GOOD STORYTELLING through ballet is not only evident in the dancer’s powerful pirouettes and leaps, or turns and swirls of the hand and feet, but even in heavy panting, a pregnant pause, or when a dancer is standing still on stage. Ballet requires not only dancing and timing skills but projection on stage, especially when the productions are contemporary retellings of the classics.
Such skills were shown by the Ballet Philippines (BP) dancers during a rehearsal for their production called The Exemplars: Amada and Other Dances. BP often invites the media to watch rehearsals – BusinessWorld dropped by on Sept. 20, one month prior to The Exemplars public performances on Oct. 20 to 22 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The repertoire includes excerpts from BP’s classic and internationally acclaimed productions during the 1970s, which are being restaged for a new audience.
The re-stagings are part of BP’s preparations for when it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2019.
The Exemplars headlines “Amada,” choreographed by BP’s artistic director and National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes. “Amada,” which is one of the first pieces ever performed by the company, is based on Nick Joaquin’s short story “Summer Solstice.” It is about a “submissive woman in a patriarchal society,” said BP choreographer Edna Vida Reyes Froilan, who happens to be Alice Reyes’s younger sister.
The “Amada” snippet showed to the media highlighted the lead dancer and guest artist Candice Adea in emotional turmoil and confusion, marked in her facial projection and dance moves. The dance tells the story of a woman named Amada, who is drawn to the Tadtarin, a ceremony of women who claim their stake as equals in a male-dominated society, while celebrating the concepts of resurrection and death. The ritual challenges the ruling Hispanic ideology and traditional patriarchal society in 19th century Manila.
“Amada” first premiered in Manila in 1970.
Another work that requires not only dance skills but superb acting chops is “Songs of a Wayfarer,” which was first performed in Manila in 1973. It tells of the unrequited love of a man, played by guest artist Ronelson Yadao, as he watches the love of his life about to get married. Mr. Yadao, whose older brother Richardson used to play the lead, delivered on point as well. The choreographers watching him dance during the rehearsal said his performance was flawless.
“Songs of a Wayfarer” features the choreography of renowned dancer Norman Walker, who created the piece specifically for Ballet Philippines in 1973 during a US Embassy-funded trip. Ms. Reyes-Froilan said her husband – dancer and choreographer Nonoy Froilan – was chosen by Walker to do the lead but he was rushed to the hospital because of dehydration. Walker was forced to perform it himself because he was the only one who knew the steps, besides Mr. Froilan. Another ballet that is difficult to restage because of its level of difficulty is called “Concertino.”
“Ito ang pinaka madugo (this was the hardest) because the steps were so alien,” said Ms. Froilan, who was part of the “Concertino” cast back when she was still a dance scholar of BP – then known as the CCP Modern Dance Company. It was first shown in Manila in 1973.
Pauline Koner, one of America’s modern dance pioneers, choreographed “Concertino” in 1955. Set during the Renaissance, the dance number focuses on a member of “royalty who wanted to have a life,” said Ms. Froilan.
The steps are angular, requiring a series of jumps and skips, and the dancers need stamina to last through the demanding production.
Also premiered in 1973 was another well-loved piece called “Ang Sultan” which tells a very familiar tale: girl meets boy, they fall in love, but have to be apart because one is poor while the other is rich.
“Parang sa teleserye ’di ba? (It’s like a TV series, isn’t it?) It’s about a rich girl falling in love with poor man,” said Ms. Froilan. The story is set in pre-hispanic Philippines which had a caste system. It dramatizes the tragedy of a royal falling in love with a peasant and the Sultan-father opposing the blossoming romance.
“It is one of the most [well] received and most performed pieces in our repertoire because the story is simple,” said Ms. Froilan, but she was quick to add that: “You do not have to interpret each story. Kanya kanya tayo ng feel, but what you take home after is what is more important.”
She said that people usually think that ballets are too cerebral, when they are not. Their stories are universally appealing, she said. – Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman