Back To The Future, Ballet-Style
Humor me—imagine you were a Filipino scientist successfully working on Time Travel back in the mid-1970s and in your spare time you loved watching ballet. Here in Manila, you would have loved the performances of the Ballet Philippines at the CCP, and admired Alice Reyes, co-founder of the company in 1969, and its Artistic Director, a position she held for 20 years. You transport yourself to the future, to 2018, and when you drop by the CCP, you panic, thinking you’ve malfunctioned or are caught in a time warp, for the artistic director of the Ballet Philippines, on the eve of its 50th year, is none other than the same Alice Reyes.
Relax, you aren’t in some recurring dream, for National Artist for Dance (an honor bestowed on her in 2014) Alice Reyes has indeed returned to the helm of the dance troupe she helped establish back then. And while she’s now an elegant silver-maned doyenne, there’s still a twinkle in her eyes, and she’s still wizard-ing, creating a programme that deftly blends classic ballet with modern dance. In truth, she’s made Philippine Ballet, seen by some as stodgy, formal, or aloof; a living, breathing art form that exudes respect for tradition, while also whimsical and humorous when it can be, and relevant in a manner that defies expectations.
Their most recent presentation of this 49th season, Carmen & Other Dances, is a sterling example of how she accomplishes this. Composed of six ballet suites, it ranged from ensemble performances, to solos, three lead dancers, and break-out aggregations. What was consistent was how they made look effortless, what obviously was very precise, and painstakingly rehearsed. The choreographers enlisted, Bam Damian, Denisa Reyes and Alden Lugnasin have to be commended for being so innovative and imaginative in reinterpreting these pieces.
And lead dancer Denise Parungao was a revelation; her turn in Carmen and her solo interpretation of the torch song classic "This Is My Life" had fire and verve, a touch of subversive humor, and ‘all the right moves’. To be completely honest, I entered the CCP, thinking I was merely supporting BP Board Member Amanda Luym; and found myself constantly grinning from ear to ear, as piece after piece, teased, surprised and cajoled me into being supremely thankful that I had caught this show. And when the second half commenced with Swimming the Pasig Ilog, with the dancers in swimsuits and goggles, performing on a stand alone set of bleachers, I was ready to bow in front of our resident National Artist.
Whether in pointe shoes, in flats, or in their bare feet, the movement, the grace, the sheer physical power of the dancers were a sight to behold and appreciate. Ballet is certainly alive and well with the three major ballet companies we have now in the country, and the number of qualified schools producing the new crop of dancers. But it is great to have Alice Reyes once again weaving her spells of magic, and giving us a standard that we can all look up to.
Their next production is Snow White come end-November, and you would do well to look forward to this, and join us in supporting Philippine Ballet. It’s something you won’t regret, as there is something very transformative happening at the CCP this Ballet Philippinesseason, and it goes beyond time travel or heading back to the future.