Saturday, March 31, 2018

Changing of the Tides

First quarter of the year has ended and so has ballet season for our major companies. In what seems like a strange plot twist Ballet Philippines and Ballet Manila ended their seasons with bold  uncharacteristic choices. Ballet Philippines  who is known for being the edgier choice, chose a classical ballet Don Quixote. Incidentally Don Quixote  was Ballet  Manila's year ender in 2017. Ballet Manila  packaged as a lover of tradition chose to do Ballet Ballads with their main event being  the premiere of new contemporary pieces. It seems for two weekends there was a freaky Friday switch of some sort as BM fiercely represented modern ballet and BP did the same for classical ballet. The cross over was quite interesting. 

Don Quixote 

Ballet Philippines' "Don Quixote" had quite a number of things to offer. Principal dancers taking on the soloist roles, an orchestra, a guest artist, even a tapas diner. With the long history that Ballet Philippines has with the ballet, I'm happy that at the end of the day it was not the frills but the actual dancing that won me over. 

International guests Joseph Gatti and Filipina Candice Adea did not disappoint. Their chemistry was palpable and their humor relatable. Both seemed to be having the time of their life despite the physical demands of the ballet.They never really let each other go constantly connecting with each other with a glance, a choreographed touch and even a couple of smirks. Their friendship showed in the the seamless partnering through the acts. 

Gatti swept the audience off their feet with his dynamic way of dancing. He represents what ballet could be for this generation. There was a time whene artistry was the priority and the awkward now  period where ballet is  equated to numbers and tricks. Gatti strikes the balance with athleticism and likable allure. He doesn't capitalize on  "more is more". His presence is cool and not overbearing. His tricks are intelligently created in the sense that he doesn't merely add another turn or another jump in a series. He adds a twist to his steps that emphasize strength and technique. For instance, while he does five pirouettes consistently, he often whips a six and ends it with a lengthy balance on arabesque. The usual consecutive tours are replaced with tours peppered with one leg jumps leaving people gasping. He reminds me of a young Angel Corella, a breath of fresh air. He is boyish but delivers manly and virtuoso dancing all with a relaxed breath. 

What was uplifting about this show was how the Filipino dancers took the spotlight. Celebrated Candice Adea kept the audience entertained with her quirky ways. Ronelson Yadao was smooth as Espada. He brought his own light with him wherever he went making sure that his character was never forgotten. Denise Parungao played Mercedes and Dryad Queen and her lyricism was mesmerizing. It was nice to see our own dancers not overshadowed by an awesome guest artist. 
Denise Parungao as Mercedes

Ronelson Yadao as Espada 

The ensemble honestly could have been better. Having seen the show several times, I could literally see the younger ones relaxing instead of engaging. It was a bit sad to see Gatti gawking. Every role is important and   contributory to a story. (A little of this can be seen in the photos below). I also felt that on opening night, Manila Symphony Orchestra robbed us of a few seconds of Gatti magic. Their timing particularly for Gatti portions were off and even as Gatti signaled (by walking ever so slowly and NOT DANCING) that they messed up they didn't bother to do it over. Some of his tricks were cut short. I did hear they did amazing on the second show the next day. 

Don Quixote was energetic, colorful and a display of very good dancing. Bravo. 

Kitri :Candice Adea
Basilio: Joseph Gatti
Mercedes and Dryad: Denise Parungao
Espada : Ronelson Yadao
Cupid: Jemima Reyes 

Ballet and Ballads 

Ballet Manila closed their 22nd season with their longest running concert series "Ballet and Ballads". With a mixed bill their theme was about love perfectly in tune with the month of hearts.  I didn't find the need to string all the pieces together as their main point was to celebrate ballet and ballads and their collective universality. While I appreciated the beautiful words individually,  it was quite difficult to swallow the connection of the pieces. It's difficult to correlate Black Swan a piece about love and deception with El Adwa  which is about war and combat. Also with ballads meaning "danceable music" portions of just the orchestra playing against John Batalla's admittedly gorgeous lights were off. While it fully showcased the skill of the ABS CBN Philharmonic Orchestra it went against the grain of the theme. 

