There is a lot that Ballet Manila can be proud of on its 20th year.
Its vision is clear. Hard work remains its hallmark and it is equally focused on the future.
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.
The most exciting thing about “Paquita” is its young and energetic corps de ballet with the music pulsating through the dancers’ highly synchronized movements.
Soloist Abigail Oliveiro gave it all and she 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 was a gallant partner and one could see how he made something very reassuring for the ballerina to leap through difficult jumps and equally demanding turns.
The result was a dazzling “Paquita” which set the joyous mode for the evening.
Audience was provided with its first glimpse of Christine Rocas and Joffrey Balletcolleague Rory Hohenstein. There was no denying they had perfect rapport.
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.
Their everyday look and attire made the dance 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, fully attuned to the music. The subtle kissing sealed the marvelous choreography.
No doubt the work of Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa was the highlight of the evening.
Aptly titled “Bloom,” the new work registered at once with the audience with its 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 entered dramatically as the stage lights descended as if to say this was pure dancing: No sets and just bodies.
The result was vibrant choreography, more Asian than Western, and totally hypnotic.
When the four female dancers emerged, the choreographer’s genius was all the more evident. Their leaps and turns said something totally Asian.
In the second movement, Dawna Reign Mangahas and Mark Sumaylo did a beautiful duet.
The last movement was even more astounding: The choreographer sculpted all she could from the dancers’ bodies. “Bloom” was a beautiful crown on Ballet Manila’s 20th year.
Osias Barroso’s “Ecole,” set 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.
Ballet is hard work and “Ecole” made that clear. It is also a labor of love because you don’t get rich even after many opening nights. If there is something that “Ecole” carved for ballet audience to understand, it is the fact that perfection doesn’t come overnight.
The dancers and the choreographer certainly deserved the standing ovation.
Elizalde summed up a few things that she said had helped define the company in the last 20 years. She said BM was committed to the highest standard of classical ballet. She added the company was proud of its alumni making waves internationally and it had an eye on going global through international choreographers.
“We aim for other things as well,” she added, “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.”