Tuesday, December 13, 2016

THEATERFANSMANILA: A Place Called Home, A Christmas Carol




Nineworks Theatrical’s “A Christmas Carol” running in the Globe Iconic Store caught me by surprise as I witnessed a familiar classic speak to me in a different way. Obviously Alan Menken’s emotionally driven music was one of the reasons why this version is compelling. But the staging of this production is what makes the music, the lyrics, the libretto so joyful. Much like a well-crafted Noche Buena, everything was well plated with overflowing love.

On a technical aspect, there is much to devour. Conquering the obvious obstacles created by an outdoor theatre, I was easily transported by Mio’s Infante’s glorious sets to old London. It looked grand to say the least even if the usual lush red seats were replaced by simple chairs. Lights and technical styling elevated the set to an even higher level as it evolved, constantly providing just the right touch of magic. Scene changes and actors coming in and out were always with an element of surprise as the set provided flexibility.

The choreography of PJ Rebullida and Yek Barlongay from start to finish were dynamic and really brought to life pivotal moments. Adding texture to scenes were simple movements such as angular mannequin like actions ending in multilevel tableaus that provided the silence to highlight conversations. The ensemble with jerking shoulders listening in to conversations made me anxious as a spectator increasing my involvement to the scenes. The different genres used in the choreography also contributed in giving each scene a very distinct elemental character. The two major production numbers ‘Abundance and Charity’ and ‘Feizziwig Christmas Ball’ were exciting and quite frankly very technical. It demonstrated that the talent pool were all delightful triple threats.

That being said, the actors juggling multiple exposures were wonderful. Al Gatmaitan as the young Ebenezer Scrooge was just the right mix of endearing and frustrating. Noteworthy was Ela Lisondra playing the ghost of the future. Her acting chops were a good match to her good dance technique. Rocco Buser, possibly the youngest in the cast, was just the most adorable kid I have ever seen. With a voice clear as day, he sung those high notes with confidence. Playing Tiny Tim, he brought us to tears with his utmost sincerity. Veteran Miguel Faustmann who has played Mr. Scrooge several times gave us a refreshing performance. Seasoned professional that he was, he sustained his energy well and delivered in every scene he was in. I can’t imagine anyone else being cast for this role.


Ela Lisondra as the Ghost of Christmas Future

Ela Lisondra as the Ghost of Christmas Future

I’ve mentioned a multitude of sugary compliments about this show and so it seems that I have covered almost everything. But allow me to indulge in expressing my appreciation for one last thing. I think the best reason to watch this musical apart from high grade talent, is the fact that Charles Dickens’ Christmas message comes alive. Alan Menken’s song goes, “There’s a place called home. I can almost see, with a red front door and a roaring fire and a Christmas tree. Yes a place called home full of love and family. And I’m there at the door, watching you come home to me.” This show brought me home. More importantly, it brought me Christmas. Robbie Guevara has directed this musical so well that it will speak with a universal language of music and rekindle in people’s hearts a warm spot called love. It will mean something for the young and old. It will make you appreciate everything you already have. It will make you want to share it with everyone you meet. The message is beautiful. It is what Christmas is all about, appreciation of blessings and finding the heart to love others for the fulfillment of a deeper purpose.

They say it is Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air so if you want to dive into the holidays with a smile on your face I highly suggest you give theatre a try.


Friday, December 2, 2016

LATE POST Singing Familiar Tunes " Awitin mo at Isasayaw Ko"

Denise Parungao and Garry Corpus 

Awitin mo at Isasayaw ko is a production that is imitative of a popularized brand of music in the seventies. VST and  Company has produced songs that are considered by many as timeless and Ballet Philippines' show generally  makes good use of most of them.

While I did not quite appreciate the intersecting story lines and the vague references to Martial Law establishing the period, I did appreciate the colorful acting of the artists. The dancers seemed to enjoy the music and the shift of dance genre. After a series of very heavy themes, they finally all get to smile a whole lot  and let loose with the swinging music of VST. The thing is I am not a fan of ballet mixed with live singing. The singers whether they are good or not take away a lot of attention from the dancers. And the dancers take a lot of attention from the singers. You never really get a full  fill of the characters.  It always reminds me of how variety shows work, with the dancers in the background and the singers at the forefront or vice versa with one overshadowing the other. Needless to say, I was underwhelmed. I give credit to Ballet Philippines' constant effort to create new things, new audiences and new collaborations. This was just not my cup of tea. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Spectacle of Sorts, Ballet Manila's Cinderella

When I write, the words often come quite fluidly as I rely on only one voice and influence, my own. However, I watched Ballet Manila's Cinderella with my ballerina bunhead daughter and she was adamant that I heard her blow by blow critique of this show. As her booming voice so eloquently articulated her opinion about each aspect of the show like an adult, I had to step back and digest it. After all, she was the primary target market for this show. And so I must thank my daughter for providing another perspective that gave me that extra push to dig deeper and understand more the purpose of every artistic choice that was made.

