Monday, August 31, 2015

A Whirlwind of Color : Ballet Manila's Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang

Literature often becomes a source of inspiration for art and life in general. In the field of dance it is a solid pillar that continues the legacy of ballet narratives. Hence the practice is considered perpetually relevant and even necessary for dance evolution. However, when choreographers turn to pages, it is usually to reconnect with a familiar story that they wish to dissect and bring to life through movement. For its season opener, Ballet Manila does not offer a Filipino epic, a Shakespearean Classic or an E.L James modern tale. The Company chose to work with intrinsically Filipino stories from Severino Reyes' collection of jewels. Consistent with the Company's well publicized commitment towards minimizing the gap  between  ballet and the  people, they chose to immortalize short stories for children. They chose stories they believed would be memorable enough to entertain, educate and inspire.

The story tellers on pointe started off with "Ang Prinsipe ng mga Ibon" choreographed by Osias Barroso. It is a story that revolves around a princess in love with the mythical Prince of the birds. Despite proving the depth of his love to the Princess and her Father, the King remained  firm that the union  could not be allowed.  The Princess tried to protect her  beloved Prince and  her pure love for him transformed her into bird. Soon enough they flew away to their happy ending.  The curtain rose and revealed a grandiose set worthy of mention. It quickly set the asian tone of the story. With its extravagant set I reckon it would be easy to get visually drowned but Prinsesa Singsing played by Katherine Barkman entered the stage with a commanding presence. The set quickly embraced her and she took her place as the ornament on spotlight. Barkman was an entrancing princess with a winsome smile and expressive sweeps. She splendidly executed lyrical extensions. Her feet are noticeably well arched  and are easy on the eyes. Her technique is obviously solid despite her young age but this is not exactly what made her a star that night that I watched. I rarely see a dancer that gives 100% heart. A hundred percent heart on stage for some results to a few technical steps left amiss or a few counts late, possibly lack of awareness of space because emotion completely takes over logic and sensibility. Very few can afford to literally dance perfectly with a free heart. I believe she did just that. Maybe it's her youth, maybe it's her solid technique or maybe she really does just have the gift. Definitely, she secured her place in the company with her entertaining debut. Principal dancer Rudy De Dios took on the role of Prinsipe ng mga Ibon. He ably partnered  Barker and matched her emotional investment to the story. With the combined technical ability of the two, Barroso's clever choreography was glorified. The choreographer's  wealth of knowledge in partnering and technique is obvious as there were several lifts with silky transitions. It was a dream to capture so many picturesque pas de deux moments.


The second offering was  the story "Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya" which is a result of a choreographic collaboration between Lisa Macuja, Osias Barroso, Ernest Mandap and Gerardo Francisco. The story is about three sisters who were separated from their parents because of a tragic mistake. A devilish snake wreaked havoc when she fooled Teong (the patriarch) and convinced him that if he cut the healing tree he will be rewarded with all the healing leaves of the tree. What happened instead was he lost his daughters who were taken away by the snake.

Pedro his youngest son was tasked to find his sisters when Teong was struck with sickness. Pedro traveled far and wide to different lands to eventually find his sisters and bring them back home to their family. Pedro was played by Alvin Santos. He was charismatic as he knit the story together. His leaps were exciting as they consistently showed off his flexibility. The three sisters were played by Ballet Manila's usual frontliners. Marya Loleng (Queen of the Eagles) was performed by Abigail Oliveiro, Marya Upeng (Queen of the Lions) was performed by Dawna Mangahas and  Marya Trining (Queen of the Sharks) was played by Joan Emery Sia. It was splendid to watch these three girls because together they represent a new generation of dancers for the company. Junior Principal Dawna Mangahas was ever so elegant. Her movements were rich and velvety as she confidently silenced the lions and the crowd with her attitudes. Abigail Oliveiro was delicate and endearing as she played the exotic queen of the Eagles. She moved with a spring on her step as she executed weightless grand jetes and partnered lifts. Her expression was as rich and colorful as the feathers of the birds. Joan Emery Sia seemed to be able to liquefy her steps. Particularly memorable were her arabesque pencees that were consistently and comfortably placed on 6 o'clock. All three textured their characters well and were able to adapt to the choreography's musical challenges.





