Wiser, bolder, more adventurous” are Ballet Philippines’ (BP) key words for its coming 53rd season.
Artistic director Mikhail “Misha” Martynyuk has amped up the dancers’ technique and conceptualized new works calculated to present BP in a rousing new light. Pivotal to his job is designing the repertoire.
The gala “Dance Here and Now” on Sept. 17 kicks off the season at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The program features “Paquita,” a classic about the romance between a French officer and an aristocrat who was raised as a gypsy. It climaxes with virtuosic variations in its lauded “Grand Pas Classique.” Rounding off Act One is the famed “Bolero,” set to French composer Maurice Ravel’s music.
Completing the program is Martynyuk’s “Equus” (horse in Latin), a metaphor for the dancer’s workhorse ethic. Inspired by the pandemic lockdowns, it features dancers moving as though in a restricted space. Not wanting to reveal much detail, he simply said in an email, “You will see something unexpected, especially in the scenography.”
The Christmas special features the dependable warhorse “The Nutcracker” on Dec. 17 to Dec. 18. Martynyuk’s take on this festive favorite is more character-driven, unlike others that focus on spectacle. The audience should discern the mise en scene (narrative and staging), he said. “All characters should come to life. My classic version is filled with different characters and magic that kids will enjoy.”
For BP OnStream, Martynyuk choreographed a video, “Dance Through Time,” about the evolution of dance. It will be uploaded on the website (ballet.ph).
The season-ended on Mar. 17 to Mar. 18, 2023, “Tatlong Pag-ibig ni Rizal,” presents the national hero’s life and loves, with choreography by American BP guest artist Joseph Phillips.
Technique, lines, charisma
Martynyuk has been building the dancers’ stamina and fine-tuning their movements, focusing on such details as the position of the hands, head and shoulders.
“I pay more attention than usual to balance and pliés (knee bends that provide spring and balance) because they are the basic elements that we can control,” he said.
And he’s been getting positive results, Martynyuk noted. “The dancers respond well to my corrections and pick up choreography very quickly. The dynamics of their movements have improved tremendously. I am impressed with each dancer’s hard work and progress. We are ready.”
Martynyuk has witnessed BP’s undeterred evolution from the start of his term in April 2020. Due to global health restrictions, he had to teach remotely from Russia for two seasons. But since he and his family arrived back in the country early this year, he has kept his nose to the grindstone. At this writing, BP has 19 dancers, plus 11 guest artists from Philippine Ballet Theater and five from Ballet Manila.
The bigger the group, he said, the better possibilities one sees as artistic director. “Each dancer is unique. You notice some for strong technique; others, for beautiful lines; still others, for charisma. They complement one another in shaping a strong and competitive company.”
He is committed to the quest. For the ongoing Masterclass—BP’s free online classes given by international ballet stars and teachers—Martynyuk hopes to invite Ukranian danseur Vladimir Malakhov, one of the world’s greatest.
Despite the language barrier between himself and the company, he has experienced the enduring benefits of communication. “My whole career with BP has been one big lesson. Working with famous Filipino artists, dancers, respected figures from the different arts, I have retained our conversations and their methods in my head. Now I get to use all of those.”
Meanwhile, a Capricorn as head of an organization is a force to reckon with. BP president Kathleen Liechtenstein bolstered the company’s presence during the pandemic via its online platform, BP OnStream, on its website (ballet.ph). The virtual launch of BP’s 52nd season last year was attended by more than 100 media guests and supporters and generated some P2.35 million worth of public relations value.
Eleven video productions carried a diverse range of themes—fashion, patriotism, domestic tourism, mental health, art and nature in collaboration with different organizations—and have been watched by a total of over 75,000 viewers at the latest count.
A total of 1,783 registered for 57 master classes conducted by international guest artists. Two live roundtable discussions drew 50,000 viewers. BP launched its podcast on Spotify, “BP Barre Talks,” whose aim is to cultivate a new audience. Over 30,000 enthusiasts from 50 counties have visited ballet.ph to date.
Renowned American guest choreographer John McFall conducted 38 online rehearsals for “Ancient World,” one of BP’s most widely viewed video performances on the website.
Since its launch in 2020, BP OnStream has attracted 83,250 visitors as of June 30 this year.
Filling the gap
Since the dance companies are still financially impacted by the pandemic, BP recently launched the Guest Artist Program (GAP), which urges dancers from Philippine Ballet Theater and Ballet Manila to stay in top shape via a joint training.
“This is not a coalition of companies to produce a concert,” Liechtenstein clarifies. “The program aims to financially sustain the dancers while helping them maintain high performance skills.”
Those who pass the auditions attend BP classes and rehearsals and receive a salary grant from board chair Antonio Cojuangco and patroness Mercedes Zobel. The package also includes health insurance, dance shoes and costumes. Liechtenstein notes that the companies signed a memorandum of agreement so that the guest artists could still maintain employment in their respective groups.
Addressing talk that the board has taken over the artistic director’s role of carving out the company’s identity, Liechtenstein explains: “As president, I don’t even know what Misha is up to until he tells me. He says, ‘This is what I want’—he is attuned to what’s happening in dance companies worldwide, post-COVID. ‘Bolder BP’ is all his. He will do it. I just ask, ‘What do you want from us? He gives us the costing, we approve, and perhaps see what can we do without.”
She commends Martynyuk for being flexible with regards to working conditions, such as teaching and rehearsing at Studio One at the CCP Complex, an additional dance space to the CCP Rehearsal Hall. It has no air conditioning. In 2014, it was built out of four container vans donated by shipping heiress Doris Magsaysay-Ho.
“Misha is very charismatic,” Liechtenstein notes. “Dancers just love him—adore him, even. The discipline that he instills has opened their minds to what is out there. So they are more confident and more motivated. And they are happier.” —CONTRIBUTED INQ