REVIEW: Ballet Philippines' "Carmina Burana," choreography by Alice Reyes

Horror music, live! 
By Walter Ang
Oct. 29, 2003
Philippine Daily Inquirer

All I know about classical music, I heard from the cartoons that I watched growing up. I know all the music aficionados out there are now cringing and beating their breasts in frustration. Don't worry, at least I know how to pronounce Chopin. Smile.

Also, thanks to Ballet Philippines' production of "Icons," I now know the title of a certain piece of music often used in horror and suspense films, usually in apocalyptic scenes where humankind perishes in a huge fireball. This piece of music was most recently used in the opening scene of MTV's "Jackass: The Movie."

"Icons" went onstage at the Main Theater of the CCP and featured the Philippine Madrigal Singers and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra. The first act was filled with lighthearted song and dance with the Madrigals singing three songs and the dancers performing two pieces with the orchestra.

Tony Fabella's choreography of "Bahay Kubo Atbp." was at turns funny and solemn, but always celebratory in tone. It was a great counterpoint to what the audience was to see in the second act: Alice Reyes' choreography of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana."

As the curtains went up, it was a breathtaking and awesome sight that greeted the audience. Rows of choral singers in black robes and yarmulkes flanked the stage as guest conductor Maestro Eugene Castillo raised his baton. The stage revealed towering rock formations with the ballet dancers in formation, veiled with smoke emerging from a central cauldron.

When the music began as the singers hit the first note and the dancers executed their first gesture, you could actually hear gasps from the audience. I was absolutely enthralled. It was a powerful moment that showed how such enduring yet fleeting beauty could be created within the confines of a stage.

Delicious shivers went down my spine as I recognized the music as something I had always heard on TV or in the movies, but never in real life before. It was amazing to hear it for the first time with a full chorus and orchestra. Whenever those kettle drums and cymbals went off together, it was rousing good fun that made my heart quicken.

This time around, Ballet Philippines was able to pull off a successful assembly of collaborators. National Artist for Set Design Salvador Bernal's set, imposing rock formations against a striking backdrop of diagonal lines, elicited a refrain of wows from the ladies seated behind me. Production supervisor Santiago Galvero's expert rendering of the textures resulted in a simple yet ominous piece.

Castillo was every bit the conductor of my animation memories, with long hair that flapped as he vigorously coaxed and guided the music out of his orchestra and the chorus of singers that included the San Beda College Chorale, University of the East Chorale, Our Lady of Fatima University Chorale, Asian Youth Singing Ambassadors, soprano Maria Katrina Saporsantos, and baritone Ramone Acoymo (alternating with Noel Azcona). The cute factor was supplied by the Kilyawan Boys Choir filling the box seats in their schoolboy glory.

The text of the music was taken from the poems of 13th century wandering students of England, France and Germany known as the Goliards. It's interesting and hilarious to note that the Goliards were known more for their shenanigans and tomfoolery like getting drunk, gambling, and rioting.

The music, voices, text and set laid the groundwork for the dancing. Dark and brooding choreography started the piece, but as the movements progressed, it also showcased intimate, graceful scenes, as well as some definitely Bacchanalian displays of eroticism and a finale filled with hope and renewal. Lighting designer Jonjon Villareal's simple colors and subtle light changes effectively complemented and heightened the emotions onstage.

Re-stager Ida Beltran-Lucilla must have certainly had her hands full resurrecting the dance steps that were first performed way back in 1974, eons before I was even born. Her efforts were not for naught, the dancers filled the theater with their massive energy and graceful legwork. Of note was Kris-Belle Paclibar. This young lady who played the title role in last month's Darna imbued so much anguish and torment into her role that it was almost painful to watch.