With no less than the most accomplished Filipino ballerina at the helm of the company, it’s no wonder how far this company has come in just 20 years. From just 12 dancers, the company now has 52. From no structure, their school now has more than a hundred students, with more than 40 different scholars. From a makeshift rehearsal area in Artistic Director Ms. Lisa Macuja’s parents’ house in Quezon City, they now have 4 studios. But apart from these accomplishments, what’s even more impressive is the variety of the audience that they were able to bring in. Because of original ballets like Kuwento ni Lola Basyang, Ballet and Ballads, Dancing to OPM, among many others, the company has expanded the audience reach more than ever before.
Tonight’s concert was indeed a celebration and a showcase of all these accomplishments. The first piece, Paquita, represents the company’s Russian Vaganova training, a technique that requires a lot of upper-body strength and precision.
One of the most exciting pieces of the evening was Tara Let’s, an OPM piece choreographed by BM principal artist Gerardo Francisco. The entire group of dancers performed to the pop-rock song popularized by OPM group Imago. It was fun, energetic, modern, and so very Filipino.
But the next 4 pieces were the jaw-dropping performances of the evening. Christine Rocas, a Ballet Manila alumna who has been making waves in Chicago and New York, danced contemporary versions of Romeo and Juliet and After the Rain with partner Rory Hohenstein. They both melted with each other on stage; as fluid as water and as graceful as the wind. It took some energy to hold back tears because one could just feel the sheer emotion that each of them was putting into her/his characters.
Bloom, choreographed by Belgian-Colombian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, was THE dance of the evening. Ochoa maximized something that’s very unique to Ballet Manila- a dominantly male dancing ensemble. A sea of topless, agile men started the piece with a more native, contemporary piece that showcased their athleticism and agility. But, THE best part of the show was the duet danced by Mark Sumaylo and Dawna Reign Mangahas. I could swear that the world stopped turning while I was watching them dance flawlessly with no hesitation. It was a fluid synchronization accompanied with a fierce classical technique. They completely drew the audience into their world. What a treasure. When we interviewed Mark Sumaylo during the press preview, co-artistic director Osias Barroso mentioned that Mark actually just started ballet when he was 21 years old! Does that mean that there’s still hope for the rest of us? (Probably not.)
The night ended with Ecole, a piece that showcases the dancers’ daily grind- from the warm-up exercises to their stage performance. The piece starts out with the young blood taking center stage, featuring the company’s students and top scholars.
It then progresses with the more senior dancers; Abigail Oliveiro, takes the lead as the principal dancer, showing her amazing lines and grace. The piece ended with the entire company dancing in complete synchronization, without a single person out of step. It was like being in a rock concert, but instead of guitars and drums, it was more than 30 dancers shaking the ground with nothing but perfect ballet. It was such a majestic way to end the celebratory evening.