by Pablo A. Tariman

There are ballets that enchant (Swan Lake, Giselle) but there are ballets that remind us where we live with our own culture and lifestyle.

Ballet Manila had a good respite from its classical repertoire when it re-staged Ryan Cayabyab’s “Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika” in its latest season.

The Wedding Scene in Gerardo Francisco's "Alamat..." Enchanting!

The Wedding Scene in Gerardo Francisco’s “Alamat…” Enchanting!

The season attraction allowed us to reflect on what we have and to have another look at our own way of life. After all, we don’t have the ballet and music tradition of Russia. But getting a taste of what they have to offer, we realize how rich the tradition of dance world-wide is.

The latest Ballet Manila attraction opened with Luzviminda (Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao) Suite by Jojo Lucila as re-staged by Osias Barroso. Here we savor the ethnic traditions of northern Luzon through their dance and Lucila made it more appealing to present-day audiences with the sheer magic of his choreography.

In the Visayas (Kinabuhing Mananagat – Buhay Mandaragat–) section choreographed by Rudy de Dios, we have a glimpse of the idyllic way of life of Visayan fisher folks to the music of Danny Javier.

But the most arresting section was no doubt an excerpt from Gerardo Francisco’s “Alamat: Si Sibul at si Gunaw Wedding Suite.”

The choreography is familiar but Francisco made wonders of it by using classical style without eroding the original flavor. Here at once is a Mindanao gem transformed with classical ballet’s flourishes. Every scene was pure enchantment, the ensemble was pure delight. The huge crowd was suddenly hushed by its visual appeal and erupted into deafening applause at the end.

The last part allowed us to partake of the music of the young (Eraserheads and Sugar Free) to the choreography of Francis Jaena while reliving a far less hustled time with Michael Divinagracia’s “Handog” set to the music of Ernani Cuenco’s “Bato Sa Buhangin.”

What made the last part so contemporary is the presence of radio talk show host Papa Jack and his T.L.C. (True Love Conversation) radio repartee.

With Papa Jack on stage right and a restless radio listener on the left, you see the preoccupations and at times meaningless angst of the young as they confide to their favorite radio talk show host.

The dance unfolded as listener told his story.

The Janolo choreography captured young love at its purest while Janea’s work gave us more insight on what the young is up to.

But the most enjoyable part was Francisco’s “Barkada” as it captured campus characters at their most haunting and hilarious moments. The ensemble acting was excellent, the dancing dazzled. The crowd thoroughly related to the ballet and the result was pandemonium in every scene.

A scene from Gerardo Francisco's "Barkada." The ensemble acting was excellent and the dancing dazzled. Photo by Daniel Steven Trinidad.

A scene from Gerardo Francisco’s “Barkada.” The ensemble acting was excellent and the dancing dazzled. Photo by Daniel Steven Trinidad.

Looking at this unusual ballet crowd (they are not the usual well-dressed opening night figures), you realize that Ballet Manila is in touch with the other side of its not-so-affluent audiences.

It is quite an insight that they relate to the dancing perhaps because they saw a slice of their own life once upon their campus days.

On the whole, we need this kind of program to remind us that we cannot be totally western in our taste and that there is something in our own culture that can very well be re-lived in the world of dance and how!

Ballet Manila’s Lisa Macuja Elizalde admits dancing to OPM music for the first time brings a lot of fun and energy on stage. She first tried it in 1987 when she shared the stage with Celeste Legaspi, Basil Valdez and Douglas Nieras in a show called “Tuliro Ngayon at Kailan Man.”

Indeed, we need more variety in our dance diet to remind us there is more to ballet enjoyment than joining the avid ballet aficionado counting the 32 fouettes in Swan Lake or figuring out how high you can go in Don Q.

As it is, BM’s contemporary ballets work because as Twyla Tharp pointed out, “The ballet needs to tell its own story in such a way it can be received without having to be translated into language.”

The euphoric response of the Aliw Theater crowd proved that for ballet to be thoroughly enjoyed, it need not be translated in spoken language.

(The next BM presentations include “Two!” on October 10, Swan lake on November 14 and Nutcraker: Pasko Na Naman Muli starting November 28. For inquiries, call 4000292 or 5255967.)

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