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Ballet Philippines makes a timely pointe with 'Encantada' |

Arts and Culture

Ballet Philippines makes a timely pointe with 'Encantada'

YELLOW LIGHT - Tara F.T. Sering -

The irony is not lost on me: in the middle of last week’s torrential downpour, and some isolated flooding, I made my way through the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ catacomb-like inner sanctum for an interview with Margie Moran, president of Ballet Philippines Foundation Inc., whose company is opening its 42nd season with Encantada, a full-length modern ballet that includes Mother Nature’s grief in the form of a catastrophic deluge. And when I found her, along with Paul Morales, the company’s artistic director, and Rhea Dumdum-Bautista, PR associate, their general enthusiasm for yet another season dance simply overflowed.

On Aug. 12, Ballet Philippines, the longest running professional dance company in South East Asia (yes, the dancers do this for a living), will officially open a year of performances — thematically held together by the idea of womanhood, and thus dubbed Faces of Eve — by acknowledging a truly pressing global issue: choreographed by Philippine dance legend Agnes Locsin, former Ballet Philippines artistic director, Encantada debuted at the CCP in 1992, almost a year after the tragic November 1991 flooding in Ormoc. Almost 20 years later, this year’s restaging rings just as relevant; Encantada is back on the stage less than two years after Ondoy.

Encantada is set in Spanish-era Philippines and depicts “man’s destruction of nature and its devastating consequences.” In a performance art form best known for ethereal swans, princesses in tulle and little girls with fancy kitchen implements that become princes, such an urgent statement, firmly rooted in reality, qualifies Encantada as a groundbreaking ballet that doesn’t shy away from the issues of the day.

Beyond its environmental statement, Encantada also explores the collision of feminine energy present in the worship of nature and the masculine energy of the dominating forces. In the production’s context, Spanish religious imperialism that ran smack against the kind of animism — in broad terms, a belief that nature and natural phenomena have a consciousness in them — long practiced before the conquistadors’ galleons first dropped anchor in the archipelago.

Taking inspiration from the story of Maria Makiling, the story in a nutshell: an indio rebel Estranjero, fed up with abuses of the local Frailes, steals the image of the Virgin Mary from the cathedral. He is then pursued by the Guardia Civil, all the way to a mystic mountain where the Encantada resides, and where a collective of women called the Kababaihan worship her through a Babaylan or priestess. The wounded Estranjero is rescued and restored to health by the Babaylan and, grateful, he hands the icon to the Encantada. Angered, the Guardia Civil, at the bidding of the Frailes, go on a witch-hunt and a head-chopping rampage of suspected rebels and thieves, until they chop off the one they’d been looking for: the Estranjero’s. The enraged Kababaihan, ignoring the pleas of the encantada to do otherwise, engage in a losing battle with the Guardia Civil — a battle that ends in the rape of the Kababaihan and the destruction of nature. The grief-stricken Encantada weeps until her tears flow in a deluge that sweeps away the Frailes. In the end, as the deluge of tears subside, the waves bring back the image of the Virgin Mary to the Encantada.

“In the end, there’s a reconciliation of the two seemingly opposing ideas,” explains Morales, the Christian belief harmonizing with the feminine rhythm. “The ending is sort of like the idea behind Sinulog, actually.”

This may not sound like a show you’ll be rhythmically nodding your head to, lips pursed contentedly while absently tapping your knee. It’s not that kind of ballet and doesn’t aim to be, but don’t let the serious storyline keep you away: with all the creative choreography, the energetic and emotive dancing, rich and imaginative sets, and original musical scoring, it’s an engrossing performance that’s guaranteed to keep you enthralled.

The healing of the Estranjero in a scene from Encantada

Encantada is a neo-ethnic ballet that, as Morales explains via live demonstration, melds modern dance with a variety of movements and sequences that are distinctly Filipino, Locsin’s lasting legacy to Filipino dance. It looks at once fluid and primal, qualities that seem to have been drawn from the earth and that akin to our traditional dances. Along with the beat of the music, watching these movements seem to prick upon our deeper impulses, and to drum upon long dormant muscles into wakefulness — a twitch on the shoulder or a stirring in the belly. Morales danced in the first production of Encantada and remembers the excitement of opening an original Filipino production that went on to tour the rest of the country as well as Japan.

Besides the riveting concept and story — layers upon layers of conflict, including a not-so-subtle showdown of feminine and masculine energies, and complete with battle scenes —Encantada is itself a triumph of Pinoy artistry and collaborative genius. It is perhaps an even more star-studded behind-the-scenes production than it is onstage. Apart from Locsin’s choreography, the restaging of Encantada features the outstanding elements that made the original a success: live music by Joey Ayala, who also played the role of the Estranjero in the original production, and Bayang Barrios; libretto by Al Santos; and sets and costumes by National Artist Salvador Bernal. Onstage, Ballet Philippines’ principal dancer Candice Adea, silver medalist at the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Mississippi (the first Filipina to win a medal at this prestigious event), and international guest artist Georgette Sanchez, essay the role of the Encantada, supported by a cast of professional dancers in various roles, all of whom train almost 10 hours a day. Jean Marc Cordero will portray the Estranjero, and Katherine Trofeo and Carissa Adea take turns dancing the role of the Babaylan.

It’s productions like Encantada that seem to fuel Moran’s and Morales’s — as well as the entire company’s — passion for dance, and for the entire Filipino performing arts in general. Both act as pitch persons in promoting the genre to a broader audience, and in raising funds that in part keep the ballet on the stage and support the company’s 200 dance scholars. The CCP performances last from August to February of the following year, and the rest of the time, the company goes on tour here and abroad where there has long been an appreciation for Pinoy talent in ballet. Case in point are the many professional dancers who learn to stand on their toes as members of Ballet Philippines and go on to join some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies.

“Our new vision is to be world class,” says Morales, “so apart from doing original productions, we also stage international works, like the classics. But all the original ballets it has contributed is really the strength of Ballet Philippines.”

On its third staging — a second was in 1998 — Encantada has sealed itself as a pillar of the company’s repertoire of original Filipino productions. Still, they go for a thoughtful mix in making every season’s lineup of performances. “Last year it was all about men — Peter Pan, Don Quixote — and we called it The Hero’s Journey,” Moran says. “The rest of the new season’s productions all revolve around women, in keeping with the centennial celebrations of women’s suffrage.” They couldn’t have picked a more terrifying and enchanting figure to kickstart things.

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Encantada will run on Aug. 12 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.), Aug. 13 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and Aug. 14 (10 a.m. and 3 p.m.). Tickets are available at Ticketworld ( For inquiries, call 891-9999. For information about Encantada, contact Ballet Philippines at 551-1003, 345-6601 or visit

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