To anyone who had followed Ballet Manila from the start, this recent sampler of the best of its repertoire was an overwhelming experience. The company has come a long way since its inception in 1995.
East Meets West, a jolting mix of classical, neoclassical and contemporary pieces, may have been somewhat reflective of Filipinos’ tendency to put any ingredients to hand in the pot, but it was also Ballet Manila’s way of telling its foreign peers that it too can do anything. From tomorrow, the company will be touring the programme in the UK, Ireland and Asia.
Among the contemporary highlights were choreographer Agnes Locsin’s sexy interpretation of mating spiders in Arachnida and her earthy treatment of the native eagle in Agila. In the first, Mylene Aggabao, clad in an all-black unitard, was the dominatrix female spider and Niño Guevarra her intended. In the second, a loincloth-clad Alvin Santos soared through the air and arrogantly puffed his chest to imitate the country’s national bird.
Locsin’s Sayao sa Pamlang was similarly rooted in Filipino culture. It combined folk dances from seafarers in the southern region of Mindanao, complete with colourful costumes and a haughty tribal princess (Sarah Abigail Cruz) carried on bamboo poles. Meanwhile Dulce, Alberto Dimarucut’s lively ballroom-to-ballet medley, demonstrated traditional romantic relationships among Filipinos. Sofia Sangco – a regular in international ballroom competitions – was the sultry heroine.
A purer shot of ballet came in the form of Petipa’s Don Quixote grand adagio. Principal dancers Lisa Macuja-Elizalde as a lively Kitri and Rudy de Dios as an engaging Basilio performed pirouette after pirouette and grand jeté after grand jeté to Minkus’s score. Macuja-Elizalde’s signature chaînés were as sharp as ever – a good sign for the 46-year-old dancer, who underwent surgery on both ankles last year.
The first Asian principal in Russia’s Kirov Ballet, she has become something of an institution in the Philippines for her efforts to popularise ballet. Her rendition of Ina (“Mother”) with real-life daughter Michelle was an endearing mother-daughter tandem, though the 11-year-old was conspicuously conscious of the attention.
Ric Culalic’s Arnis was a disappointment. Amid all the strong jumps, shouting and stick-wielding, which alluded to an Asian martial art, was an all-male ensemble lacking definitive movement and co-ordination. It was a step backwards from the dance’s 1998 premiere in the same theatre.
The programme came to an emotional conclusion in choreographers Tony Fabella and Gerardo Francisco’s Mga Awit at Sayaw (“Songs and Dances”). Ballet Manila went into patriotic overdrive as it showed off traditional costumes from various Philippine provinces in an overview of local culture and the evolution of the national flag.
Danced to 1990s Filipino pop, the piece left ballet largely behind – but the audience didn’t seem to mind as it clapped along.
Tour starts June 30 in the Shaw Theatre, London Ballet Manila