Saturday, October 22, 2016

THEATERFANSMANILA: Point to Pointe: The Swan, The Fairy and the Princess

Pls see link of my original article in  Theatre Fans Manila less my clerical errors :)

Additional Photos not in the original article follows.

The very backbone of Ballet Manila is their commitment to the classics. From the moment it was created, the Company has always put classical ballet productions at the forefront of their artistic voice. With that in mind, it comes as no surprise that they would eventually come up with a season called “Revenge of the Classics”. With so much history and familiarity with classical ballet, this is a fitting repertoire for the Company. Their second offering is almost a tribute to Tchaikovsky as it is to the art form. “The Swan, The Fairy and The Princess” features the ultimate ballet bunhead favorites, Swan Lake, Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty.

Less Tragic Swan Lake

The curtains opened with one of the greatest ballets of all time, Swan Lake. At the Lake of the Swans, Ballet Manila’s corps de ballet in perfect synchronicity calmed the excited audience with their surreal intraday. Painting visual wonders with their crisply white tutu and beautiful lines, the ballerinas heightened my anticipation for the Principal ballerina Odette. And so she was revealed ever so elegantly. Abigail Oliveiro, tall and splendidly elongated, emerged from the triangle of delicate swans. She met her real life prince Mark Sumaylo on stage and the swan story began to unravel. With the level of technique I have seen from her in previous shows, I was quite certain she could execute everything technically required of Odette. And with the exception of a small slip near the orchestra pit while turning, she did. The level of control necessary to perform both the adagio pas de deux and her solo variation was achieved. However, I did not expect her to miss out on the single most important part of Odette’s character. Swan lake has been re-envisioned several times but what has remained a Swan Lake template was the character of the ballerina and justifiably so. Odette often referred to as a “tragic heroine” was a princess cursed to take the form of a swan. Her life was taken away from her and her only chance at freedom is to attain with certainty love. But how could a swan find love? Traditionally Odette is dripping with sadness. When she finds her Prince, she is overwhelmed by love, troubled, doubtful even because she has a secret that cannot be revealed to him. She was not free to love. Oliveiro dismisses this story line quite decisively as she performs both the pas de deux and the variation with a coy smile on her face enjoying every bit of it. While she was beautiful, I yearned for the familiar Odette. This comes as a big surprise to me because I have seen videos and pictures of her performing Odette with the right temperament.


The cygnets definitely were delightful. Harmonized breath, strides and meticulous execution were met with appreciative applause. Kudos to Jessica Pearl Dames, Jasmine Pia Dames, Jessa Balote and Tiffany Chiang.

Similarly, the big Swans also delivered a breathtaking performance as they showed of their length and lightness in their grand jetes. The big swans number was  performed by Violet Hong, Czarina Villegas, Henriette Garcia and Do Hyun Choi. With just a speck of dust in my eyes, Ballet Manila’s Swan Lake was still triumphant.

Ushering the Holiday Spirit

Ushering the holiday spirit, the second offering was festive Nutcracker. The ensemble was colorful and vibrant. Katherine Barkman was her usual cheerful sweet as candy self as the Sugarplum fairy. She remained energetic throughout not even flinching as she jumped shifting weight effortlessly from one arabesque to the other. Her perpetual partner Rudy De Dios likewise performed with agility, nailing each jete entournant and pirouette required. Nutcracker provided that mid show spike of happiness equivalent to Jose Mari Chan’s Christmas songs. It was a good reminder of good things to come.

Wide Awake for Sleeping Beauty

The last dose of ballet was definitely the perfect dessert that comes after a good meal. Dawna Mangahas was every bit a ballerina as Princess Aurora. Now if only the rest of us woke up that beautiful, #iwokeuplikethis. It helps that she has a radiant glow but I love how she manages to make a step out of everything. You rarely see her transitioning because each move is grand in its own way. Cue in the slow clap. She was endearing in her portrayal (perhaps a bit too much to the newly introduced royalty) and it was obvious that her joy for dancing was what made her performance remarkable. Ably partnered by guest artist Mikhail Martynyuk, the grand pas de deux was the epitome of infinite grace.

