MAGDALENE PARUNGAO - FERLA
"Leading by Example: Extraordinary Women of the South Bay"
Dancers have to decide early if that’s what they want to do,” says ballet superstar Magdalene Ferla, who recalls training six days a week as a child. “Then, you just have to take your faith with you and follow it.” Follow it is exactly what this San Jose local and founding owner of Dance Theatre International did, dancing her way across the world and back again with some of the most prestigious ballet companies.
Born in the Phillipines, Ferla immigrated to California as an adolescent, where her parents and teachers encouraged her natural knack for ballet. “My mom was a hard worker and an example of what it takes to succeed in anything: perseverance, dedication, faith,” she adds.
Ferla’s dancing shoes took her first to train with San Francisco Ballet when she was just 16, where she joined the company at age 20 and danced for five years. Then it was off to world-renowned Bejart Ballet in Switzerland, where she both met her future husband and broke her foot on the first day of practice. “I had to split open my shoes in order to dance,” Ferla recalls of performing after surgery with a metal plate in her foot. Her skill and spirit intact, Ferla went on to dance with the Hamburg Ballet.
Upon returning to San Jose at age 30, this dancer’s next step was, naturally, to teach. “I started teaching ballet lessons at Grange Hall in Evergreen,” she says. “From there, it just exploded and I thought, I’ve gotta have my own space.” Local children can now leap and plie with her at Evergreen’s Dance Theatre International ballet school, where Ferla invites renowned choreographers from across the globe to come teach alongside her. “I love watching the kids grow through dance and find themselves, seeing them explore different types of movement.”
But her self-stated mission to “support high caliber performance arts opportunities for youth” is perhaps best brought to life through San Jose Youth Ballet, the nonprofit she has founded in the community. Each year, members of the community can audition to be part of the ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, which parents and non-dancers alike can pitch in to help produce. “I love that it is able to bring the community and families together in support of arts and youth,” Ferla says. “I founded it in hopes of building those relationships.”
Asked what her dreams are at this juncture in life, the spry 46-year-old mother of one says, “I would love all of my students to love the art of dance, and encourage the audience to love it too.” We think she certainly has.
Xavier Ferla, a Swiss native, began dance at the age of four with the Academy of Geneva. At twelve years old he continued his studies with Serge Golovine, principal dancer and professor with l' Opera de Paris. At the age of fourteen, he won a scholarship to join Hamburg Ballet School under the school direction of Truman Finney. In 1985, he won the prestigious Prix de Lausanne world ballet competitions in New York, which enabled him to finish his studies with a Rolex Company scholarship. He was then engaged by Maurice Bejart, director of the Ballet of the 20th Century, where he was promoted into his first principal role within two months. He accepted principal contracts with Berlin Ballet under the direction of Peter Schauffus and The Royal New Zealand Ballet. He also worked as a freelance artist for many companies in Sweden, Denmark, and the United States. He created pieces with highly respected choreographers such as Maurice Béjart, John Neumeier, Sir Kenneth Mc Milan, Christopher Bruce, Alonzo King, Peter Schauffus, Matz Skoog, Kristof Pastor, Pascal Touzeau, Stephen Petronio, Michael Clark, Yannis Adoniou, Meg Stuart, Karole Hermitage, Valéry Panov, Patrick King. In 1988, he joined Alonzo King's Lines Ballet in San Francisco, and in 2002 was featured in a San Francisco Chronicle article about his bay area presence.
Even as a dancer, Xavier knew he would pass on his knowledge and continue his passion through teaching. His teaching parallels his exemplary professional career. He collaborates and creates with his wife, Maggie Parungao-Ferla, at their school, Dance Theatre International. Besides being Dance Theatre International's Principal Ballet teacher, he is also invited to teach in professional dance companies internationally such as the Dresden Ballet in Germany, the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm and the Tokyo Ballet with the Sylvie Guillem Tour. He has also been called to be an official judge for the Prix de Lausanne world ballet competitions.
"Suddenly came "Faith" and the whole ballet was lifted to a higher level. Much of the exhilaration came from the dancing of Xavier Ferla"
"Ferla raises the bar with trim leaps and serpentine footwork"
"A ballet background has strengthened the line, elevated the center, enhanced the allure and upped the risk taking"
"Alone would be enough to make this dance a gift of joy"
San Francisco Examiner