There’s something to be said for taking the traditional route when it comes to the classics.
‘Swan Lake’ is one of ballet’s masterpieces and understandably, different companies have tried to put their own spin on it. But in this restaging, Ballet Manila remains true to the original. With nothing fancy or outlandish to distract the audience, the show is left to stand solely on the strength of its dancers, and they are the real reason this production soars.
From the Pas de Trois to the Little Swans’ dance, every movement of the company is crisp and clean. The scenes featuring the swan maidens by the lake are a special joy to behold, with their military-like precision and unison perfectly conveying the essence of the regal birds they personify. Godwin Merano’s Von Rothbart first appears disguised as an owl, but if we are allowed to mix our animal comparisons, he comes across as more of a serpentine character, with his fluid movements evoking a snake ready to attack its hapless victim. It’s a chilling reminder of the power of this evil sorcerer who aims to thwart true love at every turn.
Mark Sumaylo’s Prince Siegfried is a noticeably more active participant in this staging compared to other productions. His muscular leaps give the impression that he is suspended in mid-air, and coupled with his emotive facial expressions, make his Siegfried a forceful presence on stage and a worthy partner to Abigail Oliveiro’s Odette/Odile. Playing what is arguably the defining role for all ballerinas, Oliveiro effectively shows the contrast between the two characters. To an extent her style is more fit for the seductive Odile rather than the tragic Odette, with her lithe body and measured movements communicating the brash confidence of the Black Swan more convincingly.
The simplicity of the set, with backdrops dominating the stage, adds a nostalgic quality throughout. The only questionable element is the use of the mechanical swans that herald the swan maidens’ appearance. They are wheeled on railings across the stage and threaten to discompose the flow of the scenes with their literality. However, this relatively minor shortcoming is more than made up for by the ballet’s finale.
Ballet Manila chose the tragic ending for this version, and the restraint exercised in the pivotal moment when the two lovers decide to take their lives and break Von Rothbart’s spell is commendable. Von Rothbart’s dramatic exit through a stage trapdoor, Prince Siegfried and Odette’s flight toward the heavens while leaving behind a trail of stars, and the swans’ transformation into humans pack the right amount of emotional punch and serves as the perfect culmination.
With the glorious music performed live by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Alexander Vikulov), the marvelous costumes by Michael Miguel, and the uncomplicated yet beautiful set design by Miguel Faustmann, it’s obvious that all the artists involved worked painstakingly on their craft in service of this venerable piece. It bears Artistic Director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s stamp in the way that everything about it exudes the utmost love and respect for the material. This production is an illustration of how the seemingly effortless grace of ballet dancers is anchored on exacting technical precision.
Ballet Manila’s ‘Swan Lake’ runs at the Aliw Theater until October 15, 2017.