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Lisa Macuja-Elizalde & Ballet Manila recount folklore, fairytale in flight

Ballet Manila’s Flights of Fantasy opens on Buwan ng Wika with Ibong Adarna, a Filipino epic poem that comes to life through Gerardo Francisco’s choreographic vision.

At the Aliw Theater, Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde emerges from the right wing of the stage, her entrance eliciting a few whispers from the press gathered that afternoon. “I’ve had a hip joint surgery,” the prima ballerina intimates, putting her crutches aside to sit. It wasn’t caused by years of dancing, she reassures her audience, “yet even if it were,” she says, “I have one thing to say about it: absolutely no regrets.”

Ballet Manila’s 22nd year intends to be a celebration, and its theme draws attention to the age-old charm of dance: the capacity of the body to be in flight. “Yes, I will be flying with the rest of Ballet Manila despite those crutches. Flights of Fantasy connotes soaring and reaching,” says Macuja-Elizalde, “It’s appropriate: We are soaring and reaching for our wildest dreams.”

With an ode to Philippine literature’s most mythical bird, the season opens on Aug. 26 with Ibong Adarna, the classic rendered in ballet by Gerardo Francisco, one of the company’s principal dancers and multi-awarded choreographer. Dancers set off the tale of princes seeking the curative capacity of Ibong Adarna and slowly falling prey to the fatal power of her song.  With music by Diwa de Leon and a script by Angela Blardony Ureta, the ballet also features West End theater actress Gia Macuja Atchison as the singing voice of Adarna.

Following the company’s commitment to staging one classical ballet in its repertoire every season, Ballet Manila performs the well-loved classical ballet warhorse, Swan Lake on Oct. 7.

“Our training is very Vaganova, very Russian,” says Macuja-Elizalde who was schooled at the Russian Ballet Academy and the Marinsky Theater in the ’80s. “Swan Lake is the most romantic Russian ballet classic of all.” With music by the master Peter Tchaikovsky, stage design by Miguel Faustman, and live accompaniment from the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Alexander Vikulov of Russia’s Marinsky Theater, the ballet features the tale of Odile and Odette incorporating the original Lev Ivanov choreography for the white acts.

On Nov. 25, the company premieres this year’s second original production, and Macuja-Elizalde’s second full-length choreography work after last year’s Cinderella. Snow White, taken partly from the original Brothers Grimm tale and from the more popular Disney iteration, will be riddled with magical acts and comedic antics. “Like Cinderella, I want the storytelling to be humorous,” says Macuja-Elizalde. “I like the audience to laugh out loud. (To open the entire ballet,) the queen will be having a facial in front of the magic mirror.”

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Opening on Feb. 10 will be Ballet and Ballads, the company’s long-running series fusing classical and popular music. This installment features live music by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, with balladeer Christian Bautista leading the ensemble. “Ballet is a form of dance that is usually accompanied by music without words,” says Macuja-Elizalde. “By dancing to popular ballads, we are showing another side to our storytelling — one that is more appealing and relatable to the modern audience.”

 

 

 

 

Throughout the season, Ballet Manila aims to uphold its status as the country’s foremost classical ballet company, showcasing the strength of the Vaganova technique and the Russian style of dancing through its classical ballet production, while appealing to a larger crowd by staging popular works from fairy tales and Philippine literature.

By placing fantasy at its core, the season draws attention to the element which has long lent ballet its riveting power, yet similarly, its kitsch — allowing a leap towards high art or a trip over to frivolity, depending on the presentation. Macuja-Elizalde, however, underscores that the company’s main aim is “to educate, inspire, and entertain,” with the last taking precedence. “Our form of entertainment is telling stories with our bodies,” she says, “and moving the audience with the live performance and the physicality of our art.”

By the time the season opens, Macuja-Elizalde will have been able to forego her crutches and have been allowed to swim, she says after the preview. “This new hip needs to be stretched and strengthened as my muscles accommodate to it. Afterwards, who knows? I may even be able to dance again.”

For a ballerina, flight is symbolic of strength, fantasy and fulfillment. In the dialogue of music and movement, dance becomes the medium with which the body confronts and transcends its limitations — and after which, ultimately, takes flight.

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Ballet Manila’s world premiere of Ibang Adarna spreads its wings on Aug. 26 and Sept. 2, 6 p.m., and on Aug. 27 and Sept. 3, 3 p.m., at Aliw Theater. Tickets for Ibong Adarna are now available at all Ticketworld outlets, online via www.ticketworld.com.ph, and through 891-9999.  

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