'Ballet & Ballads' offers a theatrical experience like no other

'Ballet & Ballads' offers a theatrical experience like no other

Gerardo Francisco's new choreography, danced to the pop song Magsimula Ka, will open Ballet & Ballads. Video by Giselle P. Kasilag

For twenty years now, Ballet Manila has been bringing a series called Ballet & Ballads to assorted venues all over the Philippines – public schools, auditoriums, sports arenas.  It has also been presented as a concert gala for the company’s season performances at its home, the Aliw Theater.

With this format, ballet is presented in many ways, but most notably danced to songs performed live by a pop artist or a band. To those not quite familiar with ballet, the dance form becomes more accessible with the use of tunes already familiar to the audience. The repertoire is also packed with numbers that are just pure song or pure dance, ensuring its appeal to the broadest range of viewers.

Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde enjoys putting together the repertoire for productions using the Ballet & Ballads format. Photo by Sara Black

“What audiences can expect from Ballet & Ballads is variety,” affirms Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. “That’s the beauty of having a Ballet & Ballads concert format – you can jump from one new choreography to the other, one kind of music or song to another. There is a merging of all kinds of performing arts disciplines.”

Ballet & Ballads was the idea of Manila Broadcasting Company chairman Fred J. Elizalde, Lisa’s husband. Back in 1997 to 1998, during the couple’s first year of marriage, the media mogul wanted to have a project that would merge the capabilities of his radio network and his wife's ballet company. And so it was that MBC and its partner stations would start bringing the Ballet & Ballads tours to provinces nationwide, with different guest artists performing with Ballet Manila.

While it has become an effective tool for audience outreach and development for BM, Ballet & Ballads has also served as a unique showcase for many of its performance seasons over the years. “Having a Ballet & Ballads format of production in the season is a perfect opportunity to create new choreographies of shorter, smaller ballets that are also as entertaining as the full-length ballet classics,” Lisa explains.

She is particularly excited about putting together a Ballet & Ballads program to cap BM’s twenty-second performance season dubbed “Flights of Fantasy” this February. For starters, pop singer Christian Bautista is performing with Ballet Manila for the first time. “This collaboration with Christian Bautista actually has a more long-term goal of bringing Ballet & Ballads on an international tour. Christian’s appeal as a musical theater artist and romantic pop balladeer and his star power will hopefully draw a new audience to the ballet and we continue on fulfilling our mission of bringing ballet to the people and more people to the ballet.”

The music quotient in the Ballet & Ballads gala is further heightened by the participation of the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, and of the Klassikal Music Foundation artists led by its director, baritone Andrew Fernando, and including Jade Riccio, Stephanie Aguilar, Krissan Manikan Tan, Leo Angela Lanuza, with the special participation of KMF founder and patron, Dr. George T. Yang who also happens to be a tenor.

British choreographer Martin Lawrance rehearses Aria with dancers Elpidio Magat, Joan Emery Sia, Alvin Santos and Nicole Barroso. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag

Ballet & Ballads abounds with collaborations. For instance, he KMF artists along with the ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra will be rendering song and music in Aria, a new work by British choreographer Martin Lawrance that underscores the intensity of romantic relationships. Meanwhile, Christian will be singing seven songs, four of which will feature choreography danced by Ballet Manila.

“We are actually highlighting the fact that ballet can be performed with any kind of music – whether pop or classical, with lyrics (foreign or local) and/or without lyrics. The different disciplines and beauty of the performing arts come together in Ballet & Ballads – that’s what makes the concert extra special,” enthuses Lisa who herself will be pitching in to choreograph for the show’s “Teleserye” component along with BM rehearsal master Jonathan Janolo. This number will feature music themes from widely followed teleseryes on ABS-CBN, to be performed by the media network’s orchestra.

Ballet & Ballads will kick off with an all-star cast performance of Magsimula Ka, with choreography by BM principal dancer Gerardo Francisco. Another choreography that will have its premiere is Bam Damian’s El Adwa. There will be classical ballet numbers, for sure – with Grand Pas Classique Pas De Deux, Giselle Act 1 Peasant Pas De Deux and Esmeralda Pas De Deux alternating in the four Ballet & Ballads shows.

What Ballet & Ballads aims to deliver is to fill up one’s senses. As Lisa puts it, “The energy is different because you have this kind of collaboration onstage. When we dance, we tell a story without words. When the music includes lyrics and singers and a live orchestra – that story can be told even more dramatically and effectively. It becomes even more magical. It is a theatrical experience that appeals to all.”

Ballet Manila principal dancer Katherine Barkman and international guest artist Joseph Phillips are among the featured performers in    Ballet & Ballads   . Photo by G-nie Arambulo

Ballet Manila principal dancer Katherine Barkman and international guest artist Joseph Phillips are among the featured performers in Ballet & Ballads. Photo by G-nie Arambulo

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