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Earning their wings

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TCHAIKOVSKY’S Swan Lake has endured more than a century and is known to be one of the most popular ballets in the world – due to its tragic yet romantic narrative and technical difficulty. It is also a ballet that holds a special place in the heart of prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, and starting this weekend, her company, Ballet Manila, will restage the much-loved ballet.

This year’s restaging of Swan Lake will include the original Lev Ivanov choreography for the first act and feature the choreography of Sergey Vikulov and Tatiana Udalenkova in the succeeding acts.

Ms. Udalenkova was Ms. Macuja-Elizalde’s teacher (and her second mother) when she was training in the Vaganova Choreographic Institute (now the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet) in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In a previous interview, Ms. Macuja-Elizalde told BusinessWorld that Swan Lake is one of the most challenging ballets she has ever performed (her teacher, Ms. Udalenkova, even told her she was never going to be a Swan Queen because she doesn’t look like one but the student has since proven her mentor wrong). Now, a new crop of talents from Ballet Manila will take a stab at the said ballet on Oct. 7-8 and 14-15 at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City.

“It not only calls for a chameleon-like change in character, but also for extraordinary technical requirements,” she said in a press release, further describing the White Swan/Odette character as someone “soft, pliant and lyrical with almost painful vulnerability” while the Black Swan/Odile character as one that needs “legs and arms of steel, a fiery technique, speed, and the ability to transform into evil personified.”

Principal dancer Katherine Barkman as well as soloists Abigail Lynn Oliveiro and Joan Emery Sia will debut as Odette/Odile for the full-length ballet opposite Ballet Manila guest artist Joseph Phillips, principal dancer Rudy de Dios, and soloists Mark Sumaylo and Elpidio Magat.

“This is my first – I’ve never done anything from Swan Lake before,” Ms. Barkman told BusinessWorld in an interview last month.

Ms. Oliveiro had danced both roles in a 2014 restaging while Ms. Sia has danced the White Swan previously.

KATHERINE BARKMAN as the White Swan/Odette

“[Both roles are] difficult but if you ask me which one I enjoy doing a fraction more: I’d say the White [Swan] because I’m an adagio dancer – [the White Swan] is a lot more lyrical than Black, so there’s a lot more freedom in movement and expression. Black [Swan] is like a dot, very straight to the point, she makes a statement very clearly and whereas White goes through a whole range of things and I like White. It’s more me,” said Ms. Oliveiro in the same interview.

Though Ms. Macuja-Elizalde is still recuperating from hip replacement surgery she had in July, she was on hand to help the new Swan Queens gain their wings.

“Whenever we have time to work on the ballet we would spend… two hours just working on like, the head and arms for Odette and all the expressions of the upper body. Because you have to look like a swan, you have to look like a bird and not just any bird – a swan. And a swan is the symbol of grace and beauty in many, many cultures,” Ms. Barkman said.

“So you have to express those with your upper body and your legs have to be stable enough to execute the movements properly and I think that’s what makes it so challenging,” she added before saying that even if Ms. Macuja-Elizalde wasn’t there, she can hear her voice telling her to “use your head, use your neck, etc.”

But beyond all the technical training the prima ballerina has given her dancers, it’s her work ethic that has inspired them to do better.

“The best advice she has given is not particularly in words but how she embodies her work ethic because the first time I saw Swan Lake was when she was dancing, so that time when I saw her do it and saw the process of how she works through the ballet, through rehearsals. How many people can you count have seen her rehearse? I mean, a lot of people have seen her perform, but most haven’t seen her rehearse: the sweat, the tears, the studio time,” Ms. Sia said.

“I think witnessing all that – the process she goes through before going onstage – is the best example she can give. No words necessary,” she added.

Ballet Manila’s Swan Lake will also feature the original score by Tchaikovsky played live by the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Russian conductor Alexander Vikuloc of the Mariinsky Theater.

It will go on stage on Oct. 7 and 14 at 6 p.m. and on Oct. 8 and 15 at 3 p.m. at the Aliw Theater, CCP Complex in Pasay City.

For more information about the show, ticket prices and schedule, visit www.balletmanila.com.ph. Tickets are available through Ticketworld (www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891-9999). – Zsarlene B. Chua





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