"Ang Mahiwagang Byulin" closed the show with a bang. The story is about Rodrigo who is a maltreated worker seeking to give his family a comfortable life. He shares his earnings with an old lady who then repays his kindness with a magical violin that helps him get his coveted happy ending. Choreographed by the late Tony Fabella, the audience witnessed his winning formula. The story telling master used clear and simple quick witted steps. Peppered with humor and musical accents, the piece was all comedy. Rodrigo was played by seasoned dancer Gerardo Francisco and the Boss from hell Ahab was played by Michael Divinigracia. Both solid dancers, they performed the choreography with comedic clarity. Francisco's energetic vibe was contagious. Divinigracia had his game face on and was committed to securing laughter from the crowd.

To be constructive, there were scenes in all three sections where I found it too busy and hard to concentrate on the dancing. Perhaps less feathers, less lions and less people would have given me an opportunity to zoom in on the technical dancing of the leads. I also think some of the scenes could have been cut short as there was enough body of work in each section. After all the stories are practically narrated in full by Lola Basyang herself. While I enjoyed the spirited dancing of Missy Macuja Elizalde as one Lola Basyang's apos, I found the interaction of the children and the stories a bit awkward and out of place. Nonetheless these are just minor production sags that were not big enough to compromise the show.

The premise being it was primarily based on pieces that catered to children poses a question about its acceptability to the rest of the adult audiences. For a millenial adult like me who was not exposed to the glory days of Lola Basyang, I was not particularly initially drawn by its novelty. The show had to offer something other than that to fill the thirst for art. Thankfully, the production was a whirlwind of dazzling color coming from all directions. It had something whimsical for every age. There were no pink tutus but the show had the charm of the Nutcracker divertissement. Replacing the colorful tutus were the sparkling exotic costumes. The sets and lighting style were both dynamic dancing flawlessly with the music and the dancers. The amount of talent on stage was encouraging and even inspiring. They had something new (new recruits), something old (their bevy of seasoned dancers), something borrowed (Severino Reyes' stories) and they had not just a sea of blue but a rainbow of colors. Sounds like they prepared for a wedding but it was more like a feast. It was a feast that I enjoyed. Bravo Ballet Manila.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Revelations :Hong Kong Ballet's Season Finale

It has been months since Hong Kong Ballet closed their 2014 season. I delayed this post because of a personal promise I made to a friend. I contemplated not writing it altogether. However, the show was so potent that I couldn't set aside the imagery and the emotion that I took home that night at the theater. 

I have grown fond of Hong Kong Ballet's mixed bill productions because there is always something unique to be seen. It's never a replica or a substandard copy of a previous production. The point of view of every mixed bill production is always loud and clear. This particular mixed bill for me is special in a different way. I feel that on that stage, several artists shared pivotal moments in their lives. Shakespeare said it best when he said " All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages."  I know the quote was meant to describe the intricacies of universal life. However, it is ironically describes what the artists shared with the audience in that show. 

Let me explain. There were several revelations that night.  For one, I knew that Jurgita Dronina was to dance Paquita. What I didn't know was that she was to join the Company as the newest Guest Principal Dancer.  One of the reasons I flew to Hong Kong was to see her dance again. She made quite an impact a few years back when she performed in Ballet Manila's World Stars of Ballet Gala. I  had no idea that she was going to take on the role of Guest Principal Dancer. For the longest time, it had only been Yuan Yuan Tan who was the proclaimed Guest Principal Artist. She would occasionally  take part in at least one of the season productions. Upon seeing that title in the program and several mini articles about her in the internet, my mind started spinning. Was she going to visit Hong Kong more often now? Will Hong Kong Ballet be a second home to her? I was excited to say the least about the possibilities.  The season finale I  watched was her first show (to my recollection) with Hong Kong Ballet. She took on the role of the ballerina in Paquita. There were a few slips that happened that night but none big enough that could diminish the sparkling beauty of this lady. Her extensions were  picturesque. Her fouette tricks were impressive. Her elegance is comparable to that of Margot Fonteyn and Audrey Hepburn.Finally her energy was engaging. All that being said, she is a trophy addition to the Company. It was her first entrance  to Hong Kong's spotlight, one that was met with thunderous applause. To me it was a historical moment.  I can't wait to see more of her in the coming seasons. 

