Ballet Philippines Blue Moon Series

24 Nov

Arriving in the Philippines in late September, I was able to see the opening performance of Ballet Philippines’ Blue Moon Gala program on September 26 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The CCP as it is called locally is situated just off Roxas Boulevard, once named Dewey by the Manifest Destiny proponents when colonizing the Philippines after the Admiral decimated the Spanish Fleet in Manila Bay. The Boulevard runs not far from the edge of Manila Bay itself and must once upon a time been quite scenic; it still is pleasant, but traffic, trash and transients in various combinations have diminished its impressiveness. I can remember a Thursday afternoon in late April 1966 when a group of Filipinos gathered around a heaping spread of off white boulders, the women in their Butterfly-sleeved dresses and the men in gossamer barong tagalogs to witness the dedication of the future CCP, presided over by President Ferdinand Marcos and wife Imelda during their first term of office.

Nearly a half century later, CCP has some problems and some successes; the former concerns a theatre no longer usable, reputed to be sinking into Manila Bay, built at the expense of workmen’s lives at the insistence of Imelda Marcos; construction required completion to impress an imminent international conference. The success includes the residency of Ballet Philippines and the scarlet hued auditorium where BP was celebrating its 35th anniversary.

Had travel plans allowed seeing BP’s production of Giselle I would have a more coherent view of the company’s strengths – as it was, the diversity informed me the company dances contemporary styles extremely well, full out and with passion. I remembered in particular the pas de deux which Candice Adea and Jean Marc Codero danced at the 2010 USA IIBC in Jackson – Evacuation, created in Europe in 1995, still all too relevant in 2014, although one wonders how the Islamic dress code for would allow Adea the range of movement that late twentieth century work required. It is a notable work, but sadly, not performed in the United States, and thought by some San Francisco dance exponents to be a little “old hat.” So much for cross-cultural sensibilities!

Cesar and I arrived just as Je Tu Elle was starting. Danced to Vangelis music, Redha Bontelfour choreographed Je Tu Elle for a female cast of five dancers, strong technicians. With pirouettes and grand jetes and typical resting postures of dancers – hands with elbows out on the hips, either side or in the small of the back, leaning forward with one knee bent over a foot en pointe, a series of bravura variations were given to each dancer. They prowled around the space awaiting their tour, watchful, ready. In short black costumes, varied in torso treatment, the five could just have easily been dressed as Amazons practicing war maneuvers. Scarcely your typical toeshoe demeanor.

Je Tu Fille or I You [intimate] Girl, provided an instant read of the dancers’ energies, their strong attack, the curves of short dancers, thoroughly competent, a silhouette one doesn’t see in ballet troupes on the Pacific Ocean’seastern shores.

In an abupt thematic shift, Candace Adea, now a soloist with Hong Kong Ballet, made a brief appearance in Kitri’s variation from Don Quixote, blithe, sparkling but rushing a bit to recorded music. She experienced a fall, but made a quick rebound.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers lent presence and voices to Alice Reyes’ Bungkos Suite, four dances in the festive attire one expects to see on Filipinos celebrating, dancers moving gracefully and laterally, with slight individual swoops, circlings and ensemble skill, the image one expects to see when Bayanihan visits the United States.

Earl John Arisola danced Max Luna’s Cold Song, a tribute to the late Alvin Ailey to music by Klaus Nomi. Arisola was expected to convey involvement in three conflicting relationships. He danced well and passionately, but about the three relationships, the choreographer’s intent was a bit much for any solo assignment.

Prior to intermission George Birkadze’s Farandole was danced to the music of Georges Bizet. Six dancers were involved with Jean Marc Cordero and Jemima Reyes soloists in Spanish-flavored style.

Candace Adea made a second appearance with Shen Je, another Hong Kong Ballet soloist, dancing to Sylvain Chauveau’s music. Joseph Morrissey choreographed this pas de deux, titled Poised, to depict two individuals who meet, greet and entwine, returning to separate lives.

Technical, admirably interpreted, I kept wondering about the feeling of detachment until I caught up with program notes. Their
interpretation then made perfect sense.

Three numbers in the second half enjoyed musical support from nineteenth and twentieth century classical canon: Agnes Locsin’s Salome to Isaac Albeniz; Carlos Pacis’Nocturne to Felix Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, and Gustav Mahler’s Songs of the Wayfarer for Norman Mailer’s closing work of the same name.

The theme of Salome is one of a sweetheart separated from her lover due to the Spanish revolutionary movement, interpreted by Kris-Belle Pacibar-Mamangun, an eight-year veteran with one of Cirque de Soleil’s productions. The origins of Locsin’s themes eludes me, only familiar with the Biblical femme fatale and the head of St. John the Baptist. I was puzzled, if dazzled by the strength and fire of the piece interpreted with admirable strength and focus by Pacibarf-Mamangun. Her floor work was particularly impressive; at one point from a prone position, legs and feet tucked under her torso, she rose to sitting position with abdominal muscles so amazing that the audience burst into applause.

Carlos Pacis’ Nocturne required Jean Marc Cordero and Katherine Trofeo to approach each other with measured, ceremonious walk in front of the orchestra pit, clad in pinkish flesh tights and pixie-like helmets with crown peaks. Floral-like appliques were applied on their respective torsos to simulate a modesty contradicting the revealing elastic underlay. Contrasted with the push-pull so remembered in Sir Frederick Ashton’s version, Pacis preferred to emphasize Mendelssohn’s melodic swell with lifts. Cordero and Trofeo were nicely matched in size, giving a sense of water sprites at play.

Songs of a Wayfarer is a revival, apparently of a 1973 work for BP by Norman Walker, of love lost, love searched for, and the heart reconciled, depicted via a circular-shaped column of lighted strands at center stage left into which the Wayfarer [Richardson Yadao] moves at the end to be reconciled with his love [Carissa Adea]. Earl John Arisola was the fortunate bridegroom, who made such an impression in his solo, Cold Song choreographed by Max Luna, music by Klaus Nomi.

As a stranger to Manila programming customs, I found it a bit disconcerting to see artistic personnel featured in the program prior to the program listing,usually the opposite in the U.S.

Also in the United States, shorter dancers have a tougher time of it with ensemble companies. If some brilliant exceptions are recorded as defying this norm, another norm expects women with minimal curves and overall, classic proportions. These proportions are standard, regardless of gender.The historic virtuosity of Italian male dancers, strongly muscled, torsos longer then legs, has somehow been forgotten. I wonder what Njinsky’s build would bring him in today’s auditions.

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