like dance, needs no translation. Audiences for ice shows, whether in New York, Berlin, or Oslo may know about the fine points of figure-skating. But audiences in Mexico City, Rio, Bangkok, or Manila know just as much about what's beautiful, thrilling and funny in a show.  On those foreign tours where our audiences were seeing ice skating for the first time, our company members were also seeing their cities, their cultures and their arts for the first time. Everyone, on both sides of the footlights, benefited from those memorable experiences.

(Until Blakey told me afterwards, I didn't realize that starting with the 1965 edition of the show, “Holiday on Ice” did not just play in Manila. They also brought the show to Cebu and Iloilo [Amado Araneta's home city] to give Visayan audiences a taste of the ice magic.)  

What were your most pleasant, memorable off-ice memories, relating to the Filipinos/Manila?

It was great to be in an Asian metropolis where so many people spoke English. I loved getting to hear lots of great music. I took many photos of the colorful and wildly decorated jeepnies [sic]. And I got to ride a water buffalo.

Rivalry on Ice

By some strange re-alignment of the stars, the grieving and shocked figure-skating community was treated to a strange turn of events in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September 1961. “Ice Capades,” rival company to “Holiday on Ice,” unveiled a suite of Philippine dances “on the rocks," so to speak. It was barely three years after the Philippines' own Bayanihan Dance company made an international splash at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels that a major ice show company added Philippine dances to its repertoire.

(Quite coincidentally also in late 1961, on the other side of the US, stage producer Steve Parker, Shirley MacLaine's husband at the time, unveiled an authentic Filipino show, “Philippine Festival,” at the Dunes Hotel's Arabian Room in Las Vegas. That land-bound show featured a bevy of popular Filipino artists including Pilita Corrales, Katy de la Cruz, Bobby Gonzales and Shirley Gorospe in a big company of some 75 entertainers. The show ran for a couple of months. The Bellagio sits on the site of the Dunes today.)  

Singkil on the rocks, danced by Caucasian skaters. Cover of the souvenir program, “Ice Capades” 1961. Would the Abu Sayaf have approved? The Philippine Dance suite, premiered in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September 1961 and toured the USA that season. (Photo courtesy of “Ice Capades”) 

Singkil on the rocks, danced by Caucasian skaters. Cover of the souvenir program, “Ice Capades” 1961. Would the Abu Sayaf have approved? The Philippine Dance suite, premiered in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September 1961 and toured the USA that season. (Photo courtesy of “Ice Capades”) 

The entire cast of 52 Ice Cadet and Capette skaters in "Philippine Dances Suite," 1961 edition. (Source: “Ice Capades” and author)  

The entire cast of 52 Ice Cadet and Capette skaters in "Philippine Dances Suite," 1961 edition. (Source: “Ice Capades” and author)  

“Ice Capades” had snagged Lucrecia Urtula-Reyes, choreographer of the Bayanihan company, who taught the ice choreographers some basics of Filipino dances; but, of course, adapted to ice. How did they do it? Adapting dry-land-based and tropical dances to an ice surface was achieved via filmed footage of both actual Bayanihan performances and Urtula-Reyes' instructions over one week's intensive sessions and lessons. Of course, because the “Ice Capades” company did not tour the Philippines and it was a one-season offering, Manila audiences never got to see that suite of Philippine dances on ice. Also sadly, the Philippine dances were not kept in the regular repertory, and “Ice Capades” is no longer around.  

The "Ice Capades'" "Sakuting," 1961. (Source: “Ice Capades” and author)

The "Ice Capades'" "Sakuting," 1961. (Source: “Ice Capades” and author)

In response to the “Ice Capades'” move in the US, Holiday on Ice in Manila added a "Salakot" dance to its 1962 repertoire at the Araneta Coliseum (Photo below. I also never got to see the "Salakot" number as it was added later in the run; and I had seen the show within two weeks of opening.)

The 1962 edition of “Holiday on Ice” at the Araneta Coliseum, with the added "Salakot" number, later in the run. The man in white outfit in the center is Mr. Big Dome presenter himself, J. Amado Araneta, with some of the "Filipinized" skaters. (Photo courtesy of Roy Blakey)

The 1962 edition of “Holiday on Ice” at the Araneta Coliseum, with the added "Salakot" number, later in the run. The man in white outfit in the center is Mr. Big Dome presenter himself, J. Amado Araneta, with some of the "Filipinized" skaters. (Photo courtesy of Roy Blakey)

(In 1967, Araneta Enterprises of Cubao opened the first public ice rink in the Philippines--this was where I first learned to skate. However, it did not last one year. By October 1968, the rink was converted into the Nation Cinerama, the second Cinerama movie theater in the country. And today even that theater no longer stands. It has been replaced by the high-rise Manhattan Parkview Residences. But there are three public ice rinks in the ShoeMart Malls of Manila.)

Oh, and that newspaper clipping that triggered these ice show reveries of my youth? From a May 2001 Philippine Star news clipping: "Actor Marvin Agustin opened a second branch of his Ricecapades (store) last Wednesday on West Avenue in Quezon (City) beside Quickly. The outlet sells flavored rice like bagoong, adobo and Shanghai." Of course, because the real “Ice Capades” company never came to Manila and is now defunct, Marvin Agustin was legally able to get away with his play on words. Ricecapades? LOL!! Only in the Philippines.  


Myles A. Garcia is a retired San Francisco Bay Area-based author/writer. His proudest work to date is the book "Secrets of the Olympic Ceremonies" which begat the Plaridel Award-winning article (Honorable Mention), "Ten Best Kept-Secrets of Olympic Ceremonies" (this publication, January 15, 2014).  Myles is also finishing a play, "Love, Art and Murder," and belatedly teaching himself to play the piano.  Better late than never.


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