Ballet Manila opens 26th season with ‘Le Corsaire’

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Abigail Oliveiro, Mark Sumaylo and Joshua Enciso in “Le Cor- saire”—CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Abigail Oliveiro, Mark Sumaylo and Joshua Enciso in “Le Cor- saire”—CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

A s early as the mid-19th century, human trafficking was one of the themes of “Le Corsaire (The Pirate),” a three-act ballet staged for the Imperial Ballet of Russia in St. Petersburg. Though the characters were based on Lord Byron’s poem of the same title, the ballet’s plot was nothing like original narrative. Instead, the story became a product of a Westerner’s imagination of the exotic Middle East. Since its premiere, it has gone through several restagings, the most well-known today being the main dances, choreographed by Marius Petipa.

“Le Corsaire” is a about a pirate, Conrad, who is greatly enamored by a slave girl, Medora who, along with other girls, was trafficked for the pasha’s harem. Conrad saves her from the lecherous Pasha, a high official of the Ottoman empire. The ballet is better known for its nonstop virtuosic dancing, replete with men hurling themselves in the air and the women turning endlessly and executing interlacing footwork. Never mind if the story is flimsy and illogical; after all, it’s just a fantasy.

Perfect vehicle

Ballet Manila’s (BM) CEO and artistic director Lisa Macuja Elizalde found the ballet problematic so she restructured the plot, added substance to the one-dimensional characters and changed the sequences of the main dances while maintaining their original choreographies. After all, BM has to open its 26th season with spectacular dancing at its home, the Aliw Theater. “Le Corsaire” is a perfect vehicle since it has more demanding bravura to show off the different company members.

At the press launch, Elizalde announced that their new season is book-ended by classical ballets “Le Corsaire” (Feb. 24 and 25) and “Giselle” from the Romantic era (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1) to keep the company in top shape. Sharing Pinoy pride and identity, BM will revive “Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang,” (May 11, 12 and 18) based on Anvil Publishing company’s series of children’s book “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang,” with comedienne Mitch Valdes giving her own spin in the title role.

Pia Dames and Sean Pelegrin in “Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang”
Pia Dames and Sean Pelegrin in “Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang”

While most local companies are conservatively coming up with three productions per season, BM is doubling its repertoire in the Year of the Dragon.

A must-watch is the world premiere of “Florante at Laura” in October. It is a collaboration between BM associate artistic director Gerardo Francisco, British choreographer Martin Lawrance and National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab. Then there’s the restaging of Francisco’s award-winning “Ang Ibong Adarna” at Arete in November and Elizalde’s Christmas offering, “Snow White,” in the last week of December.

READ: Ballet Manila is ‘homeless’ but will continue to dance

In the postpandemic world, the soloists are in their best shape ever, thanks to Elizalde’s rigorous technique classes and cross-training with coach Robert Osorio of Ballet Sports Science. During the excerpts from the season’s line-up at the launch, the dancers showed sharper classical lines and expressive upper torsos while immersing themselves into their characters.

Positive group energy

“The dancers have matured,” Elizalde said, citing how Pia Dames raised her game when she substituted for an injured guest artist and was paired with Esteban Hernandez of the San Francisco Ballet in “Don Quixote” last summer. Joshua Enciso and Shaira Comeros became more confident after debuting in Elizalde’s “Cinderella” and Noah Esplana, a company artist, surprised everybody with his acting chops when he performed Martin Lawrence’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Elizalde revealed that most of these dancers will be challenged by playing their roles for the first time this season.

Lawrence pointed out how the positive group energy, as a result of years of working together, strengthened the company. “They lift each other up,” he said. The seasoned artists, aside from a “salable” repertoire, are enough to win you over to Aliw Theater.

Ballet Manila’s Martin Lawrence, Lisa Macuja Elizalde and Gerardo Francisco
Ballet Manila’s Martin Lawrence, Lisa Macuja Elizalde and Gerardo Francisco

The Year of the Dragon promises more opportunities and unmatched excellence for BM. Asked how the company has managed to have more productions (by Philippine standards) than other companies, Elizalde cited that it has other sources of income aside from sponsorship and ticket sales.

Elizalde’s namesake school supports BM, and for many years has been receiving a subsidy from Manila Broadcasting Company. Aside from the usual market of children and teens, the school has tapped grown-ups for the lifestyle ballet and adult ballet classes and children between 5 and 8 years old for Twinkle Toes classes for raw beginners. BM has taken over the ballet classes at the Singapore International School, and has forged collaborations with schools in Baguio, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan.

That’s not to mention that BM has been getting more invitations to restage its works.

“I’m so excited. I could hardly breathe,” exclaimed Elizalde. —CONTRIBUTED INQ

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