Veering away from the standard, traditional classics, Ballet Manila staged three new tales of Lola Basyang, likewise based on Severino Reyes’ stories as published by Anvil and retold by Christine S. Bellen.
In their English translation, they were Twelve Happy Princesses choreographed by artistic director prima ballerina Lisa Macuja Elizalde, assisted by Rudy de Dios, Sofia Sangco Peralta and Francis Jaena to the music of Arnold Buena; The Palace of the Dwarfs choreographed by Gerardo Francisco Jr. assisted by Romeo Peralta, Naomi Jaena and Kris-Belle Pacibar Mamangun to the music of composer-arranger Diwa de Leon; Anting-Anting (Amulet) choreographed by co-artistic director Osias Barroso assisted by Michael Divinagracia to the music of composer-arranger Juan Carlo Magsalin.
The stories, exclusively showcasing Filipino talent, so stirred the creative imagination of those behind the scenes that the choreography was riveting; the music propulsive and dynamic; the sets fantastic; the costumes ravishing. Onstage, the dancing of the soloists, ensembles, villagers and townspeople was entrancingly spirited and often electrifying; the acrobatic lifts and aerial formations were breath-takingly risky.
In The Palace, the dwarfs engaged in drollery; feathered creatures pranced about, with one turning into a man and marrying a comely maiden! In Anting Anting, the ghosts in the graveyard scene, especially the giant ones on towering poles, were hauntingly menacing.
The fairytale quality, consistently sustained, presented a fantasy, an entrancing dream in a Never-Never Land.
Before the curtain rose for each story, Lola Basyang, charmingly portrayed by an “aging” Luz Fernandez, read it to curious children — Ma. Angela Tuazon, Precious Marie Aguba and Brian Sevilla — all asking provocative questions. The engaging Missy Macuja Elizalde as Ate Missy, dancing in the image of her mother Lisa, introduced each tale, her steps clean and precise, her technique admirably controlled — despite her youth — in the swift, light, breezy turns.
Twelve Happy Princesses hewed most clearly and eloquently to the storyline, the audience following its delineation from start to finish. On the other hand, in Anting Anting, for instance, a sequence showed Michael Divinagracia as the lazy Huwan — his delightful, amusing miming considerably regaled — drawn with considerable curiosity toward a mound covered by old clothing. He approached the mound several times, greatly tempted to touch it and remove its cover. After a while, Huwan’s curiosity was totally ignored, leaving the audience wondering what the mound was.
As the oldest princess, Lisa conveyed her usual elan, brio, piquancy and brilliance, her gallant partner Rudy de Dios as Silvio landing softly after soaring leaps. How adroitly he lifted Lisa while she buoyantly “floated”! The other princesses exhibited fluid grace; the princes, striking virility.
The dancers were Tiffany Chiang, Marika Capati/Joan Emery Sia, Violet Hong/Jan Erika Basilio, Naomi Jaena, Jasmine San Juan, Jisso Yang, Czarina Villegas, Sofia Mae Costales, Suji Kim/Eunmi Oh, Hyo-BiLee, Jung Won Shin (princesses); Francis Cascaño, Arnulfo Andrade, Sergio Capa III, Anselmo Dictado, Earvin Guillermo, Junmark Sumaylo, Alfren Salgado, Glenn Ragel/Romeo Peralta, Kenneth del Rosario, Manny Febra and Francis Jaena (princes).
Hari was Marcus Tolentino; Infanta, Jonathan Janolo; Old Woman, Eileen Lopez; White Cat, Alvin Dictado/John Carl Concepcion.
The cast was so huge, only the most important members can be added. In The Palace of the Dwarfs, Harold Salgado was Lard; Joan Emeri Sia, Yani; Romeo Peralta, the bird-prince who marries Yani. The lead dwarfs were Sofia Sangco-Peralta/Diana Sobrevilla, Naomi Jaena, Gerardo Francisco Jr., Alvin Santos and Roduardo Ma. Divinagracia, the cowardly Huwan, fails to win Dawn Mangahas as Meling despite his anting anting. In supporting roles were Marcus Tolentino as Tandang Selo, Junmark Sumaylo as Rodrigo, and Florante Oliva as Bata.
The twelve Happy Princesses was strictly balletic; the other numbers fused classic ballet with modern dance.
Deserving highest praise were stage director Roxanne Lapus, set designer Jonathan Janolo, costume designer Michael Angelo Albay and stage manager Eric Añonuevo.
The collective, tightly coordinated achievement of the tremendous number of participants onstage and off was indeed a mesmerizing, dazzling feat. Long live Lola Basyang!