Girding for its 50th anniversary next season, Ballet Philippines (BP) presented “Exemplars,” an ambitious program that revisited ’70s classics which defined the company’s style.
“Exemplars” was eye candy: a sequence of Instagram-worthy body lines, well-rehearsed steps and zesty physicality that substituted performance intention. The dancing was proficient but lightweight for a vintage modern dance repertoire.
The concert was made unforgettable by former BP soloist and now guest artist, Ronelson Yadao, whose high-impact performance of “Songs of the Wayfarer” melted the hearts of the most jaded viewer. He stood out not only for authentic technique and style but also for his acting intelligence.
American choreographer Norman Walker was inspired by Gustav Mahler’s song cycle about a man who lost the love of his life when she got married. His obsession with her followed him until his eternal rest under the linden tree.
Yadao’s contractions weren’t just correct executions of a curved torso but a portrait of sorrow and isolation. Wired with nerves, his taut body quivered from stillness to a sudden outburst of emotion. His spiraling torso released energies of vulnerability. His dancing exemplified the vintage BP style—complete engagement of the body and soul even in the smallest gesture.
But the ensemble inadequately rehearsed in Walker’s style. Their execution of the movements was shallow, thus producing underplayed emotions.
More storytelling than dancing, Gener Caringal’s “Ang Sultan” was about a princess who eloped with a slave and was punished by her father. We saw this in the ’80s, with a live orchestra and a kulintang and Maranaw gongs that created the ambiance of a royal household. Due to budgetary constraints, the dance was accompanied by a muffled ’70s recording under the baton of the late National Artist and composer Lucrecia Kasilag.
The narrative ballet was not the right vehicle for Jemima Reyes and Victor Maguad, brilliant technicians but not actors. Despite her exotic looks, Reyes failed to inhabit the mystery and danger of a Southern princess. A dancer with refined quality like Maguad was miscast as a testosterone-driven consort/slave. Missing in rapport and emotional investment, the lovers’ rapture of passion was reduced to a display of partnering skills.
Some of Caringal’s dramatic devices were the mime and the corps’ angular hand placements to symbolically denote the princess bound by royal household. However, the dancers didn’t seem to understand commitment to role. Hence, the mime was fudged, and the choreographer’s objectives were lost.
Pauline Koner’s “Concertino,” an abstract piece for female dancers, was characterized by irregular rhythms and quirky hand gestures and classic modern dance steps such as prances and earthbound footwork. Although the ensemble danced their hearts out, they needed more involvement of the whole body, breadth to enhance expressiveness and timing for the complicated counter rhythms.
Alice Reyes’ “Amada” retold Nick Joaquin’s “Summer Solstice,” his celebrated story between the clash between Christianity and paganism and the battle of the sexes.
Reyes’ choreography called for balancing the force of gravity between the body and the ground, as well as full breadth of movement and counter rhythms as highlighted by Kasilag’s score. The intensity in the earlier productions had diminished to trivialized earthbound steps and the incomplete sweep of the movements. Nonetheless, the audience was mesmerized by the novelty of the wailing scene in a pagan ritual (although truncated) and appreciated the sincere efforts of the company.
The only neoclassic ballet in the show, Moñeca Aponte’s “Valse,” delighted the audience with its crowd-pleasing leaps, high extensions and clean body lines. The dancers were in their element, showing youth and verve in this athletic number.
It would take several performances of “Exemplars” before the dancers could acquire the BP DNA. Still, they tried their best to connect with the audience. There were some glimmering moments of them being “in the zone” that brought the audience to their feet in the end. —CONTRIBUTED