Thursday, September 14, 2017

Keeping up with Traditions, A Review of West Side Story in Manila

Photo from Concertus Manila Production's FB Page

A month ago, Concertus Productions brought the ever so iconic dance musical "West Side Story" to the swanky Solaire Theatre. With this production following the enormous success of "Newsies" by Nineworks Theatrical there was quite a pumped up anticipation leading to the show. That plus the fact that it is particularly famous because of its exquisite choreography, I was really waiting impatiently for opening weekend. I watched this production twice, the first being their opening weekend and the second nearing its closing date. However, I decided to post this blog entry late because I didn't want to appear negative towards the show most people were raving about. If there is anything I would not want to do ever, it is to antagonize artists or discourage people from watching theater. I am after all a theater fan, theater geek, advocate of the arts etc. In the end it wasn't as if there was nothing to be enjoyed. There will always be something to love in live theater.

Photo by Johann Persson
The original staging was directed and choreographed by the modern man of  theater during the fifties, Mr. Jerome Robbins. The book was written by Arthur Laurents and the music was created by Leonard Bernstein. West Side story was a musical that was regarded as a bold irreverent message that challenged the inhumane norm of discrimination and hate of that time. Mirroring Shakespeare's tragedy they told the love story of Tony (an American) and Maria (a Puertorican) who were caught in the middle of a power struggle in a mixed neighborhood in New York City. It was a strike on inter-racial warfare. A nod to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it tells the story of the rivalry of the Jets and Sharks that led  to  blood on the streets.

The Real Tragedy 

The real tragedy in this production is the dancing. While most will rave about the cast performance, I found it quite disappointing. It's not about technique as it is about performance value. Jerome Robbins is a choreographer who made a name for integrating movement to the story and his characters. He developed characters by assigning them stylized movement that is carried throughout as a defining mark. From an emotion comes a snap and then a step and then a leap with not much fuss or preparation. Every movement should be emerging naturally in stride in their pedestrian actions. In his productions dancing becomes as natural as walking. With his vocabulary largely based on ballet, this actually means that his cast must be able to do every thing with so much ease. For Robbins, movement is not just an accent or a decorative display, it is storytelling. This was not the case in the Manila showing. Generally, the steps were just steps. 

I remember reading somewhere that synchronization of the respective groups were critical because it reflected the allegiance of the two groups to each other. Both groups were supposed to be distinctly solid but UNIQUE units. With that in mind I found the differentiation between the American Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks weak. The Jets were casual and playful and the Sharks were smooth and suave as actors but in their unison dancing they all looked the same to me.

The choreographed fight scenes lacked tenacity and looked more like a pas de deux (dance of two) of sorts. Everything was calculated and nothing looked like a struggle. In the staging of "America" the beautiful senoritas danced musically but not with abandon. In dance, flavor is everything.It was again a very clean but lackluster performance of an epic dance. I waited for the legs to kick with power and length and  for the jumps to fly.

I could not relate the dance performances to the organic approach typically found in Robbins theatrical pieces.

The Lack of Anguish

The racial under currents were not really evident making it seem like petty fights in the playground. This diminishes the mounting of the deaths in the story. In this musical, so many characters die. But it seems like deaths can easily be digested nowadays. The lack of anguish in all the death scenes were very disturbing. At one point Maria played by Jenna Burns squeaked "Killer! Killer!" to her loved one Tony who just killed her brother. Hitting his chest she proceeded with a tantrum-like thread of words. In the scene where she defends herself to Anita she doesn't breakdown on the floor she gracefully and carefully slid from the bed to the floor fidgeting as if they were talking about a high school break up. Yes there was sadness but there was no torment. When Tony played by Kevin Hack died, he tried to sing "Somewhere" in an almost comical way that the scene lost its momentum. Collectively this was not quite the tragedy I was expecting.

Joyful Peformances 

While I missed the turmoil, I was delighted with the comedy. Memorable to me was the energetic "Officer Krupke" where the sharks made excuses for their bad behavior. All the characters contributed to a highly enjoyable roast of juvenile delinquency. Every joke was lovingly answered with joyful laughter. In the same manner "I Feel Pretty" number was cute as can be.

One of the biggest scenes in the musical is the all white ballet. This ballet ended beautifully with everyone singing like angels. A full cast singing "Somewhere" gave me goosebumps. The serenity of the scene and the soft quality of the voices  gave me  the healing touch theater gives the heart.

One of the highlights would have to be the staging of "Tonight". It was a recreation of the balcony scene in the ballet Romeo and Juliet. The music was soothing to the soul. It ended beautifully with the sets moving apart almost signalling their inevitable separation. The three dimensional movement definitely allowed me to zoom in on the scene much like an emphasized movie ending.

