Saturday, March 05, 2016

Ballet Manila's Rebel: a brave commemoration of the EDSA People Power Revolution

Let me start by saying that it was very brave of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, CEO and Artistic Director of Ballet Manila to stage Rebel, the company’s newest ballet about the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that recently had its world premiere at the Aliw Theater.

It was a no brainer premiering it this year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution. But 2016 also happens to be an election year for national and local officials meaning that political sides will be drawn in the sand. And having a ballet such as Rebel, a modern retelling of the ballet Spartacus, could very much ruffle the feathers of those on the other side of the political fence. That’s why I watched with great interest how the characters and the events of the EDSA Revolution would be presented from the concept of Lisa and through the choreography of Martin Lawrance.

At the performance that I was able to watch, the roles of Benigno and Cory were danced by Rudy de Dios and Katherine Barkman while Ferdinand and Imelda were portrayed by Gerardo Francisco and Tiffany Chiang. Rudy’s Benigno brimmed with an inner strength while Gerardo’s Marcos conveyed power with his flashy leaps and turns. Katherine’s Cory embodied a gentle and meek soul while Tiffany’s Imelda was regal and as Imeldific as you can get in pointe shoes. What clearly defined these key four characters was how they related to the people (performed by Ballet Manila company members): the Aquinos siding with the struggling common folk led by Juan de La Cruz (played by Michael Divinagracia) and the Marcoses cavorting with their cronies and Blue Ladies in waiting.

And whenever the two sides clashed, the one who suffers most is the Inang Bayan portrayed by Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, who is always a welcome presence on the stage. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first time I saw her dance on the Aliw stage, en pointe since Gold, the show celebrating her 50th birthday back in 2013. While Lisa danced her sorrows on stage, her thoughts, hopes and dreams were sung by Joanna Ampil through songs like Pilipinas Kong Mahal, Magkaisa, Bayan Ko, and Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.  With Joanna’s stirring voice, the sense of patriotism inside the theater was definitely heightened.

These songs were sprinkled throughout Rebel amid the music score from the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of Gerard Salonga providing the live music accompaniment. A few orchestra members told me that the music will not be played chronologically so it was a waiting and a guessing game to see when and how the music of the famous Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia would be utilized.

As expected, the exquisite music was used for the pas de deux between Benigno and Cory. What was unexpected was that as the Adagio went on, the people and Inang Bayan entered the stage and literally came in between the two. As the orchestral climax came, it dawned on me the sacrifices that Benigno and Cory had made for the sake of the country. The pas de deux was no longer just about the two of them but for the people and the country. It was no wonder that the Adagio was reserved for that crucial moment and this part lingered in my thought even after the show was over.

Lastly, I remembered much later on something that Lisa said about months ago when Ballet Manila launched their 20th season. She said that she wanted to have a tank on stage but no tank made it in the final version of Rebel. A tank would’ve been an impressive sight to behold but in true People Power fashion, it was ultimately the people (the performers who sang and danced on stage, played at the pit and worked behind the scenes) who impressed more. 

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