View From The Wings – Ballet Manila’s February 28 Gala
by Pablo A. Tariman

There is a lot that Ballet Manila can be proud of on its 20th year.

Its visions are clear, the hard work remains its hallmark and it is equally focused on its future.

Scene from "Bloom." Brilliant choreography by  Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. (Photo by Graham Watts)

Scene from “Bloom.” Brilliant choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. (Photo by Graham Watts)

One of its founding members and now its artistic director, Lisa Macuja Elizalde, is close to tears as she addressed the gala night audience, “There is a lot to celebrate tonight and here’s hoping for another equally fruitful 20 years.”

If you have covered the performing arts in the last 35 years, you will know how hard it is to survive as a dance company and how much harder it is to survive as performing artists.

But as one watched the pas de ‘action from Paquita, quicksilver turns and all, you know the company has imbibed a lot from its Russian Vaganova training.

The most exciting thing about “Paquita” is its young and energetic corps de ballet with the music pulsating through their highly synchronized movements.

Soloist Abigail Oliveiro gave it all she could and emerged confident and impressive. The very reassuring smile never left her face even as there were some unsteady moments in the danseur’s partnering.

Brian Williamson is a gallant partner and you can see how he made something very reassuring for the ballerina to leap through difficult jumps and equally demanding turns.

The result is a dazzling “Paquita” which set the joyous mode for the evening.

This is one’s first glimpse of Christine Rocas and Joffrey Ballet colleague Rory Hohenstein and there is no denying the perfect rapport.

Triumphant curtain call for Ballet Manila. They deserved that spontaneous standing ovation. (Photo by Kayla Coseteng)

Triumphant curtain call for Ballet Manila. They deserved that spontaneous standing ovation. (Photo by Kayla Coseteng)

In this contemporary version of “Romeo and Juliet” with choreography by Krzysztof Pastor and music by Prokofiev, Rocas and Hohenstein made a highly defined interpretation of the contemporary lovers.

Their everyday look and attire made it closer to home. The turns were more natural and less balletic and the intricate choreography made it more contemporary than classical. Their bodies blended beautifully in every lift and turn and fully attuned to the music. One must say they were perfect delight to watch. The subtle kissing scene sealed a marvelous choreography.

In the last number of the first part, there is no doubt that the work of Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa was the highlight of the evening.

Aptly entitled “Bloom,” the new work registered at once with a composite all-male ensemble in Bali-inspired costume. The initial movements gave it a highly appealing regional flavor.

To the music of Philip Glass’ “Violin Concerto,” the dancers’ entrance were dramatic as the stage lights descended as if to say this is pure dancing: no sets and just bodies.

 A dazzling "Paquita" on BM's 20th year gala.

A dazzling “Paquita” on BM’s 20th year gala.

This is the most versatile male ensemble one has seen in a long time and choreographer Ochoa made full use of them.
The result is vibrant choreography, more Asian than Western, and totally hypnotic.

When the four female dancers gradually emerged, the choreographer’s genius was all the more evident. Ochoa has a way with movements and a way with leaps and turns that said something totally Asian.

That was a really beautiful duet in the second movement featuring Dawna Reign Mangahas and Mark Sumaylo.

The last movement was even more astounding as choreographer virtually sculpted all she could from the dancers’ bodies. Nothing like this has been seen on the local ballet stage in a long, long time.

Like it or not, “Bloom” was a beautiful crown on Ballet Manila’s 20th year.

Osias Barroso’s “Ecole” to the music of Carl Czerny gave the audience a complete picture of how dancers train, what basic steps are perfected, how to make leaps more natural than dangerous.

The presence of young scholars made it more touching with their mentors patiently guiding them.

Ballet is hard work so to speak and “Ecole” made that clear. It is also labor of love because you don’t get rich even after many opening nights. But if there is something that “Ecole” carved for ballet audience to understand, it is the fact that perfection doesn’t come overnight.

However, those daily ballet dancers’ routine became more appealing with Barroso’s highly imaginative choreography.

The pioneers of Ballet Manila during the gala night. (Photo by A. Oreta)

The pioneers of Ballet Manila during the gala night. (Photo by A. Oreta)

The dancers and the choreographer certainly deserved that spontaneous standing ovation.

Elizalde summed up a few things that have helped define the company in the last 20 years among them its commitment to the highest standard of classical ballet. She said the company is proud of its alumni making waves internationally and it has an eye on going global through international choreographers. “We aim for other things as well like the fulfillment of our mission of ballet to the people through our OPM/ Pinoy choreographies, and of course, our belief in nurturing the Filipino talent through our school.”

(Ballet Manila will have its matinee today at Aliw Theater 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. BALLET MANILA 2.0 at 11 am today Sunday , March 1 and at 3pm. For tickets and other inquiries, please contact Ballet Manila at tel. nos. 525-5967 or 400-0292, via e-mail at info@balletmanila.com.ph or through the website http://www.balletmanila.com.ph; or Ticketworld at 891-9999 or ticketworld.com.ph.)

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