SHORTLY PAST midnight on Oct. 2, the Star City Complex in Pasay City caught fire. Aside from the amusement park’s rides, the inferno, which lasted for 14 hours, also consumed the Aliw Theater — the home of Ballet Manila for nearly 20 years.
Yet a little past 1 p.m. on Oct. 5, Akira Ida was rehearsing her solo for Ballet Manila’s production of Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier’s romantic ballet Giselle. She, along with her fellow dancers, were doing a run-through of Act 2, where she would be dancing as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Rehearsals for the show had been going on since June in preparation for the show in October, and the fire would not stop them.
The show must go on.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
Prima ballerina and Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja Elizalde was wearing a gray T-shirt with the words “Rise like a phoenix” superimposed on a graphic of a dancer and the mythological bird who is born again from the ashes of its own destruction. She has the shirt in three colors she told BusinessWorld at the Ballet Manila offices in Pasay City last week.
She put on a big smile when we greeted her a belated happy birthday, followed by a faint, “Thank you.”
Her birthday was on Oct. 3, the day after the fire.
After the blaze, Ballet Manila vowed to dance and continue with its 24th season.
“The initial reaction really was to cancel Giselle and refund the tickets,” Ms. Macuja Elizalde recalled in a quiet tone. “When Star City was burning, I was trying to call the [orchestra] conductor not to come anymore, but he had already left. He was already in Istanbul waiting for his transit flight to Manila. When he arrived later that day, buti na lang (It was a good thing), I could tell him that we were going to have one show.”
This was because the cultural community rallied behind its stricken member.
“That morning I got a call from [Cultural Center of the Philippines Vice-President and Artistic Director] Chris Millado offering the CCP Main Theater,” she explained, adding that upon confirmation of the available dates, she approached a board member of the Manila Symphony Orchestra — which was supposed to perform with the dance company for Giselle — and made a request for a discounted rate. She got it.
“[CCP Chairperson] Margie Moran-Floirendo offered to lend us the backdrops of Giselle from Ballet Philippines because our backdrops burned in the fire,” she continued. “By noontime of Oct. 2, I already had everything in place for one [performance of] Giselle.”
Giselle will be staged on Oct. 17, 8 p.m., at the CCP Main Theater. It is the second ballet in the lineup of Ballet Manila’s 24th season, “On Pointe.”
The romantic two-act ballet follows Giselle, a peasant girl who falls in love with Albretch, deceitful nobleman who disguises himself as a villager. Then Giselle finds out that Albretch is betrothed to another woman, her heart breaks and she dies. Albretch is then targeted by the Wilis, the spirits of maidens who died after being betrayed by their lovers. They take their revenge by dancing men to death by exhaustion. But Giselle, risen from the grave, saves him, and in the process saves herself.
Playing the leads in tomorrow evening’s performance are Joan Emery Sia as Giselle; Elpidio Magat as Albretch; and Mark Sumayo as Hilarion. Joshua Enciso and Nicole Barroso are performing the pas de deux, and 24 company dancers play the Wilis. The Manila Symphony Orchestra will provide live music under the baton of Maestro Alexander Vikulov.
VIP, Ballet Manila subscribers, and audience members who had previously bought tickets to the Aliw Theater performances (originally scheduled on Oct. 19 to 20) will have their tickets exchanged for orchestra center seats on the Oct. 17 performance at the CCP.
“We are honoring all tickets that have been sold for all three performances in Aliw [Theater]. If they cannot go, we are ready to refund,” Ms. Macuja Elizalde said.
Tickets to the Oct. 17 show are still available at TicketWorld at their original prices.
HOPEFUL FOR A SECOND SHOW
Ms. Macuja Elizalde is hopeful that they will have a repeat performance of the romantic ballet.
“I am hopeful for performances of Giselle that will enable all our other casts of Giselle, Albretch, and Myrtha to perform because they have worked so hard and prepared psychologically, emotionally, and physically [for the roles],” she said, adding that the three leads are dream roles for any ballet dancer.
Repeat performances will depend on venue availability and audience demand.
“There is nothing like answering the clamor for a repeat performance. That is a dream for any ballet company,” she said.
Meanwhile, performances of Sleeping Beauty originally scheduled in December have been postponed; while the two other ballets scheduled for this season, Carmina Burana and La Traviata, will be presented next year depending on the availability of another venue — these will be scaled down performances danced to recorded music.
“As the choreographer of the last ballet of the Princess Trilogy (following Ballet Manila’s Cinderella and Snow White), it did not make sense [for me] that the finale of the trilogy would go to any other venue,” Ms. Macuja Elizalde explained.
“I want it to open the new Aliw Theater once it is rebuilt and restored,” she declared.
“It’s a matter of making sense in all aspects and also financial sense… It’s a period of adjustment for everyone. But we’re trying as much as possible to deliver on what we fully intended,” she added.
Regarding the options for performance venues, she laughed and said, “Maraming possibilities.”
But when the new Aliw Theater will open remains uncertain. “I really don’t know. I cannot say.”
While the theater did not burn to the ground, unlike the nearby Star Theater, it was heavily damaged. “We still need to prove that the building is safe,” she said. “Once all of that is assessed, we can create a timeline.”
She remains optimistic: “We are taking the necessary steps to be able to continue on and survive this, because it’s [going to] get better… I’m pretty sure it’s [going to] get better, especially once we get our theater back.”
Ballet Manila will continue to dance for the love of their art.
“We will let our art uplift us all,” Ms. Macuja Elizalde said. “That is one of the functions of art in society — it is to uplift the human spirit.”
With conviction she assured that tomorrow night, “We’re going to give a really, really good show of Giselle.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman
For inquiries, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, contact 09188077148, or visit www.facebook.com/BalletManilaOfficial/. Tickets are available at TicketWorld (www.ticketworld.com.ph, 891-9999). Ticket prices start at P300.