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REVIEW: Ballet Manila restages Filipino classic ‘Lola Basyang’ stories with graceful charm

REVIEW: Ballet Manila restages Filipino classic ‘Lola Basyang’ stories with graceful charm

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Highly entertaining as well as culturally profound, even adults in the audience will leave the theater having learned about a lost portion of our heritage that time threatens to sweep away.

Ballet is one of the most ethereal of the art forms. It is an intimate union of music and movement; achingly fleeting in its passing beauty, and made all the more precious for its short-lived splendor. Ballet Manila has long had a sterling reputation for the classics, but with this latest production (the 7th rerun of one of their most beloved shows), they proved that the Lisa Macuja – led company’s touch is just as strong with a Filipino piece: a trio of tales from Severino Reyes, more popularly known as Lola Basyang.

Ballet Manila took artistic inspiration from local publishing company Anvil’s 2005-2007 editions of twenty original tales (selected from the hundreds of Lola Basyang stories and rewritten in simplified form by Christine S. Bellen, who studied Severino Reyes for her M.A. thesis in U.P. Diliman). From costume to set design (with tasteful projections that enhanced the main attraction: the dancers themselves), it was truly delightful to see the rich illustrations of Frances C. Alcaraz leap from page to stage. 

Ballet Manila has choreographed and staged six, choosing three for Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (originally staged in 2008, and last performed in 2015) and a different set of stories for Tatlo Pang Kuwento ni Lola Basyang (first staged in 2013).

This rerun features a new script by Luna Griño-Inocian, and a new Von de Guzman song sung by showbiz veteran Mitch Valdes as Lola Basyang. 

Ang Prinsipe ng mga Ibon

Not to be confused with Ibong Adarna, the first offering brought us an interspecies love affair between a human princess and her many-feathered lover. The unwilling King says he will permit his daughter to marry the bird prince if he helps get rid of two giants attacking the kingdom, but will His Highness keep his word?

Czech poet Jaroslav Seifer once said of folk songs that they were “the sap without which culture dries up… the most essential of essentials… through them I merge with the stream that flows deep below.” Musical arranger Mon Faustino seems to agree, as he used melodies that were quintessentially Pinoy (I caught “Pandangguhan” and “Mutya ng Pasig”) to cement the Filipino-ness of the first story, whose book illustrations set it in China.

Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya

Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang

L-R: Sean Pelegrin as Pedro, Rissa Camaclang as Maria Trining, Noah Esplana; Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

A couple had three daughters who were kidnapped by a giant snake, angered at their father’s cutting down his tree home to make medicine from the leaves. Years later, when the father is near death, the fourth son seeks out his eldest sisters from their new homes under the sea amongst sharks, in the sky with eagles, and in Africa with lions. Will they recognize their youngest brother, and will they come to their father’s aid?

Joey Ayala’s neo-ethnic score served as an interesting background for highly percussive dancing. One detects folk inspiration in certain hand and foot movements, although this is still predominantly classic ballet (with impressively high kicks from the ensemble, nearly 180 degrees each time but always done with such elegance).

Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin

Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang

L-R: Gerardo Francisco as Rodrigo and John Balagot as Ahab; Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

The crowd favorite is the comedy about a young lad with a golden heart who is underpaid and abused by his boss. Despite his penury, he gives the last of his measly earnings to buy food for a beggar woman, who gifts him with a violin that forces all who hear it to dance uncontrollably. Chaos and justice ensue, accompanied by music written by Ryan Cayabyab. The danseuse with the most laughs was John Balagot as Ahab, the devilish businessman all in red. His long limbs and extremely expressive face lend themselves well to physical comedy that garnered sustained laughter and attention from all, regardless of age.

A Trilogy in Talent

Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang

Mark Sumaylo and Abigail Oliveiro in Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya; Photo Credit: Erica Feliz Marquez-Jacinto

With each story featuring a different composer and choreographer, it was a mixed bag of delights. Musically, the third chapter was the most memorable, because National Artist Ryan Cayabyab’s gift for melody really shone through. Despite the canned music, the recording of a gifted live violinist sawing away like Paganini was impressively brought to life by the choreography that naughtily featured a few modern dance steps for the social media generation. Their roars of approval shook the rafters, and the zeal with which the ensemble performed the hilarious dance steps brought grins to even the most jaded audience member.

For such a strong production, the rewritten scenes that served as the frame narrative before, after, and in between the stories stood out for their general awkwardness. Charm and innocence in child actors aside, this viewer felt that they could have used more rehearsal, and the delivery of some lines meant to be humorous didn’t get as much laughter as intended. 

For children whose education and social skills were impacted due to isolation of the pandemic era, I can’t think of a better show for parents to bring them to watch. This is storytelling without words, and is a masterclass in reading emotions and nonverbal cues, clothed in the highest levels of Filipino artistry.

Known for performing classics, Ballet Manila is to be commended for championing homegrown fairy tales that proved every bit as fascinating as the more familiar Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Both highly entertaining as well as culturally profound, even adults in the audience will leave the theater having learned about a lost portion of our heritage that time may have swept away.


Tickets: P1,030.00 – P2,060.00
Show Dates: May 11, 12, and 18 (5:00 PM / 8:00 PM)
Venue: Aliw Theater, Pasay City
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes (including a 15 minute intermission)
Credits: Lisa Macuja Elizalde (Over-all Stage Direction and Choreography: Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya), Osias Barroso Jr. (Choreography: Ang Prinsipe ng mga Ibon), Mon Faustino (Music arrangement: Ang Prinsipe ng mga Ibon), Joey Ayala (Original Music: Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya), Tony Fabella (Choreography: Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin), National Artist Ryan Cayabyab (Original Music: Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin), Luna Griño-Inocian (Script and Original Lyrics), Von de Guzman (Original Song and Score), Christine Bellen Ang and Severino Reyes (Story), Mark Daniel Dalacat (Scenic Design), Carlo Reyes (Lighting Design), Joyce Garcia (Visual Design), House of Michael Miguel (Original Costume Design)
Cast: Mitch Valdes (Lola Basyang), Joshua Enciso / Romeo Peralta (Prinsipe ng mga Ibon), Shaira Comeros / Pia Dames (Prinsesa Sing Sing), Mark Sumaylo (Hari), Sean Pelegrin / Elmo Dictado (Pedro), Ris Camaclang (Maria Trining), Stephani Santiago (Maria Loleng), Jessa Balote / Pearl Dames (Maria Upeng), Gerardo Francisco Jr. (Rodrigo and Associate Artistic Director), John Balagot (Ahab), Anika Vale Gaite (Mikey), Bea Marie Elizabeth Panigbatan / Amber Maria Torrecampo (Layla), Ancel Luis Punsalan (Bing), Natalja Mei Nicolas / Anica Myracle Encinares (Kiara)
Company: Ballet Manila

About the Author /


Gabi is a classically trained soprano who now performs in the English / Music / Drama classroom. On weekends she soaks in as much art and literature as she can, so she can pass her love for the arts on to her students. She passionately believes in the transformative role of arts education in nation-building. (IG: teacher.gabi.reads )