Ballet and Ballads did however give birth to a couple of heavy weight pieces that I reckon will stay with the Company for a very long time. Bam Damian created El Adwa, a powerhouse piece filled with exciting lifts performed by lead couple  Joan Sia and Romeo Peralta.  Performed with strength, the spiraling from one aesthetic shape to another was breathtaking. It is unfortunate I was not able to immortalize in photo the ensemble because with their best men, Ballet Manila claimed mastery of Damian's neo-classic style. Damian has always worked magic with tour de force pieces with men, he does it again with El Adwa. Their movements were definitive and filled with testosterone and really did a good job in mimicking the robust energy of soldiers. Filled with a string of  various jetes (elongated jumps) and barrel turns it was quite a test of  stamina.Truly, the choreography was a good fit with the dancers. Showcasing their very best abilities, it was such a triumph. 

Aria created by Martin Lawrence was a piece about the different stages or forms of love.As Martin Lawrence explains " Aria is my response to these beautiful arias that have been written by Verdi, Puccini and Bizet. It takes you on a journey of heartbreak and requited love". That it did. The piece was quite memorable because of its relatability. The dances were situated in communal spaces, the living room, the kitchen table, the family room. It took us to a journey about the not so nice part about married life. The nuances were on point. The story telling about  awkward silences, combative voices, wanting to be heard were all skillfully elaborated. Three pairs  told three different stories but they all ended up in one couch, on the same page of struggle. Particularly touching was the partnership of Mark Sumaylo and Abigail Oliveiro which had a high level of connectivity given the seduction aspect that was highlighted. In their pas de deux there was a lot of variations of the "embrace" alternating between loving and suffocating. In my eyes it was more a depiction of an impulsive kind of love that has not quite reached maturity. Their dancing in contrast was strong and magnetic. My only comment was that the ballet may be seen differently depending on where you are seated. It is best seen in Orchestra Center. 

As the title implies classical ballet was still represented. Originally  created for Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Rudy De Dios " Ilsa Dyur" (trivia: it is their names in reverse) is highly technical.Though this one is a restaging, I would say the piece was reborn.  Not many can perform the piece so it's an achievement for a couple to make it look their own.  It's vocabulary is classical ballet but it is branded by Damian's luxurious aesthetic. The usual supported pencees were made extra beautiful with rounded contrasting arms. Traditional overhead lifts were seen in different perspectives. Jasmine Pia Dames and Rudolph Capongcol succeeded and  looked quite comfortable and at ease performing such a difficult ballet. Dames conquered the quick footwork which consisted of hopping echappes, pirouettes, small jumps paired with corner pique turns with legs extending to the front and to the back all in packed in a minute. It was a exquisite  play on Tchaikovsky's music. Capongcol likewise delivered with controlled arabesques and crisp cabrioles. The grand pas de deux was light and highly entertaining. 

Despite the lack of fluidity in concept, it cannot be denied that Ballet Manila showcased their capacity to adapt to modern times. Their ability to perform more contemporary pieces gives their name a lift. In the past years they have started to redefine themselves as a heavy hitter in modern ballet. While they stuck to one branch of modern ballet, with  constant encounters with Martin Lawrence, Annabel Ochoa and Bam Damian they have gotten a whole lot stronger. Any company would want a good balance between the new and the old. 

Black Swan Pas de Deux by Heewon Cho and Elpidio Magat

Pinoy Ako Choreographed by Jonathan Janolo 

Kapit choreographed by Lisa Macuja 
Changing of the Tides

Now that the ballet seasons have ended, I'm left thinking about what to look forward to for 2018. Rumors have been silenced about sharing a weekend of  Carmina Burana for Ballet Philippines and Ballet Manila and a follow up performance of the same ballet for Philippine Ballet Theatre. I'm glad because the consistent repetition is tiresome. Perhaps it is not intentional but it's also not great programming. In basic marketing, competitor analysis is key.   There's a million ballets out there. Should the intention be about changing of the tides or reinvention of all the companies then may it be through newly created pieces in both contemporary and classical ballet formats. May coping with the "new"result in a showcase of Philippine  premieres. Perhaps a staging of Balanchine, Alice and Wonderland, Manon or a new full Filipino epic perhaps? I am the worst example of an affected audience just because I see something beautiful in every show but I feel not everyone will be like me. I'd like to encourage everyone to experience something distinctly magical at the theatre. Here's to hoping for  a showcase of diversity this 2018.