Flying high with some help from Down Under

Flying high with some help from Down Under 
By Walter Ang
June 1, 2002
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Dancers in tutus turning pirouettes may have ballet audiences somewhat jaded. But things are about to change. The dancers will do more than just leap and bound. Apart from lining up an eclectic mix of material for its 33rd season, Ballet Philippines has also begun taking flying lessons. Flying with harnesses, that is.

The flying lessons are in preparation for an upcoming production about a stone-swallowing, flying-dynamo of a local heroine slated for next year. This new production is in line with BP artistic director Denisa Reyes' efforts to create new works that speak to the sensibilities of today's younger audiences. After all, enticing and capturing the young audiences today is key to establishing a long- term relationship with its audience.

The Australian Embassy had heard about Denisa's plan and recommended Gavin Robins for a possible artistic collaboration. Known as one of Down Under's leading movement directors, Robins has an impressive body of work ranging from choreographing pop-star Tina Arena's concerts to the opening number for the Sydney Olympics 2000. He has also been involved in straight plays and street performances. He has choreographed the aliens in the sci-fi TV series "Farscape."

Perhaps his most notable involvement is as performer and co-devisor of the Legs on the Wall Physical Theater Company. A short video featuring highlights of this company's previous works wowed recently the press with its impressive images of dancers flying and contorting through the air, suspended by wires and harnesses akin to bungee cords.

Not afraid to fly 
Robins' cutting-edge works in dance, acrobatics, ashtanga yoga and aerial theater, and BP's upcoming production were ingredients ripe for a blending. Things fell into place and with a grant from the New South Wales Ministry for the Arts and the Australian Council; the tall, buff choreographer arrived in May. His stay, the first of a series of visits, involves teaching the BP dancers on the use of different "flying" equipment.

The workshop is being held at the Sinag Arts Studio -- whose staff includes noted lighting designer Shoko Matsumoto. "You have to give dancers time to embrace a new physical language. We have a height of five meters (in the studio) to play with now," said Robins, "It's a good height to train with. Then we'll move onto the eight meters the CCP Main Theater has to offer."

The students have taken well to the techniques and equipment used in movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Spiderman" and "The Matrix." On their first day, the dancers were already "running up the walls and flying," said Robins, "from the little time I've spent with the Filipino dancers, they've displayed a dynamic risk-taking energy yet at the same time, an intrinsic notion of play."

Something special
A part of the workshop had one dancer walking along the walls much the same way Michelle Yeoh did in "Crouching." "Movies these days have changed the way we view theater. I'm looking to bring that kind of movement into theater. This is the kind of thing popular with younger audiences. I'm excited. We need to be a step ahead visually and push the boundaries."

Denisa Reyes is clearly delighted at the possibilities of this collaboration. "We will be creating something very special, very different. Our collaboration efforts won't be seen till we stage our show next year, but we want to prepare well for it," she said.

Albeit that particular production is still a year away, in the meantime, BP won't be leaving audiences on the ground. After all, there's a full season to look forward to. Ballet Philippines' 33rd season opens on July 5 with "Joie de Dance" -- a tribute to dancer Cecile Sicangco (yes, the lady in that milk commercial) after 15 years of dancing.

Sicangco's farewell performance will be presented as part of the French Spring Festival and she'll be dancing a piece specially choreographed for her by Guillaume Compain. "Joie de Dance" will also feature former BP dancer Ernest Mandap, now a principal dancer of Brumachon-Lamarche Company, who will return to perform Claude Brumachon's "Les Indomptes" (The Untamed).

Immediately following is the national tour of last year's smash- hit "Shoes++." With its wonderful showcase of different forms, funky pizzaz and a sazzy shoe-saleslady, "Shoes++" will visit Ilocos, Lucena, Batangas, Olongapo, Iloilo, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Davao.

Alden Lugnasin's whimsical piece "Flippers" was a crowd pleaser last year (Who knew one could dance while wearing diving flippers?) and is not to be missed. "Shoes++" returns to Manila for a repeat run in Aug.

The season includes wholesome family fun with "Cinderella" in Dec. and ends with a homecoming of guest artists from around the globe in "Neo-Filipino: Balikbayan."

Ballet Philippines will mount "Joie de Dance" on July 5 at 8 p.m. and on July 6 and 7 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The performance is in connection with the French Spring in Manila. Call 551-0221 or -1003.