The Reluctant Stylista

I’m quite sure a lot of my female peers can relate when I confess that ballet was part of my childhood. A good three, maybe four years of it, in fact. When people ask me if I took up ballet because of my ramrod straight posture (I suppose you can say that I literally look like I have a stick up my…well, somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine), and I respond yes, they nod their heads knowingly, as if that explained it. But the truth of it was, I wasn’t a very good little ballerina. I liked it, but of course it doesn’t necessarily follow that it liked me back, and I was mediocre at best. As if to confirm my worst suspicions, on the last year when I took the annual examinations at Academy One where I studied ballet under Cherish Garcia, I had only gotten a “Pass”–something I always thought was given to poor little girls who were hopeless at dance, but whose wee hearts the examiners didn’t want to break. Hence, they were given this consuelo de bobo. Looking back on it now, it wasn’t actually a bad thing. However! I had always gotten at least a “Merit” before (the average grade), and you were supposed to get better, not worse, as the years went. It was my secret shame and until now, I had never told anyone about it. HAHA.

Academy One Alexandra Lapa

I was skinny, muscly and awkward. Not much has changed, obvs — and it’s still a running joke in my family how I attempted ballet instead of focusing more on sports where I was a better fit.

So while I (jokingly) prefer to forget that I had ever taken up ballet, I love watching it. Maybe it’s because I understand how difficult it is to pull off the techniques I’m familiar with or simply because the graceful movements in perfect sync to the music are mesmerizing when executed by legit ballerinas. In the case of watching the preview of Ballet Manila’s 21st season, it was witnessing the full, “pro” versions of some of the classical choreography that we had once danced as children. Simply put–it’s thrilling, and not a bitter(sweet) experience at all.

We were treated to snippets of several shows this season, where Rebel: EDSA 30 was up first. When I saw the preview of this original choreography last year, I thought it was the most interesting piece at first glance. Bold and powerful dance movements were inspired by Spartacus, giving more drama to characters and events that were based on real history. As most Filipinos can tell from the title, this ballet is based on The EDSA Revolution of 1986, and was brought to life with music by Aram Khachaturian and choreography by Martin Lawrance. For this season, it also features 2015 Asian Grand Prix winner, Katherine Barkman as Corazon.

Ballet Manila: Rebel Edsa 30

Rudy de Dios as Benigno and Katherine Barkman as Corazon

My favorite was The Swan, The Fairy and the Princess, which featured three Tchaikovsky classics: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. As much as I love to watch modern dance, jazz and ballet (especially fusions of various techniques), even reinventions of old-time favorites, seeing this live is when you can really say there is nothing quite like the classics.

Ballet Manila - Swan Lake Adagio

Ballet Manila - Swan Lake Adagio

Abigail Oliveiro was stunning as Odette, with her partner Mark Sumaylo dancing as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake Adagio. When you see how strong and steady she is on pointe, while the rest of her moved like water, that’s when it hits you: this is why ballet is so magical.

They say the strength of a ballet company can be seen in the corps. Rose Waltz is considered one of the greatest choreography of all time and we were pretty lucky to see Jessa Balote, Pearl Dames, Elmo Dictado, Alvin Santos, Marika Anonuevo, Rissa Camaclang, Sergio Capa, John de Dios, Anindya Febrina, Kenneth del Rosario, Henriette Garcia, Jamil Montibon, Violet Hong, Sean Pelegrin, Czarina Villegas, and Glenn Ragel perform it that afternoon.

Ballet Manila: Rose Waltz

The Rose Adagio was another breathtaking performance, much of it due to ballerina Dawna Mangahas who played Aurora. I have no idea how long she balanced on pointe at that last part, but I remember holding my breath whenever she had to transfer her hand from one partner to the other. I remember her quite vividly, not just because of her astounding performance, but because of her charm and candidness during the Q&A where she exclaimed, “Suicide!” while describing her experience on that particular scene.