Amongst the characters in the Act, I was tickled by the bluebird duo Joan Sia and Romeo Peralta. Their partnership was punctuated by their dependable musicality. Joan Sia’s extensions always did make me a tad jealous. She was a refined Princess Florine. Peralta was energetic and commanding as the Bluebird.

Revenge of the Classics

They say the best revenge is the sweetness of success. “The Swan, the Fairy and the Princess” was a night of beautiful ballet. With various degrees of technical complexity and roles of different textures, it is clear as day that the Company is in a very good position. And so Bravo Ballet Manila for giving justice to Tchaikovsky wonderful music and Petipa’s timeless choreography.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Neo Filipino 2016, For Art's Sake

Photo Courtesy of Neo Filipino

Neo Filipino is the third leg of the intensifying rally towards artistic freedom in dance. Perhaps  with the recent success of and Bagong Sayaw,  the  undeniable  pulsating momentum   has put my expectations to an all time high.  After all, the  well communicated objective of this program was " to question, to inquire and to  challenge notions ". With the esteemed Ms. Denisa Reyes at the helm,  I was almost certain that the pieces individually and collectively would deliver a strong point of view. 

Five established choreographers were given twenty or so minutes to make an impression. Note that when I say impression, I do not mean that there is an intention to impress, only to leave a question, a feeling, or a strong desire for the audience to savor. 

Ma. Elena Laniog-Alverez' Sasesi opened the show. I was surprised to see this piece because I could have sworn I had seen it before. And so I was taken aback when I confirmed that  it was an updated version of an old piece from years back. But after  much reflection, I realized it was a fitting hello.  It was a  humorous  play of verbatum and movement  meant to  state what is obvious to many.  Irrationality has made its mark in the millennial world.  Word play has seized to be exclusively about knowledge and  logic but rather a hurtful and often destructive contretemps. Sometimes the conversation is more about noise than it is about content.  It was cleverly communicated by the three adorable slithering amigos( JM Cabling, Dingdong Selga and Al Garcia). With their witty familiar chatter, I loved each person's contrasting contribution to the noise. 


Raul Alcoseba presented "Kanaan".  Carissa and Candice Adea formerly of Ballet Philippines  were his instruments in portraying the sketch of  life and loss. The reality of the grief was stirring. Having known of the sisters' personal  experience of losing a loved, the piece to me became a window to their soul. The piece started with two people looking at grave with an emptiness that ironically  consumed the Little Theatre.  They moved forward and replaced the emptiness with the madness of  missing someone. They coped by being strong for each other. They survived by living in the world that kept going on despite their loss. And then they stood still. ..... and went back to square one.  Tears. Mr. Alcoseba sure knows how to paint a picture. In this alternate universe of loss, the physical partnership of the Adea sisters was undeniably  beautiful. Two peas in a pod, they extended themselves both physically and artistically.  I had much appreciation for this piece. My only criticism was that it was too long. After a while the pace slowed down and what was left was the lingering sadness in the room  that soon made it uncomfortable. It ended almost too quietly. 

"This is about Us" choreographed by Jay Cruz truthfully had me lost in translation.  I've seen some of  the encouraging feedback about the piece online and I fully respect them  but I was in total disconnect as I sat in the audience. I read the brief but I thought that it was a fusion of several ideas all injected in one piece. It wasn't simply about revelation and appreciation of a single person in society. It was also about how society  collectively yearns  for different things at different stages in their lives. At least that is how I understood the brief. But the construction of the piece was so jarring that I couldn't embrace the piece as a whole.

