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