Ballet Manila - Sleeping Beauty, Rose Adagio

Soloists Oliveiro and Sumaylo returned to perform the very special pas de deux from Cinderella. To be completely honest, Cinderella was never my favorite Disney princess movie, but I’d have to guess it’s the most popular one (if the number of adaptations is any indication). Quite timely that this show will open during the holidays because it’s one of the world’s most beloved fairy tales.

Ballet Manila: Cinderella

Fun fact: Oliveiro and Sumaylo are a real life couple. That chemistry is genuine, you guys.

Don Quixote is known as one of the most technically-difficult ballets to perform, so I’m really curious to see this in full. For the preview, we saw Pia Dames dance as Kitri and Rudolph Capongcol was her partner Basilio.

Ballet Manila - Don Quixote

Another fun fact: Lisa Macuja rose to fame playing Kitri in Russia. It is considered her signature role. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde was the first foreign soloist ever to join the prestigious Kirov Ballet company, where she was principal dancer from 1984 to 1986.

Ballet in the Philippines

After the preview, host Lexi Schulze and Artistic Director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde were joined on stage by choreographer Martin Lawrance and Co-Artistic Director Osias Barroso as well dancers Katherine Barkman, Tiffany Chiang, Rudy de Dios, Gerardo Francisco, Abigail Oliveiro, Mark Sumaylo and Dawna Mangahas for Q&A. I’ve always seen Ms. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde perform as well as speak (I’ve even heard her commencement speech in Ateneo a few years back, as it went viral on video), so it was refreshing to hear from choreographer Martin Lawrance and Lisa’s perpetual dance partner Osias Barroso as well.

Martin-Lawrance-Lisa-Macuja-Osias-Barroso

It was also quite lovely to hear from the dancers, because it was the first time I heard their voices in front of a rather large audience. They shared first hand experiences of dancing under the tutelage of Ms. Lisa, performing for the love of ballet from gymnasiums (basketball courts!) and the streets to the international stage where they won several awards. To those who weren’t aware, Ballet Manila dancers are trained under the rigorous Russian Vaganova method, and it is said this is the reason why their dancers are so strong and powerful when they perform and can hold difficult poses much longer than other dancers. This puts them at par with other companies internationally, as well.

Dawna-Mangahas-and-Katherine-Barkman

The performances were such a pleasure to watch. Sadly, ballet isn’t as popular here as it is in Europe–which is why Ballet Manila’s mission to bring ballet to the people and people to the ballet continues on. Hopefully, the new administration will lend more support to the local arts and culture industry and perhaps even bring it back to its heydays in the 80s.

Ballet is an extremely demanding art, and people forget how truly physically and mentally challenging it is to perform live. I always think live performances are incredible and worth your time, money and effort. Especially now, when you subscribe, you get season tickets at 50% off and even comes with–my guilty pleasure–Star City tickets (Hey, I was from DLSU and CSB, and this was the cheap thrill for Taft peeps back in the day!).

Rebel: EDSA 30 will be shown on August 19, 20, and 27 at 8:00 p.m. and August 21 and 28 at 3:00 p.m. The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess show schedules are October 14 & 15 at 8:00 p.m. and October 16 at 3:00 p.m. Show dates for Cinderella are November 25, 26 and December 3 at 8:00 p.m. and November 27 and December 4 at 3:00 p.m. Don Quixote will be shown on February 24 & 25, 2017 at 8:00 p.m. and February 26 at 3:00 p.m. All shows will be staged at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City.

For more information about the shows, including ticket prices and schedules, you may visit www.balletmanila.com.ph.

Tickets are also available through all Ticketworld outlets. Please call 891 9999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph, for more information. In addition, those who are planning to watch all the shows may take advantage of the company’s Season Subscription Programs, which offer up to 50% discount on ticket prices. For more information, you may visit www.ticketworld.com.ph/balletmanila/Online and click on ‘View Details’ under ‘Season Subscription Program’.

All season preview photos by Luther Abcede. Special thanks to ARC PR.

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