Enter the world of Opera
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - When STARweek sits down with choreographer Redha and artist Gabriel Barredo, the two are in the thick of putting together Ballet Philippines’ season ender, “Opera,” a contemporary ballet premiering at the CCP Main Theater on Feb. 13 and 14, with a fundraising gala on Feb. 16.

“I’m excited and nervous,” says the French-Algerian choreographer.

“But feeling this way is part of the process. It means you are in the right dynamic of creating,” he says. “I need to be scared, I need to be uncomfortable.”

“You can’t be secure,” says Gabby, whose installation art makes viewers go way out of their comfort zone with its confrontational, provocative, unapologetically raw nature.

His installation, Opera, which serves as the inspiration for the production, was originally presented at Silverlens Galleries in January 2015 and was recently shown in Singapore.

The title plays with the meaning of the word – “to operate, to open, to cut” and opera as in “theater.” Gabby says, “We live theatrical lives.”

The installation explores the body with arresting kinetic sculptures that border on the grotesque. As it is an installation, the work changes depending on where it is mounted. “It’s a total experience. You have to be inside it to understand it,” Gabby says.

For Ballet Philippines’ production, Gabby is creating entirely new pieces.

“What I love about Gabby is there is no compromise in his work. It’s raw and completely poetry,” says Redha. “What the work of Gabby makes inside of me, I cannot put to words.”

Likewise, Redha’s provocative choreography aims to explore the dancers’ bodies and their limits. “When I saw the work of Gabby, I wanted to work with the body of the dancers,” he says.

“Gabby has an obsession with the body, how we destroy it. I thought that me, I wanted to work with the body and show how extreme dance is and how we can go very far,” the choreographer adds. “It is so incredible to watch a body sweating, struggling, lifted by an emotion that is higher.”

For two – admittedly extreme – artists to collaborate with such synergy as Redha and Gabby is most unusual. “It’s a rare moment that you meet people that you feel so connected to,” says Redha. “I feel like I’ve known Gabby for a long time.”

The two artists met for the first time earlier this year and seemed to find kindred spirits in each other.

“I was very nervous to meet him, but when we started, it was not like it was the first time. Maybe we are old souls that met somewhere else in another life. This is the beauty of our work,” says Redha.

He adds, “It was a very intense moment. From this moment you’ll find out if the project will be possible or not. You have to love the person unconditionally and trust him. If not, it’s impossible.”

Gabby recalls Redha entering his space. “I saw the excitement, I captured his attention, for sure.” The installation artist says, “He was light, I felt like he was me. When he speaks, it’s almost like I’m speaking. When I heard him speak, it was so bizarre.”

Though they had never met before, Redha says, “I look at the work and at Gabby and I think whatever the work is exists as a part of him and I feel like that part exists in me, in a different way. I felt my life was in it – with the pain, the joy, the struggle to be who you are, to get old, to grow up, to hate everybody, to love everybody, to lose everybody, to just die.”

Gabby, who at the time of the interview had just recently watched rehearsals for the first time, has high praises for Redha’s work. “If I had seen his choreography even without this project, I would have asked him, ‘Can I do the sets for you?’”

Gabby adds, though the program itself is intense, the mood behind the scenes is light. “It’s very easy to work with Redha because he reads me. I feel like when he’s talking, it’s my voice.”

This harmonious meeting of minds, however, does not put Redha completely at ease. “It’s even more scary because you know the level of the work that you should respond with.”

Redha says it is challenging to choreograph a piece not just from his own mind, but from someone else’s world. “Very difficult because when you enter in a world that is already established very strongly, has its own identity… You have to find a way to enter it, and how you can bring them somewhere, connect them, and maybe open different layers.”

Musing further, he says, “It’s a bullet that he throws to us and it’s how you take the bullet in your heart and do something with it.”

The choreographer also stresses that the work is not an illustration or a narration of Gabby’s visual piece – it would be redundant if he did that. “It’s also my world coming and meeting, entering, twisting Gabby’s world. He brings us somewhere and I bring another perspective.”

Redha appreciates the richness of the material that he is working with. “It’s not a normal and banal work. It’s a very intense work, so we have to meet on the same level. It’s a physical, mental, emotional piece. It is complex, challenging, exciting. You have to dig deep.”

The dancers themselves are challenged, says Redha. Aside from the physicality of the piece, the choreographer says, “They are challenged by the work – the power of work, and to exist inside this power.”

For Gabby, seeing Redha interact with the world of Opera is nothing short of magical. He tells the choreographer, “You complete the work.”

It’s the first time that this kind of work is being done,” says Redha. Working together with Redha, Gabby, and the BP dancers are Yvette Tan and Erwin Romulo who are doing the libretto; Malek Lopez for the music; lighting design by John Batalla; and costumes by James Reyes, making the project a massive convergence of talents.

“It’s a whole process of creation that everyone is very excited about,” says Redha. “I think it’s a high level of Filipino production with people who are the best in their fields.”

With so many aspects of the work coming together, Redha says that even in the middle of rehearsals, the piece keeps on changing, evolving: “It’s alive.”

Being different from anything that has been done before, the piece is a risk for the artists, and for Ballet Philippines as a company – Opera may not be a crowd-pleaser like the classic Giselle or The Nutcracker.

BP president Margie Moran-Floirendo says the company must continue with its mission to “break new ground and attract a different audience.”

“We want to crete something that’s new in the artistic sense, and collaborate with visual artists and artists of other disciplines and in so doing expand and enrich the experience of dance for Manila audiences,” she adds.

Redha says, “We will take the risk, and we will take it again because we are survivors – we fall down, we stand up and we keep going. The most important thing is that we do it.”

Gabby hopes that audiences will be affected by the piece. “When you see a piece that affects you, you never forget about it.”

Redha agrees, “The audience will have such an emotional journey that they will never forget.”

“For all of us it is an incredible experience,” says Redha, speaking for the whole artistic team and the dancers. He adds, “It’s a statement that in the Philippines, in Manila, in Asia 2016 – at this moment – something is happening in the world of art.”

Opera goes on stage at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo on Feb. 13 and 14 at 6 p.m., and on Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. Mature content, parental guidance is recommended. Call 551-0221 or 551-1003 for tickets.

ACIRC BALLET PHILIPPINES CAN I FEB FOR BALLET PHILIPPINES FOR GABBY GABBY PIECE REDHA WHEN I WORK
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