A visually stunning feast and spectacle characterized Ballet Manila’s Cinderella, the major full length choreographic debut of the company’s CEO and co-artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde.
More reminiscent of the Disney animated feature, this new ballet boasted of sets and props by Mio Infante that elicited oohs, aahs and generous applause once they were unveiled. A blink and you miss it quick costume change got me and fellow members of the audience buzzing about it during intermission. And never had I seen a production where a rat on stage was a welcome sight.
But this is still ballet and the dancers are always the stars. Long limbed Abigail Oliveiro exuded softness, innocence, refinement, and a brilliant sense of wonder as Cinderella. Her Prince Charming, Mark Sumaylo, cut a dashing presence on stage with his portrayal of his character’s growth from a carefree lad to a maturing man once love took over. Abigail whipping some fouettes and Mark hitting triple pirouettes reminded me that Ballet Manila’s season wasn’t dubbed as Revenge of the Classics for nothing. Cinderella might be a fairy tale but the dancers still need to display Ballet Manila’s Vaganova method training. While the two’s respective solos were solid and secure, their partner work wasn’t as fluid showing signs that theirs is still a new partnership on stage. But the two’s undeniable chemistry on stage would make the audience suspect that they are indeed a couple off stage (which they are indeed).
Providing comic relief in the ballet are the Step Sisters danced by Tiffany Chiang and Violet Hong. Both ladies are technically strong and it was a breath of fresh air to see them looking and dancing so unrefined befitting their characters. One just had to see Jonathan Janolo as the Step Mother since no word can describe his scene stealing portrayal.
The company’s danseurs had their time in the spotlight as the mischievous animal friends of Cinderella who got transformed into her enchanted escorts to the ball. I wondered how rehearsals went for these danseur with animal their masks on especially during the part where they had to throw and catch a pumpkin prop among themselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept on dropping the pumpkin during their first attempts on catching it.
Probably more challenging than the masks was the towering wig/head dress worn by Lisa Macuja-Elizalde as the Fairy Godmother. She told me after the show that it was more difficult to spot while wearing the wig. Dancing on pointe while carrying an additional weight on her head probably was one of the things that Lisa never imagined doing post retirement.
Prior to seeing the ballet, I was very intrigued as to which music this production would use. Sergei Prokofiev’s score is typically the default music for most Cinderella ballets out there. But for this one by Ballet Manila, the score was a combination of music from various Cinderella productions: the ballet by Sergei Prokofiev, the Disney animated feature with score/songs by Oliver Wallace, Paul J. Smith, Mack David, Jerry Livingston, and Al Hoffman, and the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. All this, plus some original compositions, was made into a cohesive whole by music arranger Roy del Valle.
For almost two hours, Ballet Manila’s Cinderella transported the audience to a magical place making the kids anticipate the upcoming holiday season a lot more. In my case, it was a wonderful way of escaping the current tense political climate that I wish that I could’ve stayed at the ball even after the clock struck midnight.