No other dance company in the Philippines can perform with vigor, zeal and sheer power like Ballet Manila (BM).
In its world premiere of the Filipino full-length ballet “Ibong Adarna,” the dancers engulfed the space like unleashed tribes. The performance looked as if the soloists and the corps had gulped a whole carton of caffeine-filled energy drinks.
The production amazed the audience with a never-ending upsurge of visual spectacle, energetic dances and an intense fight scene.
BM has always shown great faith in its principal and resident choreographer, Gerardo Francisco, whose style is characterized by vitality, angular arm movements and fleeting pace.
Francisco faithfully follows the popular epic of King Valeriano of Berbanya, whose illness can be cured only by the music of Ibong Adarna. His sons, Don Pedro (Elpidio Magat) and Don Diego (Rudolph Capongcol), seek out the mystical bird in the forest but fall under her spell. Ibong Adarna’s droppings turn them into stone.
The king’s youngest son, Don Juan (Anselmo Dictado), tries his luck. Along the way, he meets a hungry Ermitanyo (Bodjie Pascua), whom the prince shows compassion.
In return, the hermit teaches Juan how to protect himself from the bird’s spell. He also gives the prince a golden rope to catch the bird and the bucket to be filled with water to bring the older brothers back to life.
Francisco’s choreography highlighted the strength of the company’s legs and arms. Their legs were the power behind BM’s trademark stage-devouring leaps.
It was a crowd-pleaser to see a battalion of dancers flinging themselves to composer Diwa de Leon’s eclectic, grandiose and throbbing music.
We wondered if the choreography could still go anywhere, or if the audience would suffer a heart attack from watching one exhaustive dance after another.
Surprisingly Francisco still had some tricks up his sleeve as the ballet unfolded. Each scene summoned picturesque wonders of moods and energies, thanks to the set design by Make it Happen Workshop and lighting by Jay Aranda.
In the dance of the fireflies by the female corps, the play of finger lights in a blackened stage was evocative of the firefly-watching tour on Iwahig River, Palawan.
Ibong Adarna (Katherine Barkman) literally flew from the wings on a high wire.
Then there was the comic relief from a band of monkeys, gleefully played to the hilt by BM 2 and its trainees, led by John Ralph Balagot.
Keeping in character as the elusive Adarna bird, United Kingdom-based singer Gia Macuja Atchison delivered the vocal highlights.
Francisco also drew inspiration from ethnic dances such as the flexed arms and feet, the crouched posture and heavy, earthy movements, typical of tribes from Northern Luzon and Mindanao.
“The bird is mysterious. You don’t know what she’ll do next. She can be nice but also wicked,” Francisco said in Tagalog.
Barkman tried to reveal Adarna’s emotional interiors through her fluid arms and sculptural interpretation of the choreography.
However, subtlety was found wanting. After a while, we felt some adrenaline-fatigue, especially as the ensemble choreography tended to look redundant and danced by numbers, as they say, de numero.
Give “Ibong Adarna” more performances, and the female corps can show the clear difference between royal maidens of the palace and amazons in the jungle. The cast members would need time to grow into their roles to add more expressive details instead of just delivering monumental effects.
Not all the costumes were flattering. The flesh-tone costume of Ibong Adarna made the performers look bulky instead of flattering their figures.
Still, “Ibong Adarna” captured the imagination of the non-balletomane public.
It’s also a ballet that says a lot about BM as a dynamic company that likes the impressive gestures. —CONTRIBUTED