REVIEW: Celebrating Beginnings in “Snow White”
Ballet Manila (BM) Artistic Director Lisa Macuja Elizalde created a full-length ballet featuring the 19th century fairy tale “Snow White” as the company’s year-ender Christmas story.
The narrative of the Ballet Manila show is loosely based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale with influences from the popular Disney version. Ballet Manila kept the fairytale elements such as the enchanted mirror, the poisoned apple, and the seven dwarves but gave their own spin on the relationships of the characters.
The curtains rose to an opulent set with a magnificent mirror as the centerpiece. Mio Infante outdid himself with his glorious tribute to the enchanted mirror. Dressed in a luxurious bejeweled black long tutu by Michael Miguel, the evil queen danced in front of the mirror with an identical figure showing her reflection. Basked in John Batalla’s enchanting light, this beginning was undoubtedly the ballet’s strongest point. What follows is the introduction of new characters. The Huntsman’s family was portrayed as a support system for the Princess, living in their home. As she was playing with the Huntsman’s son, their ball went over the palace walls. The Prince came across the ball, paving the way for him to conveniently meet the lovely Snow White. The palace walls were right beside the deepest part of the forest where the the Prince happened to be hunting. What was it that led him to climb a presumably high wall just to give back a ball to a stranger?
Soon after, the serendipitous encounter transitioned into a light pas de deux with quick supported fouettes and balancés. The touch and go movements were perfectly appropriate for introducing a budding romance. The presence of the wishing well also amplified the “kilig” moments that simulate the sweetness of sitting side by side your loved one.
The Queen, angered by Snow White’s beauty and her presumed destiny, ordered the Huntsman to kill her. The reluctant Huntsman dances with Snow White, clearly forlorn. In contrast, the princess was playful as she did her supported developpes and promenades. The huntsman, unable to do the deed, left the devastated Snow White deep into the forest. With the help of the forest creatures, the Princess found the home of the dwarves.
Act 2 introduces the dwarves and features the forest creatures that helped Snow White. In an over extended period the Dwarves seemed to veer away from ballet. Except for the occasional tours, single pirouettes, and tricks, they basically street danced their way through Heigh Ho the working song–complete with millennial dab move, ponytail challenge, and revised ocho ocho. While it did elicit momentary laughter from the audience, it did dim the statement that the show was a full-length ballet. If this would be restaged at a later time, the dance references would be irrelevant. The forest creatures who interacted with Snow White wore massive head pieces that held the dancers back. Ballet Manila’s trademark impeccable timing and unity was compromised with their impaired vision. It was as if the ballet was on pause in Act 2 and a commercial was airing. Thankfully, the Queen and her mirror image came back to fill the stage with gorgeous leaps and commanding extensions. Transformed into an old woman, she danced with Snow White until Snow White bit into that cursed apple. She died quickly but the Prince eventually found her and saved her with his life saving kiss of pure love. When she woke up, rather than embracing the dwarves who actually saved her, she immediately went to the Huntsman’s family where they gave her a quick nod of remorse for their sins.
The storytelling glorified the famous elements of the story but the tweaks left loopholes.
The ballet choreography of the soloist and principal characters were quite refreshing. It was as if it was joyfully created. It was quite a good reflection of how Lisa Macuja Elizalde is, in real life, spirited. The vibrance can be seen in the dynamic interplay between the musical accents and the grandiose movements. The ensemble pieces I reckon were created to satisfy a particularly large market (the children and/or the new audiences who are not quite in love with ballet yet) but it felt like a compromise.
Style and Substance
Joan Sia’s youthful approach as Snow White was delightful. Snow White’s kindness was consistent in Sia’s portrayal and made her all the more endearing. Her lyricisim translated to fragility and alluring femininity. Her generous extensions and well arched feet were picturesque. Partnering her was Elpidio Magat as the Prince. There is a silent confidence in his strides. His grand jetes were well extended, and his tours dependable. Abigail Oliveiro as the evil queen was indeed the fairest of them all. She quickly established that she embodied the villainous spirit. Sharing the role with her was Godwin Merano. Their scenes together were flawless. Especially memorable was the synchronicity and lines they displayed in the mirror scene. They delivered technique and magnetism. Ballet Manila’s frontliners were not only competent, they were captivating.
Ballet Manila’s “Snow White” may not be flawless, but there is still something to be celebrated. Magic is only truly realized when a room is filled with laughter and cheer. In this sense, Ballet Manila’s production was truly magical. Choreographer Lisa Macuja Elizalde got exactly what she dreamed of: a twinkle in the eye from every child in the audience. For every person who hummed Heigh Ho, for every person who cheered for the princess, this production was a success.