The Cast

Individually, each cast member had their fair share of shining moments. Anita played by Keely Beirne was sassy and memorable. Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva as Bernardo was perfect for the part, smooth and dangerous. Kevin Hack as Tony serenaded the audience convincingly. He was very endearing.  Jenna Burns was wonderfully charming and comical.

Keeping up with Traditions

After having conversed with theater and non theater friends about the production I realized that what bothered me was not the lack of talent or technique but the weak tribute to the material. I  have a natural preference to keep a good balance of tradition, intention and artistic freedom. It was my familiarity of the material that held me back from having an unadulterated appreciation of the musical. I watched it a second time with an open mind and I found beautiful moments in this musical. In the end despite everything, it was still a night of enjoyable theater. I do hope I get to see more stagings of this dance musical in the future.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Luis Cabrera's Baptism of Fire

Photo from Hong Kong Ballet Page 

Hong Kong Ballet has always been part of my travel considerations. If my memory serves me right, I've seen at least one show from each season for the last five or more  years.   Through the years they have created so  many beautiful memories of art but nothing compares to days  you get to sit in that audience and see Filipinos shine. There is a robust flurry of Adrenalin that occupies me when our  very own Filipinos take on that massive Hong Kong Cultural Center Theater. In the past, I silently cheered for Carlos Pacis who was a refreshing  bravura danseur  who colored that stage passionately.  I  thoroughly enjoyed the journey of one of our laureled ballerinas Candice Adea as Soloist of  Hong Kong Ballet. My heart was overjoyed to see her at her very best. I've had the pleasure of witnessing former BP dancer   Luis Cabrera's first season with Hong Kong Ballet and was impressed that he stood out nicely with his schooled modern technique and unique earthy style.Thankfully, destiny would ensure that there always be a Filipino to watch out for.  Former Ballet Philippines artist Gary Corpus recently joined the company and I have no doubt that his stay will be just as fruitful. In my point of view, the  Company seems to have  been very good to our Kababayans, providing them with good experience, artistic opportunities  and priceless mentorship from international stars. But  this year is  is a game changer. Not only do we currently have two Filipinos with the Company, we  have something new to celebrate. 

Luis Cabrera
Photo by Conrad Dy Liacco from Hong Kong Ballet Page 

Hong Kong Ballet has an annual choreographer's showcase pretty much structured like Neo Filipino, Bagong Sayaw or Koryolab of CCP. It is an annual effort to encourage their dancers to evolve as dancers and at the same time explore choreography. Historically, it has been the launchpad for choreographers in Hong Kong since the 1980's. The Company accepts applications from their dancers, screens their initial concepts and ideas and picks the most promising ones to mount in the show.  In July of this year, I was ecstatic to see in the press release that our very own  Luis Cabrera was accepted into the program.The selected choreographers were  mentored in the aspects of mounting choreography, music, lighting, costume design and production design. Joining the Company's new artistic director Septime Webre in the panel of mentors  is Yuri Ng of  YatPo Singers and Anna Chan Head of Dance of Peforming Arts of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority. This is apart from the company's very own talent pool who are  very much involved in making the choreographers' vision a reality. Needless to say it is a very good opportunity  for Cabrera to make a mark for himself as a Choreographer. This opportunity however does come without a challenge. It is very much like a baptism of fire as it is actually his first attempt to create work showcasing commissioned work with  professional dancers. Even with his extensive schooling from Philippine High School of the Arts, Ballet Philippines and Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, I reckon the word easy still  would not be appropriate for developing  his international debut.  

According to Cabrera, his first step was to find inspiration. As he explained, he was initially drawn to the  movie "Schindler's List" . His piece is in no way a representation of the movie but touches on the recurrent issue of  death and puncturing feeling of loss. With the piercing quality of the music he explored  how loss and fear  can put you at a crossroad. Will the struggle hold you back or push you forward?Will the pain complete you or break you? In this piece he attempts to translate the abstract concept of loss in movement. His piece will be performed by  Principal Dancer Ll Jiabo, Soloist LIU Miao Miao, Coryphee Shunsuki Arimizu,  artists Forrest Oliveros, Henry Seldon and Liang Yonglin. His piece debuts at the Choreographer's Showcase on September 15  and runs until the 17th at the Studio Theater of  the Hong kong Cultural Center. 

