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‘Parang panaginip’: Filipino ballet dancers back onstage, invite audiences to return to live theater |

Arts and Culture

‘Parang panaginip’: Filipino ballet dancers back onstage, invite audiences to return to live theater

Deni Rose M. Afinidad-Bernardo -
âParang panaginipâ: Filipino ballet dancers back onstage, invite audiences to return to live theater
New Ballet Manila principal dancers Joshua Enciso and Pearl Dames star as Romeo and Juliet in Martin Lawrance’s iteration of the Shakespeare classic
Teddy Pelaez via Facebook

MANILA, Philippines — Ballet Manila, ballet company of Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, first Filipina and foreign soloist to join the Kirov Ballet, has rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic with a successful run of British choreographer Martin Lawrance’s iteration of “Romeo and Juliet” last month.

“Romeo and Juliet” marked the opening of the dance company’s 25th season and 27th anniversary.

“The challenges that Ballet Manila have been through these past years have only proven our grit and resilience in the face of adversity. That is why we feel that it’s only right to open our 25th season with performances that showcase Ballet Manila’s enduring artistry and excellence,” said Macuja-Elizalde in a statement.

Lawrance’s “Romeo and Juliet” is uniquely done in the modern Filipino setting. This interpretation of the ballet classic based on William Shakespeare’s play is set in a quaint Philippine town with dancers dressed in cool, hip costumes, performing to a mash-up of the original Prokofiev score along with popular Original Pilipino Music (OPM) tunes. 

At the season opening’s recent press conference, Lawrence revealed that his version is inspired by scenes from “West Side Story,” interspersed with Filipino culture and songs.

“I wanted that texture, that variety,” said Lawrance, making sure that his storytelling moved from “West Side Story” to OPM “in an effective way.”

OPM hits like “Ikaw” by Yeng Constantino give the performance “a variety to lessen the heaviness of violence” in the plot, Lawrence explained.

His version was an extended one from an excerpt he presented at Ballet Manila’s 2019 “Tuloy Ang Sayawan” ballet concert. Lisa asked him to restage it in time for Valentine’s and Arts Month.

The elongated version also featured the original 2019 dancers, Joshua Enciso as Romeo and Pearl Dames as Juliet, who were just promoted as principal dancers last December. The performance marked their first ever full-length ballet.

“And that’s what’s exciting when you’re working with raw, young talent. It breaks your heart, melts your heart, they let you go with it. You work with young two principal dancers and see where they take it,” Lawrance said of Joshua and Pearl.

“Kasi po nag-start po sa fire, then after nu’ng fire, pandemic naman. Parang sunod-sunod po ‘yung mga nangyaring ‘di maganda. So sobrang thankful po talaga and sobrang saya po talaga. Parang slowly, parang back to normal ‘yung pakiramdam po,” Pearl expressed how happy she was to be back to performing to a live audience.

“Parang panaginip. That’s the feeling. Kasi iba nu’ng pandemic, livestreaming… Nu’ng nakabalik na dito parang, ‘Totoo na ba ‘to? Nagsasayaw na ba kami? Excited kami na kinakabahan, (pero) ready na kami to perform for the audience,” added Joshua.

Joshua never thought that the day has come for him to face the spotlight again because he thought the pandemic would never end.

“Lagi nilang sinasabi na ang arts ang babangon sa pandemic. Ang unfair nga kasi bakit ‘yung ibang (sectors) nakakabalik na? Pero tayo, kailan ba tayo sasayaw ulit?” he fretted.

“Pero time will come, just do your best, and here we are, sumasayaw na ulit.”

When asked how he prepared to be Romeo, he espoused: “You need to be inspired… and dapat mapakita mo s’ya to your audience.”

From the modern rendition of the romantic classic, the season will move on to the radical adventures of Don Quixote which will see the homecoming of Katherine Barkman as she plays Kitri. Currently a soloist at the San Francisco Ballet, Barkman was mentored by Macuja-Elizalde from 2015 to 2018 to become a principal dancer at Ballet Manila before moving back to her home country, the USA, in 2018.

Back in the Philippines for Don Quixote, she will dance alongside Esteban Hernandez, a principal danseur at San Francisco Ballet, who will play Basilio. The shows will be on May 27 at 8 p.m. and May 28 at 5 p.m.

Finally, the 25th performance season will close with an original Filipino work, “Ibong Adarna” by Gerardo Francisco, for which he received multiple accolades including Gawad Buhay awards for Outstanding Male Lead for Modern Dance, Outstanding Modern Dance Production, and Outstanding Choreography for Modern Dance, among others. “Ibong Adarna” goes on stage in August 19, 8 p.m. and August 21 at 5 p.m.

“This is truly an auspicious time for us, as we begin the new year with a new performance season, in a better and more modern Aliw Theater; and working with some of the best creative minds in the industry. We hope that audiences will once again flock to Aliw Theater to watch these shows we worked so hard to mount, in the hopes that they will leave the theater feeling moved and inspired,” said Macuja-Elizalde in statement.

“You only can survive as performing artists if audiences continue to buy a ticket to go to the theater for your performances. So you know, with YouTube, with Instagram, and all the different social media platforms, you get to watch ballet dancers in the flat screen, but there’s nothing like watching it live in a theater performance. And that’s what we’re trying to do – we’re trying to bring back the audience to the theaters to feel the excitement of a ballet performance,” she added via a video call during the press con.

According to her, what keeps them going are stories from audiences from different generations bringing their children to the ballet because they enjoyed the shows so much when they were young.

“I think that’s the way to do it – one generation at a time, you develop that audience for ballet or for the performing arts and that’s how performing arts will continue to survive and thrive and that’s how you empower creatives to enhance their creativity and make new classics in the many, many years to come.”

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