Much to do with the success of Philippine Ballet Theater’s “Cinderella” was that it was like a bespoke Chanel suit: simple, classic, timeless.
On opening night at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, PBT artistic director Ronilo Jaynario relives the Jean-Paul Comelin choreography, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev, of the rags-to-riches tale of a girl who is made a servant by her stepmother and stepsisters but ends up marrying a prince, thanks to her fairy godmother, a midnight curfew, and glass slippers (or glittery pointe shoes, in this case) that fit.
Maxine Sy was the likeable Cinderella, who politely maintained smoldering eye contact with Lemuel Capa’s tall and—very—charming prince. Both looked light and nimble on their feet, but perhaps a little too careful not to make mistakes in what seemed like endless pas-de-deux sets.
Stellar supporting cast included Anatoly Panasyukov, who played the evil stepmother role to perfection. Former PBT members Joel Matias and Mario Esperanza were the class act in drag as the (really, really) ugly sisters.
Actor Miguel Faustman of Repertory Theater was responsible for the laudable set design, with familiar props from previous plays, such as the giant horse heads from last year’s “Equus” play.
Unfortunately, all the make-believe and fairytale endings (and reportedly, ovations and sponsor-sold shows in succeeding nights) could not belie the constant struggle with theater seats that needed to be filled.
Perhaps it was Maniya Barredo’s sheer presence, or all those hours of training with the country’s first prima ballerina barely a month before mounting Thomas Pazik’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The entire PBT cast seemed in high spirits for, ironically, a tragic story of star-crossed lovers, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, kept apart by their warring families and only united in death.
One could see nothing but confident and inspired dancing, especially from the three concubines of Team Montague—Tiffany Mangulabnan, Isabel Guidote and Lea de Guzman—in every scene.
Wearing brightly colored flouncy skirts, the three provided respite from the tragedy that everyone knew would come in the end.
Peter San Juan was the coolest Mercutio—lyrical and effortless as a comedic dancer—even while dying from the fatal sword wound inflicted by Lemuel Capa as the sneering Tybalt, who, it turned out, was having an affair with Maritoni Rufino Tordesillas as the resplendent Lady Capulet.
Barredo, director of Metropolitan Ballet Theater in Atlanta, told this writer she could not resist when PBT asked her about the project a year ago.
“It is my favorite ballet because it is real, it is love, it hurts and makes you cry,” said the petite Barredo.
As part of the company’s pre-show training, Barredo taught and coached the dancers everyday—and it showed.
“Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until somebody comes and helps you,” Barredo said. “This company has it all—it’s just a matter of putting them together.”
There will also be future collaborations next year, such as a dance conservatory to help popularize ballet. As part of a cultural exchange, she brought Mangulabnan back with her to MBT for a brief stint with the group.
Also part of the exchange were MBT students Naomi Hergott and David Kiyak, whom Maniya brought to star in the production. Both were stunning in skill, lyricism and expression when they danced their solos as Juliet and Romeo, respectively, but their energies seemed to clash when they came together. Their pas de deux looked heavy and somewhat forced on opening night.
PBT is different from the two other major Philippine ballet companies, Ballet Manila and Ballet Philippines, in the sense that PBT is made up of several dance academies governed by a board of trustees.
This year’s wackier and obviously more enthusiastic set had been very aggressive to collect what was needed to be raised for the production. There was obviously more than enough budget set aside for elegant costumes and impressive sets in this show.
“That’s what happens when you get people behind a production that everybody believes in,” said trustee Marie O’Connor.
PBT ends its season with “The Nutcracker” on November 19 (11 a.m. and 6 p.m.) and 20 (11 a.m. and 4 p.m.) at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines in Pasay City.