A Spectacle of Sorts

Ballet Manila has invested much into breathing life into Ms. Lisa Macuja's vision of Cinderella. With well publicized collaborations with Mio Infante for sets, Michael Miguel for costumes and Roy del Valle for music arrangement, I am certain it was a costly investment. While there are several variations in film, in theatre and in books, most ballet Cinderella stagings rely heavily on the original libretto made to serve the music of Sergei Prokofiev done by Nicolai Volkov. I came in with the highest of expectations after all this is our beloved Prima Ballerina's first major solo choreographic conquest. Much like Gelsey Kirkland's Nutcracker, the transition of a Prima Ballerina to a choreographer leaves the audience excited to see a  legend's point of view. But is the show really a reconstruction? What I am definite about is that it is quite a departure from the ballet references. Ms. Macuja's version does away with the season fairies and instead follows the storytelling flow of the Walt Disney animated film. Retaining only the dance master scene from the original ballet libretto, she remains consistent with the Disney inspired  staging from usage of animal friends in the opening to the final wedding scene.

The familiarity of the story line made it possible for the ballet to instantly connect to the audience eliciting cheers and laughter from children and the young at heart. For most, gone was the loyalty to the classic ballet. Except for a handful, nobody missed it. In fact my very own daughter said "They have the correct story Mom". (This of course is her response after having seen seen a couple of stagings of the traditional ballet in the past.)

To start of they had a delightful stage fit for the ballet, a beautiful fireplace, a house that gave a natural vignette frame to the dancers and who could forget the globe dome royal palace. Adding to the magic was the well thought of lighting by Jaime Villanueva that was critical in threading together the scenes. They kept the glitter and the frills coming with tried and tested theatrical exhibitions such as illuminated white cloth incorporated in the choreography, black light choreography and confetti showers. To cap it off, they did the audience interaction during the finding of Cinderella. All of which brought joy to the audience. It is quite similar to Children's theatre and Children's ballets staged by different professional companies here and abroad (eg. Repertory Philippines, Hongkong Ballet's Children's Ballets). Ballet Manila's Cinderella is simply a Children's Ballet. It promised to be light and humorous and it was. It promised to show magic and it did. I  believe it caters to a particular audience. I use the words Children's ballet not to degrade the show in any way. I use it because it is an accepted genre that has developed through time. Its specific goals are clear to allow adults and children to have common space to enjoy art. It is a means to inspire children to integrate art into their lives. Seeing the effect on my very own daughter, I would say that the show was victorious. My daughter said to me babbling "Mom I want to watch this again next weekend! Why can't we go backstage like the other shows? When are we staging Cinderella again in Hampton Court Ballet?" and then it progressed to something deeper in the car ride home. "Mom I really want to dance the Cinderella part one day, I think I could be her (Katherine Barkman) maybe not your friend Ms. Lisa Macuja but I could be her." As an artist and as a mom, it was a beautiful moment to see your child loving ballet so gently, so fervently. I had to at that time dismiss my analysis of what I just saw and remain content with the healing and loving effect of the arts on people. A dream is a wish that heart makes, and now my daughter's dreams have been fueled on. This is why I have much gratitude for the arts.

(See link https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2013/oct/23/why-childrens-theatre-matters)

Artistic Choices

After digesting what had just happened in the theatre, I looked through the pictures and decided on which parts I loved and which parts I thought dimmed the light a bit in the sparkling ballet.

While the audience loved the music, it pained me a bit to have too many versions incorporated into one show. I love all the music separately but together, its seemed a bit disconnected. In my ears, Prokofiev's music is very distinct and punctuated with intricate winds and strings while the Disney music and Rodgers and Hammerstein's music tend to be very melodic and calm. Often it seemed the scenes were from different ballets.

The choreography was enjoyable especially because the Company relished every moment on stage. However the repetitive usage of the same theatrical techniques was a bit of an overkill. The white cloth made magical by the light in Act 1 was picturesque. When it appeared again in Act 2, it was still beautiful but no longer as stirring. And it continued to diminish in value as the dancers used the cloth for a good five to ten minutes staging the pas de deux. And of course it appeared again in the wedding. After awhile you start noticing who was holding what part of the cloth as if they were part of the dance.

I did not understand the need for the dancers wearing the light. Were they the fairy entourage, a part of the carriage, magic sparkles or an excuse to use Pinocchio's technology? 

The costume transformation of Cinderella was not flawless at all because everyone could see that her costume went from slip to fat before she transformed into that gorgeous vision of ocean blue. Visible also was how she did the  transformation.

The stars of this ballet savored every moment on stage which made me enjoy their individual performances. Katherine Barkman embodied kindness. She appeared as an effervescent beauty in that royal ballroom extending her body beautifully in each arabesque. Rudy De Dios was quite handsome in his velvet blue number waking up the audience with his smooth and princely charm. Stepsisters Jasmine Pia Dames and Crysdavince Violet were simply adorable as they played the stepsisters with flair and very good technique. Jonathan Janolo is a seasoned comedian and was often the pun of all jokes. His drag queen titas of manila version was quite a hit. Ms. Lisa Macuja's involvement gave the audience something to look forward too. You could hear her adoring fans gasp every time she would appear. Her appearance was magic itself.

At the end of the day, this show delivers what Ms. Lisa Macuja promised. The ballet was "bright and cheerful" and the audiences left with a "light and joyful spirit". I am certain that this is her stepping stone to bigger and brighter self choreographed productions. This ballet is not a classic yet but could given time be a well loved holiday tradition.

Remaining show dates are:
December 3 8:00 p.m.
December 4 3:00 p.m.
Tickets available at all Ticketworld outlets, online at www.ticketworld.com.ph, or call 891 9999.