Photo: Kitmin Lee 

That is not all that took me by surprise that night. Another dancer was  at a turning point in her career and on that stage she made her final statement. I was able to follow Candice Adea's progression in Hong Kong Ballet. She has been a friend to me for years and I have always loved supporting her triumphs with the Company. Indeed she has been a pride and joy for the Filipino dance community. I saw her first production with the Company and was fortunate enough to see her last. You see, after  an illustrious  two year stint with the Company, she bids them goodbye to join Ballet Met.  I would have loved to see her end her affiliation with the Company with a more principal role. But I have to admit, she was a feisty charmer in Alexei Ratmansky's Carnivale. She exits with a  lasting impression.  She is one of the smallest dancers with the biggest movements  on stage. She took on the role of lead hen. In the mix of animals, her sprightliness and clarity of movement was too cute to forget. I'm sad to see her leave for a farther destination but I am excited to see her add another feather on her cap. Bon Voyage Candice Adea, until we meet again. 

Dancers: Candice Adea, Naomi Yuzawa, Yuri Moriwaki
Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco


So you see so many personal stories marked by performances on stage. My favorite would have to be the biggest revelation of them all.  I have seen Hong Kong Ballet succeed  in dancing pieces by world renowned choreographers. In the same production, they succeeded in giving life to Alexei Ratmansky's entertaining Carnivale. However, seeing the world premier of "Bolero" left me at an unparalleled state of awe and admiration. Yuh  Egami  and Ricky Hu are both active dancers of the Company.  I had no idea that the the choreographers who would succeed in  creating a work that is distinctly perfect for the Company would be one of their own. "Bolero" is a a piece about  the ascent of depression of a modern woman. It aimed to humanize  how one could possibly lose your mind with the number of voices  you hear in your solitude. The theme was quite bold but the presentation of the concept even bolder. Principal dancer Liu Yu-Yao was found fragile inside  a white architectural set  framing her. Liu Yu-Yao put just the right amount of madness and lucidity in her portrayal.  The set  that initially caged her like a  mental institution  soon  evolved into a more personal space, a window, a door, a table, a chair  that featured the ballerina's  frame of thought.  The set had its own choreographed transitions that were so purposeful and effective in highlighting moments.  The characters representing the voices in her head  weaved in and out with the set as their playground. The piece was so intense not only because of the powerful dancers but because it was clearly a well thought of. The two choreographers were indeed  god storytellers. Not only do they have impeccable taste and a good grasp of dance vocabulary, they also have a commitment to innovation. Bolero just proved that Hong Kong Ballet now has double threat artists on their side. I do hope I get to see more of the duo's genius. 

Dancers: The Hong Kong Ballet Dancers
Photo: Kitmin Lee

Dancer: Liu Yu-yao
Photo: Kitmin Lee

Dancer: Liu Yu-yao, Shen Jie, Leung Chung Long
Photo: Conrad Dy-Liacco

The season finale was eventful with someone new arriving, someone old exiting, and two people's careers evolving. In summary, it was a closing that would make anyone excited about the new season. Bravo. 

