How do you present a fresh take on a generations-old story that has had various incarnations from folk tale to Disney cartoon to musical? Ballet Manila attempted to answer this question with their original production of Cinderella, featuring the first full-length choreography by the venerable Lisa Macuja-Elizalde herself.
From the moment the curtain rises, you’re dazzled by Mio Infante’s scenic design and larger-than-life set pieces, such as the enormous chandeliers dripping with gems and the fireplace that cleverly uses the Aliw Theater’s intimate stage to draw in the audience. Michael Miguel’s costumes are nothing short of dazzling, with the wicked stepmother’s rich and dark robes, the evil stepsisters’ colorful and flower-bedecked tutus, the men’s velvet tights that accentuated their leaps and arabesques, and the fairy godmother’s exquisitely glittering purple gown.
(READ: Lisa Macuja-Elizalde Debuts First Full-length Choreography with Ballet Manila’s Cinderella)
Jimmy Villanueva and Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s lighting design is innovative, especially in the use of flickering lights to convey the passage of time. There is no shortage of special effects, with the dancers wearing trails of lights as the fairy godmother flourishes her wand. The sparkling glass coach and huge horses with their intricate metal design are a sight to behold. Magically-transformed footmen wave around seemingly endless cloth banners for the big reveal of Cinderella’s transformation. The show even combines music from Prokofiev, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and the Disney film. Essentially, the production pulls out all the stops to impress the audience.
And yet, there’s still a danger of being profoundly let down if you look beyond all the razzle-dazzle, because there’s not much else on offer. There’s a sense of heavy-handedness like everything is being thrown at you, which ironically leaves you wanting more. The stepmother, played by Jonathan Janolo in drag, is obviously meant for easy laughs. Abigail Oliveiro is a charming Cinderella, and Mark Sumaylo gets the chance to show off his technical prowess as Prince Charming. But any precision for the rest of the dancers doesn’t seem all that important in this staging, as the focus is more on being cute and funny as Cinderella’s animal friends.
The climactic pas de deux between Cinderella and her Prince is designed to be the highlight, and the show makes sure you don’t miss their intent, with the footmen artfully draping Cinderella’s long train all around her as she dances. Although it’s a romantic scene ably performed by the two leads, the entire show appears to hinge on this one scene. But the journey from the first act, which plays up only the comedy and novelty, isn’t enough to lend any emotional reward by the end. This scene summarizes everything that this production tries to do: be everything to please everyone.
Perhaps the secret to enjoying it is to let go of all expectations entirely. Kids will love it, certainly, because the visuals will be enough for them. And to the extent that Ballet Manila’s goal is just to entertain children, it’s a success. But it’s not a show that offers much depth beyond all the glitter and confetti.
Ballet Manila’s Cinderella will play three more shows at the Aliw Theater on November 27, December 3 and December 4, 2016.
You can buy tickets here!
Photography by: Erickson dela Cruz