View from The Wings

View from The Wings

by Pablo A. Tariman

After watching CCP’s “Musikal!” during the weekend, you realize you are up to your neck with more exciting events in the performing arts and they are all happening in September.

Curtain call from "Musikal!":  big triumph of original Pilipino musical theater. Photo by John Gatmaytan

Curtain call from “Musikal!”: big triumph of original Pilipino musical theater. Photo by John Gatmaytan

“Musikal!” was a highly commendable production showcasing the Pilipino musicals at their best. The showstoppers were excerpts from Katy, Lorenzo, Caredivas, Maxie The Musical, Stage Show and Rak of Aegis.
Himala looked very promising and one song number mesmerized many times over with the voice of Dulce.

Margarita Roco’s “Luksang Pangitain” was a stand-out but it properly belonged to the aria category coming as it did from Chino Toledo’s contemporary opera, San Andres B. Sinta for one sounded very dated, a song number from Rivalry sounded very sophomoric.

The big plus is the dynamic conducting of Gerard Salonga. The PPO’s precision enlivened even sleeper song numbers. As it is, the young conductor was meticulous with music whether they are classical or musical theater.

On the other hand, Lea Salonga – introduced by CCP president Raul Sunico — gave moral support with her presence.

Isay Alvarez Seña confided producers don’t always get the desired box office results but applause — and an euphoric one — is already music to the producers’ ears. (What many don’t realize is that standing ovations can’t pay bills; only good sponsorship and good ticket sales can.)

On the whole, the collaboration worked under Chris Millado and it gave Manila audiences a good idea that most Pilipino musicals are worth dying for and worthy of everybody’s support. It also unearthed the fact that some musicals need to be re-written and should be confined to the schools where they originally came from. But on the whole, it was a big revelation on the state of musical theater in the country.

In another development, Felipe Padilla de Leon’s “Noli Me Tangere” opens September 12 at the Resort World and will run until September 28 with the Manila Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rodel Colmenar.

Abroad, pianist Cecile Licad and German cellist Alban Gerhardt team up anew at Wigmore Hall in London on September 12, 2014. They are also playing live on the radio BBC on September 11 two movements from Rachmaninoff sonata.

(For Filipino music lovers in UK, this is the link to the September 12 London Licad-Gerhardt recital: or

Violin wizard Chino Gutierrez returns to BDO Francisco Santiago Hall on September 13 (8 p.m.) with pianist Corazon Pineda Kabayao, pianist Gabriel Allan Paguirigan performs iat the Ayala Museum on September 17.

Rolando Tinio’s translation of Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman” (Pahimakas ng Isang Ahente) opens on September 26.

One is inclined to reserve a special night in the Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Season to watch the Giselle of Filipino-American ballerina Stella Abrera on September 19 opposite the Albrecht of James Whiteside.

Both dancers happen to be from the American Ballet Theater.

After 35 years of covering ballet in Manila, Abrera should be a most welcome Giselle essayed earlier in the Philippines by Maniya Barredo, Yoko Morishita, Natalia Makarova (Act II ), Anna Villadolid, Lisa Macuja Elizalde and Katherine Trofeo, among others.

Stella Abrera as Giselle at the CCP. Ballet attraction on September 19 gala.

Stella Abrera as Giselle at the CCP. Ballet attraction on September 19 gala.

My first Giselle was Barredo and my first Albrecht was Burton Taylor in the late 70s. In that performance, Dame Margot Fonteyn declared Barredo as a true prima ballerina.

My first foreign Giselle was the great Natalia Makarova whom I interviewed at the CCP main theater stage in the middle of Giselle set. I remember her very angular and long limbs and neck and in one quick glance, she looked like a living image of Isadora Duncan – but she was slim, much too slim. In fact a danseur can lift her up with one hand and suspend her for seconds in mid-air without feeling her weight. Her Albrecht then was the then 21-year-old Patrick Bissell – a well-proportioned hunk of a danseur who was also a favorite partner of other great ballerinas like Leslie Browne, Cynthia Gregory, Gelsey Kirkland, Jolina Menendez and Martine van Hamel.

Yoko Morishita as Giselle with the Albrecht of Rudolf Nureyev. Simply unforgettable.

Yoko Morishita as Giselle with the Albrecht of Rudolf Nureyev. Simply unforgettable.

Amidst the eerie Giselle graveyard props, Makarova talked about her love which was dancing, her fate after the defection from Russia and how she managed between dancing and motherhood. She also recalled her dramatic defection in 1970 which she said was decided with the advancement of her art in mind. She confided to me then, “Dancing purely classical roles isn’t enough. I wanted to do some modern ballets.”
In her statement to the British press short after her defection, she pointed out: “The reason I decided to stay in the West is because the most important thing in my life is my profession, my art – the ballet. I had danced all the leading roles in the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad – all of them. Now I would like to go further, to dance in modern ballets, to do something new in my art. It seems to me that I shall have far more opportunity to do so in the West than in the Soviet Union.”

What was memorable to me at that time was how she explained to me how she transforms herself for a particular role like the innocent maiden in Giselle.

“It is very much an inner vision for me. The change for the role starts within me. You can’t afford to lose control. Art is art. When it’s inside you as in a role in Giselle, I put the skin of Giselle in me. It is a role you perfect by experience, by constant practice and unending search for artistry. You just have to be involved.”

In the first rehearsal with the CCP orchestra under conductor Regalado Jose, I watched her movements and I was instantly carried away by the way she essayed lyricism. Her turns were swift and luminously graceful; her leaps were like those of a giraffe caught in slow motion. When she wanted certain parts of the accompaniment right, she hummed the part with the orchestra and made corrections on the way. “That’s wrong, that’s wrong. Stretch that a little, just a little before my exit.”

Some two years later after Makarova, I saw the Giselle of Morishita and she gave Manila’s balletomanes her brand of artistry that left audiences in awe.

Morishita told me Giselle was her favorite ballet she it represented two things: purity and death. She once told a dance correspondent, “Giselle has to be very pure minded and very young. She has a weak heart. But some dancers play it as if she is dying from the start. I start with the young girl. If she dances with vivid purity, then when she dies we can be even more impressed with the grief of her death.”

Of course, other Filipino interpreters gave the ballet a new dimension like the equally memorable heroines of Lisa Macuja Elizalde, Anna Villadolid, Cecile Sicangco and Katherine Trofeo, among others.

Pablo Tariman with Japanese prima ballerina Yoko Morishita in Manila in the 80s

Pablo Tariman with Japanese prima ballerina Yoko Morishita in Manila in the 80s

When Abrera dances Giselle with the Ballet Philippines and the PPO under Olivier Ochanine on September 19, she is bound to give us another parable of purity and death in ballet with her own brand of artistry.

Ballet Philippines principal dancers Katherine Trofeo and Jean Marc Cordero, as well as newly promoted soloist Denise Parungao and junior principal dancer Earl John Arisola will reprise their roles of Giselle and Albrecht for the other 4 shows in the production’s one-weekend run on 20 Sept 2014 at 2 PM & 6 PM and on 21 Sept 2014 at 2 PM.

Re-staged by Nonoy Froilan, Giselle starts off the Blue Moon Series, a two-week mini festival celebrating the Ballet Company’s sapphire milestone.

Call Ballet Philippines at 551-1003 or the CCP box office at 8323704.

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