Luis Cabrera
Photo By Tim Wong
From Hong Kong Ballet FB Page
While his status in the Company is already enough for  the Philippines to be proud of him, it is equally stirring to see an international company recognize his potential as a creator of dance. Truly this one in a lifetime chance is one that brings pride to the Philippines. May his baptism of fire be from a radiant  candle  that can  illuminate his path. May its flickers of light be just the right amount to temper his skill and his passion so that he can move forward gloriously.   I wish him luck and encourage others to send a prayer or two to the heavens above for a flawless staging of his vision. His success after all is our success too. Cheers to a Filipino pride. Cheers to Philippine dance.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New Moves from the New Movers: KoryoLab 2017

A blank stage  is like a pure white canvass waiting for  the brushstroke of colors. It is like a blank piece of paper with a question waiting to be answered. To some the, nothingness can be intimidating but to creators of art it is simple a long luxurious exhale. CCP Choreographers Series is all about providing  choreographers of different levels a chance to breath and express themselves. It is a three part platform that seeks to encourage the act of creating art of movement.  The Wifi is a competition for emerging choreographers, the Koryolab is a presentation of short but completed dance pieces by mid-career choreographers and Neo Filipino is a venue for established choreographers to create and stage major works. 
This weekend Koryolab 2017 will present six bold new works from a diverse group of choreographers . Despite  having different backgrounds, there is a cloud of likemindedness in this group. Perhaps it is their work ethic or their sense of responsibility that  makes them  collectively a group I would call a brotherhood of movers.   

After undergoing mentorship from some of the best industry they will put color on their stage expressing their individual state of mind. Check out what they have to say about their pieces captured from their page CCP Choreographers Series Page


"I feel like [through KoryoLab] I'll be having a larger audience and with that opportunity, I feel like I should be saying something more pressing, saying something about issues that we are really facing." - Russ Ligtas, last March, KoryoLab 2017

Russ Ligtas' "Postcard" is an offshoot of a solo performance of his, entitled "Letters from Manila." An approximation of a performance artist’s daily reverie conjured by the sunset at Manila Bay, "Postcard" is a visual commentary on one of the heaviest issues in today's socio-political

"Right now, I want something different. [I've been looking at] "Budots"? Something Filipino. I like mirroring Philippine society. [I want] something sarcastic, something that the audience can think about." - Erl Sorilla, last March, KoryoLab 2017

Erl debuts "Pidots", a play off the the term "budots", a slang word for bum Filipino people having no jobs in the slum. The dance is based on the innate tribal movements of the Badjao community, one of the indigenous tribes that remain marginalized with lower wage, higher rate of unemployment, and less access to education, leading to high crime rates, rape cases and teenage pregnancy. The groove within Pidots depicts the setup of the Filipino mentality of just going with the flow, no matter what has the government has done or what life has to offer.

"I'm not letting go of my folk dance and contemporary dance roots. But this time, I'd like to add more layers to the movement." - Al Garcia, last March, KoryoLab 2017

Paying tribute to his folk dance roots, Al Garcia presents the neo-ethnic piece "Haya" for KoryoLab 2017. A word which means "to let be", "Haya" tells of the cycle of life and the passing of history and culture from one storyteller to the next.

Every time I see [special children] dancing, I get very interested. I want to know how they perceive music, how they perceive movement, lines, circles..." - JM Cabling, last March, KoryoLab 2017

JM Cabling's fascination with the world of autistic children inspired him to create "Nothing | Special." As part of his research for the piece, JM spent a lot of time with gifted marimba major from the UP College of Music, Thristan Mendoza.

"I want to play with rawness and technicality. [I want to explore] images that create another perspective." - Jed Amihan last March, KoryoLab 2017

Jed Amihan's exploration has led him to create "Onus," an abstract interpretation of how society manipulates our mind, blurring the distinction between true and false, bad and good.

"Sometimes, we as artists show the people what is happening in society, yet sometimes people are in denial. It's very wrong... The issues must be told, through videos, music... Why not through dance?" - Beauty Balaga last March, KoryoLab 2017

From this initial idea comes Beauty's "Dili Jud Dulaan (Definitely Not A Toy)", a work stemming from the 2015 news of a horrific and controversial video featuring a young toddler named Daisy.

New art is always exciting. Let's all be part of their journey and digest their point of view I can't wait for them to fill  the emptiness with something  to remember and think about. 