For those who are interested, Check out the link of Bolero and Carnivale (With Candice Adea dancing in it)  (Bolero) (Carnivale)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Ingredients in the Mix:Ballet Manila's From Page to Stage

Ballet Manila opens their 20th Season today with Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang. Their offering is not a world premier. In fact it is traditionally Ballet Manila. The Lola Basyang series is almost like the Company's advocacy supporting the glorification of Filipino art for the benefit of the masses. The show will revolve around the literary works of the legendary Severino Reyes. Choreography was done by Ballet Manila staples Osias Baroso, Lisa Macuja and  the late Tony Fabella. So why watch it of you know it will be back to the season's repertoire  soon enough??! My Ms. Universe answer would of course be..."It is a nationalistic and artistic effort. It is important to support something you can call your own. ". My real Kris Aquino  answer would be... "The presence of youngbloods with talent should be enough to lure any crowd to the theater".  The latter being one that I feel more intently as of this moment.  Ballet Manila will open with four award winning  dancers joining their roster. Katherine Barkman, their newest recruit recently just won the 2015 Asian Grand Pix prize recently done in Hong Kong.  She also received the  silver in the Pas De Deux category of the same competition. The wonder twins of ballet will now step into the professional stage. Both Jasmine Pia Dames and  Jessica Pearl Dames were awardees in the 2011 NAMCYA Junior Competition. Jasmine took home the 3rd Prize and JEssica took home the Two Tony Special Award.  Internationally, they also fared well in the  2014 Asia Grand Prix competition. Jasmine bagged the silver medal in the Senior Division and Jessica ranked 4th. Recently, Recently, Jasmine  heroically took home the Bronze Medal in the Professional Category of the 2015 World Ballet Competition.  These three girls are not the only glittery recruits of the Company. However they are the ones that I am particularly interested in at the moment. I'm eager to see how they fare with the regulars of the Company. Add any extreme to a mix  and it will always result to an interesting flavor. Wealth of experience  and youth I believe creates a good balance which I think will help Ballet Manila sustain their season with ease. 

Take a look at the Ballet Manila 20th Season Line up. 
Preview Photography by Erica Marquez Jacinto 







Sunday, August 9, 2015

Love is Sweeter the Second Time Around: La Cage Aux Folles

When days and days are dedicated to either the stench of Philippine politics or the idiosyncrasies of the freakin pabebe girls, a good distraction is necessary to keep people sane.  Fortunately for all us, theatre in Manila is always ready and able to provide a momentary break from the  chaos. There are actually a  number of good shows to choose from.   Personally however I am craving for something familiar and sweet.  I just can't wait for La Cage Aux Folles to return to the stage. The countdown begins. The RCBC theater curtains will open Aug 15 and close on Sept 6.

There's never too much of a good thing. I thought the  original staging Nine works offered earlier this year  was just a lovely escape. The story is based on the 1973 french play Jean Poiret. It  tells the story  of a young lad who has to introduce his wonderfully gay parents to his conservative future in laws.  (Check out my  review  of the show  It was a colorful tapestry of  love. But I believe that love is always sweeter the second time around. I'm excited to see if Robbie Guevarra can push it even further towards the lala land of greatness.

Here is what I'm excited about. Triple threat PJ Rebullida joins the cast as Mercedes, one of the Cagelles. He took part in the first run as one of the choreographers but will now bask in the light as he shows his own moves on stage. I am certain he will bedazzle the audience with his charm and spunk. More importantly, I think with  a choreographer joining the cast, the showtoppers will be cleaner, sharper and ultimately better.  Tappity tap tap, slide and kick release,  chasse grand jete. I fully expect the marry of dance genres to be a 3d theatre spectacle. 

The cast will again be  lead by Audie Gemora who will play Albin  and Michael de Mesa who will play Gorges.  These two gentlemen  did a phenomenal job in the first run. Their spirited performances celebrated love in so many ways. With another  chance to explore the characters, I'm quite sure the veterans  have added a few more nuances to add depth to their characters. 

Lastly, I'm excited to see Noel Rayos and the cast have a blast on stage. What was memorable about the initial staging was that every person in the cast delivered their 100% con gusto. I do hope they share the same  amount of energy again in this run. 

The first run was embraced with standing ovations and wild applause.  Care to find out if Nine Works will have a sweeter ending?  See you all at the theater!