This Month in BM History: February 1996
Ballet Manila reached a significant milestone in February 1996. After performing all over the Philippines and even in Russia, the touring ensemble of twelve dancers had reason to celebrate – their first anniversary.
To mark the occasion, the group presented a show titled An Anniversary of Russian-Filipino Rarities on February 22, 23, 24 and 25 at the UP Theater in Diliman, Quezon City. Quite fittingly, the repertoire represented the distinctive combination of classical ballet and original Filipino pieces that Ballet Manila had come to be known for in its relatively short existence.
As a nod to its Russian influences (co-founder Lisa Macuja taught the Vaganova method to the BM dancers that she herself had learned in St. Petersburg), the show featured the Philippine premieres of Mikhail Lavrovsky’s Walpurgis Nacht, Serguei Vikulov’s Romeo and Juliet and Classical Symphony, and Arthur St. Leon’s Markitanka Pas de Six. Also showcased were new works by Filipino choreographers – Nonoy Froilan’s Kung Hindi Man… and Jojo Lucila’s Sayaw na Po Sila.
Writing in her On Pointes column for the newspaper Malaya, Macuja shared the thrill of performing pieces for the very first time. “No matter how long you’ve been dancing, a premiere will always be a premiere. New choreography is unknown territory – to the dancer and to the audience. One never knows how things will turn out. It’s one big experiment.”
She was particularly thrilled to dance in Vikulov’s choreographic miniature of Romeo and Juliet as she had always been fascinated by the character of Juliet. “The challenge of turning from a 13-year-old child to a girl-woman who is loved and in love and ultimately driven to suicide is just too juicy to resist,” she admitted. “Ballets that experiment with such strong emotions are the ballets that any true artist wants to perform again and again.”
Newspaper accounts from that time related the many challenges Ballet Manila faced that first year – from the unusual venues they performed in to finding much-needed financial support. But still, they managed to clock in 71 performances, covering the Philippines from “A to Z” – that is, Abra to Zamboanga. Macuja and fellow principal dancer Osias Barroso also spearheaded what would become a hallmark of BM’s outreach performances – lecture-demonstrations meant to widen appreciation of classical ballet.
In the end, Ballet Manila’s leaders and members were just too glad to have notched their first year fulfilling the purpose they had set for themselves.
As then artistic director Eric V. Cruz and artistic associate Lisa Macuja would say in their joint directors’ notes: “Ballet Manila has one encompassing goal, and that is to make world-class ballet performances accessible to the Filipino public. We are proud to say that on our first year alone, we have worked relentlessly towards the fulfillment of this mission, dancing in every conceivable concert venue all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – even as far as Siberia – and always giving the same passion and competence in every performance, whether in a magnificent Russian theater or on a makeshift stage in some rustic town.”