KoryoLab 2017
Aug 26 and 27
2pm and 6pm
CCP Studio Theater (Tanghalang Huseng Batute)
Tickets are at Php300 each. For inquiries, please call the CCP Box Office at 832-3704 and TicketWorld at 891-9999 or visit

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Ballet Manila's Gerardo Francisco in Transition

A dancer transitioning to become a choreographer (or dancer/choreographer) is an organic progression. With the wealth of experience one gains as a dancer, you are able to increase your vocabulary. With more technique, you become more able to assist the dancers in moving the way you want them to move. With more performances under your belt, you have a better idea of how to rehearse and mount shows. However, creativity and depth while it can be influenced by exposure is not necessarily easy to achieve. It is because of this that the dancer usually steps into the role of the choreographer when he is ready to leave the stage to concentrate on his or her concept. This is the norm but it is not absolute. Gerardo Francisco, Principal Dancer of Ballet Manila joins the likes of Marcelo Gomes of American Ballet Theatre, Justin Peck of New York City Ballet and Erl Sorilla of Ballet Philippines. Still very much at his prime, he has decided to accept the challenge of being both a serious dancer and a serious choreographer at the same time. He has decided to be a maverick of sorts as he tries to achieve more in both paths.

Gerardo Francisco Photo Courtesy of Ballet Manila
Francisco has been creating pieces for Ballet Manila as early as 2003 when they allowed him to represent the company in the 2003 Asia Pacific Ballet Competition with his piece "Hunting". After this, it was as if the universe was telling him to continue this path. He had a string of good fortune with non stop recognition for pieces that he created. For two consecutive years, contemporary solos he created for Ballet Manila competitors won best choreography in the NAMCYA ballet competitions ("Bulag, Pipi at Bingi" in 2008 and "Hilas" in 2009). In 2009 his piece "OFW" won best choreography during the WIFI Body Competition. The same piece was also showcased in the 2016 Shanghai Contemporary Dance Festival in Shanghai, China. Later on he also won Bronze medal in Andong Mask Festival for "Morions" in 2011. While awards are always shiny things that remain in people's minds, I find that the true test is when the pieces remain in the people's hearts. Personally I generally see a lot of heart and energy ingrained in his movement and that I believe that is what made people want to see more of his creations. His works tend to be punctuated with moving beats, sobering patterns and rythmic repetitions. I rarely see subtleties in his work instead he favors strong and dramatic extended movements. I feel that his progression is helping him inch closer to  making his own brand of movement.   It is no wonder why Ballet Manila has been steadfast in their support of his craft. The continuity of his exploration has truly allowed him to mature into the role of a designer of movement. He has moved on to deeper themes, and grander projections of his ideas. No longer constraint with expressing himself with a just a few minutes of music, he has been given more freedom to explore.

Abigail Oliveiro as Ibong Adarna
This year, Francisco  was given his  biggest challenge to date. He was given free reign to create Ballet Manila's "Ibong Adarna" a full length ballet credited to his name. Key words being full length and ballet. With full creative control, he re-imagined the famous  Filipino  story of the mythical bird. When asked how he prepared for this gargantuan task, he calmly explained his process. Ibong Adarna was just an idea that he pitched to Ms. Lisa Macuja. When she accepted and supported the idea, he was overwhelmed with excitement so much so that  inspiration came easy. He fondly recalled how he started to envision the ballet.  He was influenced by "Aguila" that was created for him by Ms. Agnes Locsin. He also reconnected with "Corvus" (crows) which he created for not too long ago. Lastly, he studied the magic of Swan Lake. Studying the three different approaches to the bird, he thinks he has created something distinctly Filipino that people can relate to. Ibong Adarna will be premiered this August 26, 2017 at the Aliw Theatre. Everyone will be thinking of him as the curtains rise. Truly, this is his chance to elevate himself into the big leagues. It is somewhat a test of ability to capture an entire audience for more than an hour. However the outcome, what is more important is that he  continues to create and cultivate. If it's a hit then well and good if not, I am certain he is well on his way to the coveted corner of choreographers. As an advocate of original Filipino creations, I choose to think he will succeed in this task. Why don't we all see each other at the theater and see what this young, award winning choreographer has come up with?! See you at the theater?!

Ibong Adarna goes onstage at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City on : 
August 26 and September 2, 2017 6:00p.m.
August 27 and September 3, 2017 3:00 p.m.
Tickets are available at all Ticketworld outlets, online at, or call 891 9999.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Artist Feature : Novy J. Bereber

Photo by Diego Lorenzo Jose 
I've always been fascinated with people who embrace their uniqueness. Love for oneself is such a simple concept but it seems not many are able to live comfortably with their own skin. Novy Bereber is one of those blessed with the ability to be apologetically him. He enjoys unravelling his fabulosity bit by bit and finds ways to share it with the world, and I mean the world.

