Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A merry outing for Philippine Ballet Theatre's rising ballerinas

The Merry Widow's matinee cast

Two of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s young and award winning ballerinas, Kim Abrogena and Veronica Atienza were the belles of the ball at The Merry Widow, the company’s second production of its 31st season.

Adapted from Franz Lehár’s operetta Die lustige Witwe, this comic ballet restaged by PBT’s artistic director Ronilo Jaynario, is a breath of fresh air from the usual romantic, tragic, classical ballets where the lead female role ends up dying.

The Merry Widow's evening cast

So Kim and Veronica, making their principal role debuts in this production, do not die in the end. The two alternated the role of Hannah Glawari, who happens to be a widow (so it’s her husband who died off stage even before the start of the ballet). And the poor, grieving widow was thrust into the schemes of the Pontevedrian Ambassador Baron Mirko Zeta, his young wife Valencienne and French Attaché Camille, Count de Rosillon, in an attempt to make sure that her wealth will remain in financially strapped Pontevedro. And this would be made possible if she ends up marrying Count Danilo Danilovitsch, First Secretary of the Pontevedrian Embassy. In typical opera fashion, it is revealed that Count Danilo and Hannah were former lovers and what should’ve been an easy route to rekindled love has to go through complications (and an affair by Camille and Valencienne). But since this is a comedy, everything gets sorted in the end and Count Danilo and Hannah end up in each other’s arms, Baron Zeta gives Valencienne her freedom to be with Count Camille and Pontevedro is saved from financial ruin.

I’ve seen Kim dance a handful of times already and her previous roles as the Dew Drop Fairy, Odette and Nikiya paved the way for her to do a more rounded portrayal of Hannah, showing both elegance and vulnerability. Veronica, on the other hand, displayed clean technique and impeccable extension. Still only in her late teens, Veronica’s youth and that aura of innocence just made it hard for me to be fully convinced of her portrayal of Hannah. But she still remains as one of the most exciting ballerinas who burst into the scene last season and I’ve been a huge fan since then.

Martin Buczko and Kim Abrogena

I’ve actually had the same view about Kim some years ago, that she still felt like a girl, when I first saw her dance the role of the Dew Drop Fairy at The Nutcracker. With her Hannah, I finally saw her as a young woman who can confidently pull off principal roles.

Both Kim and Veronica had the chance to be partnered by guest danseur Martin Buczko, who danced the role of Count Danilo. The towering Martin made quite an impression with his first appearance on stage that had him turning and leaping as if he was drunk. He showed enough looseness to be in character but still in control exhibiting unconventional technique. And to see a tall, lean danseur on stage who is secure with his pirouettes and has superb extension with his high kicks was a sight to behold.

Martin Buczko and Veronica Atienza

PBT veterans Lobreza Pimentel and Regina Magbitang weren’t left in the dust as both alternated the role of Valencienne. The role gave both the chance to be spunky, naughty, and flirty while still showing their signature bravura technique like doing effortless fouettés while wearing a ball gown. Another veteran, Peter San Juan danced the role of Camille with reckless abandon as if there’s no more tomorrow but still maintaining that comic timing which is second nature for him.

This production of The Merry Widow showed the formidable strength of Philippine Ballet Theatre’s lead ballerinas with the fast rising Kim and Veronica now joining the ever reliable duo Lobreza and Regina. I have no doubts that all four could dance lead roles for the company now and it’s just a matter of rotating them to give each her own share of the spotlight. The male members of the company do not have the same depth and it’s up for them to step up and be at par with their female counterparts.

The wait is on for Philippine Ballet Theatre’s third and final production of the season with the all-time favorite The Nutcracker happening this November 18-19, 2017. But right now, I need to acquaint myself to the operetta in which the ballet The Merry Widow was adapted from.

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