Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's triumphant Carmen and Ballet Manila's promising future in BM 21

BM 21, the closing production of Ballet Manila’s 20th season offered a glimpse towards the future of the company as much as it was a triumphant return to the stage in a lead role for Co-Artistic Director/CEO Lisa Macuja-Elizalde.

The future of the company seemed to be in solid hands (or feet) when the female corps de ballet were put on the spotlight with the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadere. Entering the stage in a series of arabesques, it was a test of stability and consistency for each member of the corps while making sure that they remain in sync. This set the stage for Tiffany Chiang, Abigail Oliveiro, and Joan Sia, the lead Shades who hurdled the technical demands of their respective variations while making them look easy.

Katherine Barkman as Nikiya exuded an aura of tranquility. She displayed neat, controlled and tight turns and seemed to land on a pillow of air when she did her series of jetés across the stage. Katherine found ample support in Romeo Peralta’s Solor although the assisted pirouettes could’ve been more fluid. I found myself at the edge of my seat and rooting for Romeo when he did his jetés en manège which is always exciting to see.

Of all the ballets presented in BM 21, it was Bloom by Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa that I looked forward to seeing the most.  When the curtain was raised revealing the bare chested danseurs on stage, there were some who cheered already. I concluded that these people had seen Bloom before and went on to see it again. Finally seeing it made me realize why people have been raving about it. Using the music of Philip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 1, the fierce, sharp, intense and athletic movements utilized the exciting pulse of the music’s outer movements. The slow, middle section provided great contrast and highlighted the intimate adagio of Mark Sumaylo and Dawna Mangahas. Knowing how the music would end, I wondered how this ballet would pull off the soft, quiet ending. Without spoiling anything, the ballet ended with a striking and iconic visual that remained in my head long after the whole show was over.

The show’s finale was Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s return to Carmen, a BM staple that was choreographed by founding artistic director Eric V. Cruz. While not as technically difficult as Nikiya from La Bayadere, dancing Carmen rather allowed Lisa to embody the character more and let her hair down figuratively and literally and not be too worked on say, completing 32 fouettés (which this choreography didn't have). I could really sense that she had the time of her life on stage as she engaged in cat fights, seduced men, and then hopped over to another lover just because her character can.

Aside from Lisa, I anticipated seeing Rudy de Dios as Don Jose. The way Rudy showed his character’s transformation from a law abiding guard to a tragically obsessed smuggler/bum always moves me. And his partner work with Lisa, especially when they do the effortless and well centered assisted pirouettes, is always a sight to behold. Lisa and Rudy’s portrayal of their respective roles were highlighted further by Romeo Peralta’s Escamillo and Sofia Peralta’s Micaela who I think served as foils. Romeo, a busy man during this evening, was sharp and charismatic as Escamillo. While Sofia’s meek Micaela was made more pitiful. I haven’t seen such a broken down and devastated Micaela when ultimately dumped by Don Jose.

During the show, the lineup for the 21st season billed as Revenge of the Classics was finally revealed. Since Lisa has already bid farewell to full length ballets, it will be the ballerinas and danseurs featured in BM 21 to be on the spotlight next season..

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