World ballet stars dazzle Manila audience

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“LE CORSAIRE”

For the second year in a row, Ballet Manila (BM) brought to Manila some of today’s best dancers in “World Stars of Ballet,” a couple of galas that introduced local ballet enthusiasts to world-class dancing.

The performers, all principals from some of the biggest dance companies, provided a rare experience to see star-studded performances on one stage in Manila. Performing alongside the guest dancers were Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Ballet Manila. Experienced theatergoers found it hard to compare the homegrown dancers from their foreign counterparts because the level of proficiency of BM’s dancers was just as accomplished and committed.

Where do you start with such a wide-ranging program? Easily the crowd favorite during the gala performance on June 8 was the pairing of Cuban couple Yoel Carreño and Yolanda Correa Frias, both from the Norwegian National Ballet, in “Diane and Acteon,” a dazzling pas de deux choreographed by the Russian ballet pedagogue Agrippina Vaganova.

Carreño seemed to defy gravity with the Herculean leaps that punctuate his solo, while Correa Frias was quick and delicate in her solos. It wasn’t surprising that the audience erupted in wild applause after their piece. You rarely see dancing of this kind in Manila, where every step elicits gasps of amazement.

“World Stars of Ballet” gave local balletomanes a chance to experience the choreography of the great George Balanchine, which is rare considering the cost of licensing his ballets. Two excerpts were featured: the Mariinsky Theater’s Daria Pavlenko and Yevgeny Ivanchenko in the “Diamonds” section from the choreographer’s “Jewels” and an excerpt from “Apollo” featuring American Ballet Theater’s Paloma Herrera and Maxim Beloserkovsky.

Crowd-pleaser

Of the two pieces, “Apollo” proved to be a crowd-pleaser. It was astonishing later to discover that they had yet to dance the piece in New York. Their duet in Manila was just a taste of what Americana audiences would later discover. Their performance literally glowed with the wonder of discovery.

It might have moved with the measured sureness of the “Diamonds” duet, but the variety of invention Balanchine invested in the piece makes it a winner. And Herrera and Beloserkovsky brought to it a sense of newness that audiences would have found in it when it was first shown in 1928. The final image of Herrera literally floating on Beloserkovsky’s back in simulation of flight was breathtaking.

Balanchine’s “Diamonds” was much cooler in temperament than the “Apollo” excerpt, since it highlighted the lyrical side of the dancers. In a program of duets, one would expect a series of popular pas de deux in succession; this set piece provided a contrast to the evening’s pyrotechnics, and Pavlenko and Ivanchenko showed their artistry and their ability to keep you spellbound in this number.

Showstopper

Another showstopper was Pas de Trois from “Le Corsaire,” which gathered together Aleksandra Timofeeva of the Kremlin Ballet; Dmitri Gruzdev of the English National Ballet; and Ballet Manila’s Nazer Salgado.

Salgado seemed like an afterthought as Conrad, since Gruzdev assumed most of the solos; the BM soloist would have his chance to shine later in the night

Gruzdev might seem too mature for the role of Ali, but his leaps and turns were simply astonishing. Timofeeva was impressive in Medora’s solos, her fouettés whetting one’s appetite to see more of her in equally demanding roles.

Timofeeva showcased her lyrical side earlier in the evening in the Balcony Scene from “Romeo and Juliet” with the Royal Ballet’s David Mahkateli. The sense of ardent passion between the two dancers was palpable, finding ultimate release as the two lovers kiss as they bid each other farewell.

Perhaps this piece was too easy for Makhateli, but Manila ballet goers will have the chance to see more of him in October in Ballet Manila’s production of “Giselle.”

It wasn’t surprising that  Elizalde chose to present herself in the “Don Quixote” Grand Pas de Deux, paired with Ballet Manila’s Rudy de Dios. The ballerina is scheduled to say goodbye to the role of Kitri, one of her signature dance roles, this October as part of her Swan Song series.

There was a sense of fun and occasion in Elizalde’s performance. The impish smile was still there, and the athletic fouettés were just as impeccable; it’s really surprising that she’s officially bidding farewell to this ballet in a couple of months.

De Dios has gradually transformed into a fierce dancer. There seems to be nothing that he can’t do. Becoming Elizalde’s regular partner has sharpened his talent to the full. Comparing his performance to those of his foreign counterparts was pointless; he was just as good as them.

Mixed alongside with the set pieces were choreography specially created for Ballet Manila. Hazel Sabas-Gower’s “Green” takes its inspiration from the four elements in a joyful neo-classical piece set to the music of Bach. Gerardo Francisco’s “Limang Dipang Tao” offered an opportunity to presents the scholars of Ballet Manila’s Project Ballet Futures, an endowment that provides scholarships to talented but disadvantaged youths.

New dance

Augustus Damian has been a regular Ballet Manila collaborator, and the gala featured three of his choreographies. “Sotto Voce,” a lyrical piece for six ballerinas, highlighted demanding pointe work, while “Reconfigured” challenged the company’s male dancers to intense and powerful dancing.

A new dance, “Widmung,” which paid homage to the late Tony Fabella, was a combination of strength and delicacy. Stephanie Eunice Cabral and Arnulfo Andrade Jr. brought youth and beauty to this ravishing piece.

The show also previewed Ballet Manila’s Joan Emery Sia and Elpidio Magat in the Pas de Deux from “Giselle.” The two, along with Cabral and Andrade, were scheduled to perform at the 2012 Beijing International Ballet Invitational.

What both Sia and Magat simply lacked were the experience of years, but in terms of technique and ability they had down pat the demanding choreography of this ballet. More opportunities to dance the roles of Giselle and Albrecht will definitely hone their emotional attachment to the ballet.

The opening night was brought to a close with Tony Fabella’s “Dancing to Verdi.” It is a joyful piece that gave  Elizalde and partner Nazer Salgado a chance to draw the evening with splendid performances.

This ballet gala was not just an off-season performance for Ballet Manila. If this dance series continues in the coming years, it could just become a must-watch in the annual cultural calendar.

Where else will you get a chance to experience thrilling dance performance by world ballet stars right in our own backyard?

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