Instead I chose to look into portions of the choreography in my attempt to comprehend it. It starts with  a several dancers dancing about  a cloth  milking the movement as the cloth rises and falls. It then reveals PJ Rebullida clothed with nothing but his courage. His nudity needs no explanation. He performed with honesty a solo that to me made a strong statement.  His movement was telling of his conflict. The demise of this piece was when the rest of the dancers took over the stage with 80 % of the them topless. Yes 80% of the ensemble was topless. At first I couldn't comprehend the meaning behind leaving out two members of the group clothed. Surprisingly the clothing was more distracting than the nudity because it was a crack in the concept. I was looking for the meaning of the contrast. There is even a section where all the topless people laid down and  a fully clothed dancer  Rhodam Prudencio   comes in inspecting their bodies with urgency. Was he the non conformist? Was it his own reveal? Or was it repentance of wanting to be clothed with society's expectations? 

I also felt that that each section of the suite was a new story that was unfolding by the time the piece ended, I already forgot about Rebulida's courageous  revelation and the five minute pas de bourree contract series. So many different characters were  introduced  that I was left overwhelmed. If the piece was meant to question, it did. But the questions came far to many that I no longer was able to enjoy in full the beautiful moments of each section because I was too busy comprehending it. There was a lot of honesty but in the end I sought clarity. Artistic choices are   presumably for art's sake. Was it worth it ? 

As with any piece there is always something beautiful to cherish.  Art after all is gift that keeps on giving.  So I will take the liberty of celebrating moments. Cruz created moments for Julie Alagde in the ensemble. Simply she  is a joy to watch. Her organic fluidity is nothing short of poetry.  Clothed or unclothed she stood out as she did  every movement with incomparable  fullness  and passion. I wanted to  extend her airtime so that we could all just take a moment to celebrate her talent. Rhosam Prudenciado and Jed Amihan matched her intensity with  a mature take of the  athleticism that the piece required. They made sure that their repetition of steps were not just replays but solid meaningful steps.  They also partnered their girls competently. 

Ronelson Yadao and Krisbelle Paclibar presented a universal dancer disorder with "Mirroritis".  It was a simple concept that was relatable in content. Paclibar and Yadao are very good dancers and thespians and so it is very difficult to find flaws in the piece because they impress with their bankable technique.  Paclibar was strong and athletic, while  Yadao was suave and charming. With regards to their choreography, particularly memorable was their choice of music and wise use of the mirror as a prop. Leaps and sustained poses with the mirror were cute  and their pas de deux moments made me chuckle. I just thought twenty minutes was again too long for the piece.


Lastly there was "On Cracked Ground", Ma. Elena- Laniog- Alvarez's second piece for the evening. I was impressed beyond measure with her new creation about poverty of the spirit and the mind.  This piece is one  that will catapult her to a higher league. What was brilliant about this piece was that she did not rely on stereotypes or characters, she portrayed poverty in different textures. She remained focused on the concept and not the dancer. Her ensemble brilliantly delivers echoes of reality.  Contemporary dance often looks like a hodge podge of improvisation but her piece has none of that. Every movement was deliberate, measured and attached to a specific silence or a specific note as well as a specific emotion.  Thankfully the dancers understood all it, mastered it and committed to the overall vision.  The vocabulary of this piece was rich. It  had quite a few difficult steps done in unexpected interrupted canon sequence. The UP Dance Company executed each step flawlessly. I couldn't have asked for more from this piece.

Coming into this show, my expectations were quite sky high. I have long believed in the tradition of Neo-Filipino. After writing about each piece  I realized it has done what it promised to do at least for this audience member. Revisiting the pieces almost left my brain going on overdrive Each piece was inclusive and I felt soothed by the art.  But I take home one important lesson from this show. Collaborations require more than a dancer performing a choreographer's steps nicely . It requires more than  sincerity  of the dancer and sincerity of the choreographer. It really boils down to alignment and a unified belief in a concept. Otherwise the audience witnesses a conversation with too many  voices, that of the dancers and that of the choreographer. Beautiful sentences do not necessarily make good conversation. More voices doesn't mean the point is understood or appreciated.  Reflections.  I am thankful for the dose of art and the intellectual and emotional stimulation.  Thankful for Neo-Filipino.