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PERFORMING ARTS

High marks for physical power, but challenged by style

/ 03:11 AM September 24, 2018

The return of Ballet Philippines (BP) founder and artistic director Alice Reyes after a long absence was envisioned to revitalize the company. Since her return, Reyes has been refreshing modern dance choreographies created more than 40 years ago to show the company’s evolution to a millennial audience.

During the Sunday matinee sans live music, the BP dancers were at their best. Winning the audience with their high-octane energy, they hurled themselves gracefully across the space and stretched their bodies to the extreme limits of their physicality. Ninety-five percent of the time, the ensemble performed with precision.

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While they got high marks in physical power, the company was still challenged by style and interpretation which were crucial to the revivals.

Different choreographers

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For this season, Reyes wanted to show the different generations of choreographers. Dancer Ronelson Yadao, a millennial, was tasked to create a fun piece to show off BP’s strength in its male dance corps. Set to Ryan Cayabyab’s music, “Sama Sama” integrated the upright bodies of classical ballet with off-center movements and one-handed somersaults. The choppy choreography flow was compensated by the danseurs’ exuberance and synchronized multiple turns.

When he was a dancer, Brando Miranda was elegantly supportive of his partners, showing off ballerinas at their best advantage and making them appear ethereal. In the early ’80s, he created a neoclassical suite for three couples, based on Antonio Vivaldi’s concertos. The work tested the partnering skills of the men and the strength of the women. But the beautiful simplicity of the piece might have disclosed the limitations of the dancers such as wrong timing in lifts and lack of purity in the classical style.

Premiered in 1972, Norman Walker’s “Season in Flight” was about two men from different camps fighting over a woman. When the protagonist kills his rival, the dynamics of his relationship with the woman changes.

Walker’s choreography was strongly influenced by Martha Graham’s technique, replete with geometric lines and tense physical rigor. The movement patterns of the group were references to the flight patterns of migrant birds.

“Seasons” would have been more powerful if BP’s new generation were thoroughly immersed in the classic modern dance technique. The movements needed suspension and expansive breaths to give the illusion of flight and fluidity of birds.

Abstract scenario

Reyes’ “Carmina Burana,” was set to Carl Orff’s oratorio. The sparse program notes hardly explained the gist of the choreography. It was about man’s musings on destiny and the profundities and profanities of life. The choreography appeared like an abstract scenario of interchanging solos, duets and group dances.

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We got the impression that the dancers were rehearsed to be fully in the service of the movements rather than expressing the mood or idea of each song. We wondered if the white capes at the end were used merely for theatrical effect or had symbolism. What was the purpose of the huge set—a giant rock with a burning flame
—designed by the late National Artist Salvador Bernal, if there was little interaction between it and the dancers?

“Carmina Burana” was filled with percussive movements, hinges or hip thrusts, coiling and recoiling torsos, deep-centered contractions and off-center balances. But the dancers’ attack was too light for an earthy piece and they seemed timid to take risks in off-center movements. —CONTRIBUTED

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TAGS: Ballet Philippines (BP)
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