FILIPINO CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO BALLET MANILA

Ballet Manila’s “Nutkraker: Pasko Na Naman Muli”
FILIPINO CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO BALLET MANILA
by Pablo A. Tariman

Watching a Ballet Manila presentation is like entering a class in anthropology.

You see people from the ruling class with their signature manners and you see Everyman in Philippine society doing the unexpected – enjoying a ballet treat with their families.

Observing them throughout a ballet concert will give you an idea how the arts relate in both the upper class and the masses.

Dawna Mangahas in "Nutcracker" finale. A last-minute Sugar Plum Fairy and lived up to it. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

Dawna Mangahas in “Nutcracker” finale. A last-minute Sugar Plum Fairy and lived up to it. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

One class can very well relate to the European roots of Nutcracker but you should see how the other class cheer and stomp their feet as they watch a ballet celebrating Filipino Christmas.

In this sense, the title of Lisa Macuja Elizalde as “ballerina ng bayan” is more apt and indeed grounded on reality. Ballet is associated with the middle and upper class but Macuja will not have that nonsense about the misconception that only the rich can appreciate the arts.

On top of that, the company’s Ballet Futures program enabled young talents from the public schools to get ballet scholarships complete with nutrition support for the young dancers.

That 2012 CNN report on promising ballerinas from the underprivileged class is a unique case of ballet reaching out to the masses.

Lisa Macuja in "Heto Na Naman" Christmas number. Her title "ballerina ng Bayan" is grounded on Philippine reality. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

Lisa Macuja in “Heto Na Naman” Christmas number. Her title “ballerina ng Bayan” is grounded on Philippine reality. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

As it is, the company’s outreach tours keep ballet alive in both urban and rural setting. When the two social classes merge in an evening of ballet, you finally see the unifying elements of the arts.

This was evident in Ballet Manila’s “Nutkraker: Pasko Na Naman Muli” which opened with excerpts from this Christmas favorite associated with Masha, The Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy.

Opening number was Act II of The Nutcracker, with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Vassily Vainonen and re-staged by Osias Barroso and Natalia Raldugina.

The Rose Waltz showed the company ensemble at their Christmassy best.

Garbed in white with illusions of snow in the background, the BM corps de ballet was a sight delightful to the bourgeoisie and even more astounding to the masses.

Following various lines in assorted poses and moving as one, the company ensemble created magic. Indeed without a good corps de ballet, a Nutcracker treat with good soloists is nothing without a versatile ensemble.

The children's favorite in Ballet Manila's Christmas treat. The "Kumukutikutitap" number to the music of Cayabyab. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

The children’s favorite in Ballet Manila’s Christmas treat. The “Kumukutikutitap” number to the music of Cayabyab. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez)

Speaking of soloists, the evening saw the unexpected Sugar Plum Fairy of Dawna Mangahas who took the place of prima ballerina Lisa Macuja who had neck spasms on the day of the gala night.

What was remarkable about Mangahas is that she could respond to a fellow dancer in distress and still live up to the challenge.

The Nutcracker Grand Adagio isn’t an easy part to pull off with its tricky technical demands on both soloist and its four cavaliers danced by Alfren Salgado, Manny Febra, Michael Divinagracia and Francis Jaena.

The lifts — and there are many – were manageable but passing on the Sugar Plum Fairy from one cavalier to another was another challenge on top of showing perfect balance.

Mangahas triumphed not just in her variations but in the dazzling coda with her Prince ably danced by Elpidio Magat. Like it or not, you could see potential heirs to the throne of Macuja while the danseurs are quickly evolving from virtual beginners to seasoned performers.

With a huge Christmas tree as stage centerpiece, the Filipino choreographies by Barroso, Divinagracia, Gerardo Francisco, Rudy de Dios, Jonathan Janolo and Francis Jaena unreeled from one number to the other and getting a huge share of audience applause.

Ballet Manila's dance scholars in last night's concert. They are the future of ballet. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez(

Ballet Manila’s dance scholars in last night’s concert. They are the future of ballet. (Photos by: Ocs Bel Alvarez(

Barroso’s “Pasko Na Naman” to the music performed by Joey Albert was a delightful opener but nothing beats the participation of the Ballet Futures scholars in” Lata Ang Aming Tambol”/”Mano Po Ninong” to the music of the Apo Hiking Society and Janet Arnaiz.

The kids in the audience instantly connected and here you see the future of Philippine ballet all in one setting and making a grand statement that with the right support, we can build a good future for them.

The all-male ensemble in Francisco’s “Labindalawang Araw ng Pasko” to the music of the APO Hiking Society was another well-applauded number and so did the magical show of light and shadows in Janea’s “Kutitap” again to the music performed by Joey Albert.

Macuja was well enough to join the ensemble in Jaena’s “Heto Na naman” with Brian Williamson and to the music of Cayabyab.

Capped with “X-Mas Disco Medley,” the crowd got heated up clapping and raring to join the action on stage.

If the objective was simply to bring joy and cheers, Ballet Manila’s “Nutkraker: Pasko Na Naman Muli” succeeded on many fronts.

It was a sight to see audiences from both the privileged and underprivileged classes hypnotized by the lure of dance.

(“ Nutkraker: Pasko Na Naman Muli ” has another run on Nov. 30, Dec. 5, Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 at Aliw Theater, CCP Complex, Pasay City. Ballet Manila’s 19th performance season is presented by the Manila Broadcasting Company and sponsored by Aliw Theater and Star City, along with ACS Manufacturing Corporation (Pride and Shield Bath Soap), First United Travel, BPI Express Credit, Island Rose, Ralph’s Wines and Spirits, Krispy Kreme, Hen Lin, Papa John’s Pizza and Crunchybelly by Carlos Kitchen. For tickets and other inquiries, call Ballet Manila at 525-5967 and 400-0292, e-mailinfo@balletmanila.com.ph or visit http://www.balletmanila.com.ph; or call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph. )

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