Ballet Philippines is getting to the pointe in its 35th season

Getting to the pointe 
By Walter Ang
November 2004 (not published)
submitted to Unwind Magazine

We can't all afford to travel or have enough guts to jump out of a plane with a parachute, but it's not so hard to inject a little more fun into life. For example, one can always try new cuisines or explore new ways to have a good time ? like, oh say, watching something we wouldn't normally watch.

After I'd been broken into the world of ballet, I realized it's not such a bore. It's not that expensive to get tickets and it's definitely not difficult to understand. What's there to have a headache about anyway? These people aren't talking in a strange foreign language. Movement, choreography and body language are as universal as Coca-Cola.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a fanatic who quivers with excitement when I hear about another upcoming production of a flying boy who doesn't want to grow up or a princess who turns into a bird with a long neck. However, my interest does get piqued if I hear about a ballet that deals with something unusual like Dracula (yes, there's a ballet about this bloodsucking creature) or a world classic being adapted into local flavor.

The great thing about watching foreign material that's been localized is that it becomes more familiar and accessible, yet at the same time, fresh and revitalized. Ballet Philippines does this by transforming and condensing the full-length ballet "La Fille Mal Gardee (The Ill-Guarded Girl)" into "Ang Pilya" for the opening show of its 35th season, "On Pointe." With this information on hand, off I marched to the Manuel Conde Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Instead of French costumes or the traditional tutus, the dancers wear traditional Filipino costumes like the kimona and patadyong. A village setting gives way to a rustic barrio. Even the dances are Filipinized: what should have been a clog-dance turns into the maglalatik (that dance where guys have coconut shells strapped to their torsos).

The simple plot has Mama Simeona, hilariously performed by Anatoly Panasyukov (yes, a man ? so you can imagine how funny the character looked), wanting to marry off her daughter Lisa to Alan, the son of the town's biggest landowner. Just like classic love stories, it's no surprise that Lisa's heart pines for someone else.

So it's lighthearted fun throughout the show until we end with a triple wedding: Lisa gets the man she wants, Alan ends up with someone who doesn't mind his penchant for chasing butterflies and even Mama Simeona gets a man for herself. The cast injects much energy into their characters, hamming it up for the audiences but never holding back in executing the choreography.

After showing how Filipinos can successfully "indigenize" a world- classic and making it into our very own, Ballet Philippines proves that our dancers certainly have the abilities to meet global standards head-on by performing several short pieces with foreign inspiration or choreography for the second act.

With these pieces, the look and feel of the whole second act becomes a dramatic counterpoint to the cheery and celebratory first act. Lighting designer Jonjon Villareal provides the audience a darker, edgier and contemporary atmosphere and deftly adds emphasis and drama with his subtle yet highly effective color schemes. With his pulse for dance and aesthetic sensibilities, Villareal's work is always an added pleasure to watch.

The curtains open once again with award-winning Alden Lugnasin's "Accidental Swans." Dancers dancers Clark Rumabayon and Kris-Belle Paclibar set the stage on fire with this mesmerizing contemporary pas de deux inspired by the classical "Swan Lake". A visually delightful piece, costume designer Gino Gonzales creates an incredibly sensual look by having both dancers wear black straps strategically placed on their bodies, showing off their sinewy and toned builds.

Then, with his entire body covered in shimmering body paint, Rumbayon makes a final encore in Marius Petipa's "Bronze Idol" inspired from "La Badayere." The whole shebang ends with a powerful piece that captures the many facets of femininity riding on an undercurrent of elegant strength. Five sultry women emerge from the shadows and proceed to dance "Je Tu Elle," a sexy, assertive and sensual piece by Redha Benteifour.

The mix of Filipino and foreign elements in this show is actually a great way to introduce the art form to novices. A sampler plate of different styles and persuasions, audiences get a taste of how fun dance can be. The pieces piece are short enough to sustain attention, but long and varied enough so that the audience leaves the theater a little hungry for more.

BP's next show "BP Goes Global" opens in October. Call 551-0211.