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Ballet Philippines' 50th: Half A Century’s Worth Of Dance

Ballet Philippines celebrates its 50th season with four new shows, starting with 'Swan Lake'

On September 29, 2019, a gala performance of Swan Lake will usher in the momentous 50th season of our very own Ballet Philippines. That it coincides with the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 50th year is some motherload of serendipity, as it has allowed these two bastions of Philippine culture and the arts to take a very well-deserved bow, and put out all the stops in creating a celebration that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

 

 

Much will be written about this production of Swan Lake, as in the annals of collaboration, this one will be well-anticipated, and I predict, long-remembered. Dubai-based designer Michael Cinco has been commissioned to create fifty fabulous pieces, all inspired by Swan Lake—a ballet he’s enjoyed and was fascinated by. How this ballet–fashion fusion will be executed is still anyone’s guess; and Ballet Philippines’ Creative Director, National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes, wasn’t giving away any clues. CCP Chairperson Margie Moran-Floirendo was similarly mum on the subject, but if the five pieces showcased during the media preview is any indication, this collaboration will certainly be one for the ages.


Personally, I’ve often cast a skeptical eye on collaborations of this sort, where two very distinct disciplines or genres try to mesh. Fashion, to gain more mainstream popularity, has done this countless of times; and I remember one Metrowear fashion show where rock bands were performing live, while models sashayed down the catwalk. I do subscribe to the notion of making ballet more accessible, more populist, so if this is one possible avenue for broadening Ballet’s audience, I’m all for it. But i just hope the ones who come to the Ballet for the first time with this fashionable ‘carrot on a stick’, will also appreciate the other wonderful shows being staged for this glorious 50th season.

 


Later in the year, there’s William Shakespeare’s magical and fairy-laden romantic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as reimagined by Carlo Pacis; and for the Christmas holiday season, we have Cinderella, with its iconic Tchaikovsky score, and sets designed by National Artist Salvador Bernal.

In 2020, we have Itim Asu & Other Dances, which is based on Virginia Moreno’s The Onyx Wolf. Set during our Spanish colonial period, the ballet follows the Mexican wife of Spanish Governor-General Bustamante as she avenges his death—it’s a dance piece that speaks of women’s issues and our historical heritage. 

To close the season, we have Heritage with a capital H, as Rama Hari, once again, comes to life! It’s the Ramayana of India, chronicling the adventures of Rama, and his saving the life of his wife Sita. This is of particular significance as there are four National Artists working behind the scene—Ryan Cayabyab provides the music, Bienvenido Lumbera wrote the poetic lines of the libretto, Salvador Bernal is production design, and Alice Reyes handles direction and choreography. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but December 2012 would have been the last time this historical pop ballet musical was staged.


During the media lunch, Alice Reyes took a moment to reminisce about 1969, as she was a founding member and it’s Artistic Director from 1969 to 1989. To come full circle and have her donning the same mantle in 2019 as the company celebrates its 50th year, is truly special. She’s responsible for introducing modern dance to the Philippine audience, and that the company remains committed to its guiding principles and lofty mission is something she can be very proud about. 

The number of dancers today, whether in classical ballet or modern dance, who hold her in awe and regarded her as their inspiration, are too many to mention. Too often, we liberally make use of terms like icon or institution, and we’ve devalued the use of the terms. Me, I would reserve that description to personages such as Alice Reyes, as she truly deserves every accolade and word of praise.

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