The Bard would've applauded Romeo and Juliet as ballet

SUNDRY STROKES () - October 29, 2011 - 12:00am

In typical fashion, Ballet Manila lived up to its standard of excellence in Romeo and Juliet. If Swan Lake was poetry in motion at Aliw Theater, Romeo and Juliet was fiery drama in dance at Star Theater. This reviewer has seen the Bard’s play onstage and on film. Its recent ballet presentation was as heart-wrenching; even more so.

That may be explained by a very fine cast, with each member propelling the plot through technical skill and eloquent miming. Francis Cascaño as Tybalt showed considerable dexterity and aplomb; Gerardo Francisco as Mercutio, Marcus Tolentino as Lord Capulet, Alvin Santos as Benvolio, Nazer Salgado as Paris, Zaira Casico as Lady Capulet — she danced and mimed marvelously — and Reparado Marino as Lord Montague persuasively portrayed their respective roles.

Even in so minimal a part as Friar Lawrence, Marvin Medina realistically exuded a reverential air, a priestly demeanor. The audience may have expected the usual fumbling, bumbling, comic nurse but Eileen Lopez played her in a straight-forward manner which was thoroughly acceptable in its own way.

Especially noteworthy was the performance of Juliet’s three friends Maylene Aggabao, Yanti Manduli, Jennifer Rose Alayvar and their partners Niño Guevarra, Ricardo Mallari and Romeo Peralta.

Exhilarating and enchanting in their vigor briskness, meticulous alignment and grace were the ensemble dancers. The presentation as a whole contradicted George Balanchine’s observation that ballet is woman. The danseurs were as prominent and alluring as the ballerinas. Some of the best and most expansive dancing was by them. If the ballerina were high-kicking, the danseurs were high-flying.

The imaginatively choreographed fencing between the Capulet and Montague clans and the death scenes - how truly compelling was the former, how arresting were the latter!

Enhancing and complementing the entire production were the fabulous accoutrements of sets and costumes.

But of course the primary focus was on Lisa Macuja as Juliet and, to a lesser extent, on Rudy de Dios as Romeo. Throughout, the audience watched with both incredulity and amazement the 47-year old Lisa become the winsome, 13-year old Juliet of crystalline charm; fittingly, she was as lithe and fragile-looking as the heroine.

A totally shy, timid, dainty maiden full of dreams and illusions, Juliet, the anxious sweetheart, was soon to become a bride; Romeo, the ardent, impetuous suitor was soon to become a bridegroom. The star-crossed pair conveyed the fire, passion and ecstasy of young love. With exquisite lyricism and masterful control Lisa danced the pas de deux in balcony and bedroom with a tender, gallant, fully supportive Rudy.

Tormented with dark thoughts and ominous forebodings, Lisa held the sleeping portion the while hesitating to drink it — pain, dread and despair etched on her countenance. Running fleetingly hither and thither, she teetered nearer and nearer to the edge of madness.

As she awakened in the mausoleum to see her beloved forever still, she expressed her uncontrollable, inconsolable grief in mime, demonstrating exceptional talent not only as dancer but also as dramatic actress. Even in “death” Lisa was touchingly pathetic, as Rudy danced with her limp, immobile body.

During a brief interlude of the Vikulov-Prokofiev ballet, Lisa on film confided that she had first danced as Juliet — a favorite role of hers - 23 years ago. (This confession aptly called to mind Shakespeare’s line in another play: “Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.”) Lisa has been partnered by several celebrated Romeos abroad, and her past portrayals of Juliet have fortified and deepened her most recent (and last) interpretation of Juliet.

This proven, there ensued at show’s end near pandemonium and a fully-deserved standing ovation. After leading the cast in countless bows, Lisa ascended the theater in a rush to give her teary-eyed husband Fred Elizalde one of her bouquets and a kiss. The gesture was her assurance that in the throbbing, pulsating romantic scenes onstage, she was merely — if superbly — miming.

How the Bard himself would have lustily applauded her!

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