Ballet Manila has an interesting twin-bill for its holiday treat and with contrasting flavors at that.
It opened with an austere, poignant “Sonata” (choreographed by Osias Barroso) to the full music of Elgar’s Sonata in E Minor, Opus 82, for Violin and Piano. Providing live music is British violinist Robert Atchison with Russian pianist Olga Dudnik on the piano.
Subtitled “Love’s Awakening with a Kiss,” “Sonata” is a complicated piece to interpret owing to the cerebral nature of the music. But you actually warm up to both the music and the choreography as the story unfolds.
Danced by Hana Oh and Harold Salgado with a corps de ballet, “Sonata” wove its own magic when music and choreography found their common link.
Salgado is a very competent partner and a very supportive one. A highly lyrical dancer with a luminous face is Oh, whose subtle acting gives you a romantic clue as to what the piece is all about.
It must be unsettling playing a three-movement sonata with the stage filled with thuds of dancers entering and exiting the stage. Even in this uncommon collaborative setup, Atchison and Dudnik proved a tried-and-tested chamber duo.
The first movement was a good opener for the piece; one soloist froze for the start of the second movement and all at once you could feel the poetry of the piece. The music didn’t have a hard time finding its way into the supple bodies of the dancers.
“Sonata” was a fitting tribute to the 150th birth anniversary of Sir Edward William Elgar.
One has seen several versions of “Cinderella” in the past based on the classic tale by Charles Perrault and the Grimm brothers. But Hazel Sabas-Gower’s story adaptation that localized the tale has many things going for it.
For one, the set design by Katsch Catoy and costume design by PJ Arañador easily set the mood of the story.
The ballet proper opened with brilliant character actors Jonathan Janolo as Traviesa the stepmom; Gerardo Francisco as Avaricia the lazy stepsister; and Michael Divinagracia as the controlling stepsister, whose every move had the audience guffawing with every naughty move they had as they harass poor Sinderela, played by Jennifer Rose Olayvar.
Ballet on reality TV
Talent search on television was realistically incorporated into this ballet, complete with screaming fans, interviews with contestants, and male lead Al Prinsipe (Nazer Salgado) appearing in a TV interview.
Gower’s adaptation changed the setting of the grand ball to a dance audition like the myriad of talent-search shows on television. Even in this setting, the choreography allowed breath-taking solo variations and grand pas, which all the more highlighted the original flavor of the choreography.
Hana Oh as Tita Nia and nature enchantress is one dancer blessed with a beautiful body and an arresting face that can convey joy and sadness with the least effort. Her dancing—never blatant or showing off—revealed familiarity with the score. She is one big additional asset to Ballet Manila.
The acting and dancing challenges of “Sinderela” are no less daunting than in “Swan Lake” or “Giselle.” The solo variations and grand pas required no less, and Salgado shone.
The Sinderela of Olayvar lived up to the acting challenge, but it was easy to see in the last grand pas that the choreography required so much power and stamina and was bound to drain. She managed beautifully but the big effort showed.
The other big attractions of the ballet are the superb ensemble dancing of the corps de ballet playing the roles of the Garden Spirits; the Time/Clock Spirits; the female auditionees and dance assistants.
By the way the audience reacted, one could gauge that this ballet was a winner.
True enough, this updated “Sinderela” by Gower is a show-stopper. Scene by scene, the ballet is as timely as last night’s talent search. The highly innovative choreography has the immense challenge of “Swan Lake” and “Giselle,” and the dancing and acting of the stepsisters had audiences rolling on the floor with laughter.
The popular show-biz inputs notwithstanding, this localized version of “Cinderella” managed to live up to the powerful Prokofiev score with aplomb!
We look forward to more choreographic gems from Hazel Sabas-Gower!