Photo by Diego Lorenzo Jose 

Novy Bereber is a Filipino who started his dancing career with Dagyaw Theater Dance Company in Iloilo under the mentorship of Edwin C. Duero. He was given encouragement by Osias Barroso and Lisa Macuja to pursue a career in Ballet. With that much needed push he trained under Ballet Philippines until he rose the ranks and became one of their solid senior soloists. During his stint with Ballet Philippines he was given a chance to choreograph for the company. This privilege is reserved for a handful who are undeniably marked with talent and a strong point of view. His success with Ballet Philippines paved the way for even more opportunities to create pieces beyond the CCP walls working with important dance groups here and abroad. Blessed with fulfilling experiences both as a dancer and a choreographer he was able to make a name for himself.

Having seen majority of his body of work, I have through the years gained so much respect for him not only because of his talent in translating thoughts into movement. I have gained respect for him because through his pieces I see who he is as a person. Novy Bereber is a dynamic, energetic artist who has chosen to devote his time and effort to immortalizing the Filipino point of view through his dances. While not all his works are Filipino themed, he has an ample amount of works that ever so gently touched on who we are as a people. For Ballet Philippines he has created "Inay" who tells the story of how the Filipina is devoted to cradling her child even past his childhood whether they are near or far. Also for Ballet Philippines he created "To Whom it may Concern" where he shows the extreme sacrifice of the Filipino artists who migrate out of need. For Philippine Ballet Theatre he created "Angel of the Morning" one of his most controversial works which was intended to remind people about the presence of Igorot ethnicity. I have always  appreciated the patriotism and the meticulous concern for the Filipino.

To Whom it May Concern
Photo by Stan dela Cruz

Photo by Ador Pamintuan
Angel of the Morning

Photo by Ador Pamintuan
Dancer :Erica Jacinto and Lucas Jacinto
Ă„ngel of the Morning
Today, Bereber resides in Australia with his beloved. He continues to do what he does best which is to create art and progressing quide rapidly.  He choreographed the opening and closing parade of Mardigra 2015. Recently  he participated in the 2016 Vivid Sydney Laser Dragon Water Fountain with  his choreography projected in an 82-foot meter high screen  overlooking the harbour.  2017 seems to be a good year for him as well as he has a few surprises up his sleeve. Doing quite well away from the Philippines he has the option to just  revel in his new success. Distance however does not diminish the heart's resolve. He continues to choreograph, dance and teach in Australia but has not wavered in embracing his roots. He works closely with Filipino Australian communities and generously allows his works about Filipinos to be performed. In fact he was awarded Filipino Australian of the year because of his involvement with the community. Quite recently he posted a video of him teaching Parkinson patients a Filipino Igorot dance mimicking the tribal steps. (Click the link : Novy Teaches Filipino steps to Parkinsons PatientsHe consistently uses Filipino beats when he is teaching Contemporary in Sydney Dance Company. When he is needed to contribute to the Philippine dance landscape he hurriedly books a flight and works with Filipino dancers. I believe he will again visit Manila this October to create a new piece for CCP-Neo Filipino. With every achievement he conquers he shares it in Facebook and uses the hashtags #iamiloilo, #iloilopride, #pinoyaus #pinoydancer. He consciously attributes his achievements to his roots. All of this combined creates a picture of consistency and heart. This is a guy who remains Filipino despite the distance. He is completely devoted to being unchanged by circumstances. I used to think of him with high regard because he had talent and skill. Nowadays I think of him highly because he is a  portrait of a Filipino - malakas, magaling at may utang na loob. I wish him well and I hope that he unravels more layers and finds more ways  to contribute to our Philippine dance community.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Philippine Ballet Theatre's La Bayadere in Photos

Philippine Ballet Theater succeeds in their staging of La Bayadere. See snippets of their performance below. 

Peter San Juan as Fakir 
Julafer Fegarido as Fakir

Julafer Fegarido as Fakir

Kazier Policarpio as Golden Idol
Jared Tan as Solor and Kim Abrogena as Nikiya 
Joel Matias as High Priest and Kim Abrogena as Nikiya 
Kim Abrogena as Nikiya 
Veronica Atienza as Gamzatti and Kim Abrogena as Nikiya
Veronica Atienza as Gamzatti and Jared Tan as Solor 

Jared Tan as Solor 

Joel Matias as High Priest and Lobreza Pimentel as Nikiya 
Lobreza Pimentel as Nikiya
Lobreza Pimentel as Nikiya

Lobreza Pimentel as Nikiya and Matthew Davo  as Solor 

Matthew Davo as Solor

Regine Magbitang as Gamzatti 

Veronica Atienza Lead Shade 

Mikaela Samson Lead Shade 
Lobreza Pimentel Lead Shade