Ballet Philippines presented its twin bill of Crisostomo Ibarra | Simoun at the CCP over the weekend, and it was – quite simply – spectacular.
Both shows are full-length ballets, based on Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, with this staging marking the 120th death anniversary of the Philippine hero.
(READ: Ballet Philippines Presents Noli-Fili Double Bill this October 21-23)
Crisostomo Ibarra begins with our protagonist returning to Manila from his studies in Europe after hearing of his father’s death. He reunites with his love, Maria Clara, and starts his plans to build a school. However, everything starts to unravel for him as he learns the truth about Padre Damaso’s involvement in is father’s death, while the new village priest, Padre Salvi, falsely accuses Ibarra of inciting a revolution and has him arrested. The ghost of Ibarra’s father, Don Rafael, is present throughout the show as the silent overseer, a virtuous spirit who also represents Ibarra’s hopes for his country. By the end of the show, Ibarra has escaped with the help of Elias, and we are given a taste of things to come as he dons tinted sunglasses in a nod to his next incarnation.
The theme of change is continued in the next ballet, as we see the transformation from the once-idealistic Ibarra to the jaded Simoun. From the opening notes of the overture, it is clear that Simoun, like its source novel, is darker. The opening scene is reminiscent of Jesus Christ Superstar, as Simoun assumes his new disguise, with the company helping him put on his dark coat, hat, wig, and sunglasses. In the scenes that follow we see how Simoun ingratiates himself with high society, while trying to sow the seeds of discontent among the masses in the hopes that they will start a revolution. Simoun has abandoned his once pure ideas of effecting progress in his motherland and has resorted to violent means to achieve revenge.
The two shows effectively complement each other while showcasing the differences in tone. Crisostomo Ibarra is hopeful, like the titular hero. Victor Maguad conveys Ibarra’s wide-eyed optimism, while Monica Amanda Gana captures Maria Clara’s innocence. In contrast, Simoun is more sinister. It counterbalances the first ballet as it now shows a cynical and embittered hero. Jean Marc Cordero inhabits the role of Simoun as masterfully as he orchestrates the crowd around him. Simoun is more menacing, and though sometimes he is only lurking on the edge of events, Cordero has a strong presence that you can’t miss. Rita Angela Winder (Pepay ang Mananayaw) and Denise Parungao (Maria Clara) are standouts as well.
Jet Melencio’s costumes for Crisostomo Ibarra are ethereal, highlighting the softness of the native saya, while for Simoun, the colors are darker and the textures richer. GA Fallarme’s scenic projection design for both shows makes the story accessible for the audience, as scene markers and text are projected on to the screen housed in the scaffolding which serves as the main set. This set design by Toym Imao is another innovation, as the use of the different levels allows further space for the story to unfold. Jed Balsamo’s music is more intimate in Crisostomo Ibarra, played only by a quintet, and at some points with only a piano to convey Ibarra’s yearning or Sisa’s descent into madness; Simoun’s is grander in scope, with the full ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the renowned Gerard Salonga, providing the accompaniment. Being required reading for all students, the novels have never been easy to get into, but because of Paul Alexander Morales’ fresh and inventive choreography, we are able to see Noli and Fili with new eyes.
The last scene of Simoun caught us by surprise. It was a truly moving and powerful tribute to Jose Rizal, that one can almost feel him reaching out to us across the expanse of 120 years. If you’ve ever entertained the notion that the combination of classic Philippine literature and ballet means “dull”, this twin production of Ballet Philippines will make you think again. They’ve managed to show us that Rizal’s masterpieces are as vibrant and relevant as they’ve ever been.
Photography by: Erickson dela Cruz