The show that brought sexy back to ballet
TOFF of the world - Christopher De Venecia (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2013 - 12:00am

When Sarah Jessica Parker sang on Glee that “Everything was beautiful at the ballet,” she wasn’t kidding. What’s not to love about ballerinas in their tutus tiptoeing and gliding across the stage  their hair tied in a majestic bun, bodies upright, faces in a perpetual spell, and weight like falling cherry blossoms in spring? Ballerinas are every bit the swans and artisans they are made out to be, performing gracefully with poise and élan that could give both Mary and the geishas a run for their money.

I once wrote in a column many years (and pounds) ago about my very first experience at the ballet. It was a show called Cinderella being staged at the CCP. I wrote, “Ballet has always fascinated me as an appreciator of the arts. Growing up with a sister who once rehearsed the balançoire, the adagio and other such techniques, I have been a spectator to her showcases at the end of each ballet workshop; not to mention, watching cartoons with interpretations and allusions to The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.”

Of course, pop culture has since harnessed the art form in more “digestable” forms like Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, and of course, the Academy award-winning Black Swan. But ultimately, its efforts have always fallen short in capturing the imagination of the millennial youth who have gravitated towards hip-hop, urban, and more contemporary forms of dance. My experience at the recently concluded Giselle, staged by Ballet Philippines as part of its 44th season, changed all that, and reminded me about the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone every now and then, and have that risk beautifully pay off.

It was a Saturday afternoon  one day and eight years from the last time I was at the CCP to catch a ballet “on a Friday night (in 2005),” I wrote. I was running a bit late for the show and didn’t know what to expect. I entered the theater and saw a Hansel and Gretel-like storybook setting beautifully rendered in the hands of National Artist Salvador Bernal, and ballerinas dressed as denizens sprawled across the stage. They took turns in executing their dances to precision  all excellent technicians, in my eyes  but none so with the presence and command of theater veteran Shamaine Centenera Buencamino who, though her movements were minimal, made the impact of a true stage diva.

The story went as follows: a little medieval village is celebrating its annual grape harvest and a certain Count Albrecht prepares to woo the beautiful peasant Giselle. One thing leads to another and, overwhelmed by the tragic turn of events, the peasant girl enters into a fit of grief, and then (wait for it…) dies. No, it’s not at all what you would expect of a finale to the first act of a classic. I stepped out of the CCP Main Theater  a bit confused, and dumbfounded by what I had just witnessed. I discussed with my colleagues how absurd certain art forms could be, and not necessarily in a good way  up until I reentered the theater for act two. It might as well have been a different show altogether. Jaw-dropping OMG. The show’s second act really, truly changed my life.

The synopsis continues: “In the forest glade near a lake, Giselle’s grave is marked by a cross in the moonlight. Hilarion has fallen asleep while keeping vigil at the foot of Giselle’s grave. Upon waking up, he realizes that it is nightfall. He sees a Wilis and he runs off.” What happens after is a haunting yet beautifully majestic blow-by-blow of iconoclastic imagery, spearheaded by a prima ballerina in the form of the Wilis queen, “floating” across the stage in a spine-tingling, all-white ensemble. She is covered in a haunting white veil which elicits gasps from the audience, and then goes on to summon the rest of her coven  fellow ballerinas who were also decked in all-white. The imagery was so powerful that it left an indelible mark in my mind’s eye  almost like The Conjuring, but less traumatic and more breathtaking.

Act two ended and I was overwhelmed by the astounding reception of the audiences  a full house at the CCP Main Theater. This was neither Cats nor Wicked; this was a classic ballet with local performers that had been performed many a time at this same theater. And yet audiences were responding with thunderous applause and even a standing ovation. As we left the theater, people were lining up to get autographs from the ballerinas  as if they were showbiz personalities and Hollywood stars. At that moment, I shed a tear for Giselle, and another tear for ballet, and another tear for the performing arts. If this is its future, then Giselle’s death may not have been in vain. The ballet is alive  you just need to go out there, purchase a ticket, and find yourself wrapped up in a spell.

* * *

Catch Ballet Philippines next offering, (rock) Supremo at the CCP Little Theater from Sept. 20–29, and GSIS Auditorium from Sept. 24–25. For inquiries, visit www.ballet.ph or call 551-1003.

 

BALLET BALLET PHILIPPINES BLACK SWAN CATCH BALLET PHILIPPINES CENTER STAGE COUNT ALBRECHT MAIN THEATER THEATER
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