This Month in BM History: March 2008
In March 2008, National Artist for Music Lucrecia “Tita King” Kasilag – already blind and weakened by age – would present what was to be her last major opus. Why Flowers Bloom in May, a fantasy opera inspired by a legend, featured music by Dr. Kasilag and libretto and lyrics by classical singer Fides Cuyugan-Asensio.
It was quite an unusual theater fare with a timely message. In a nutshell, Why Flowers Bloom in May combined narrative storytelling, East-West instrumentation, classical dance and song, and updated commentaries in rap and hip-hop to highlight the environmental problems being faced by the world.
Ballet Manila was fortunate to have been tapped for this high-profile production, with Osias Barroso handling the choreography. While the younger BM artists were assigned to be flowers, birds, bees, the chariot and golden steeds, then principal dancer Lisa Macuja-Elizalde did double duty as dancer and narrator. As Shamanka (the Sorceress), she gathers the villagers on a moonlight night to tell them the legend of “why flowers bloom in May”.
It was actually a first for the prima ballerina. Quoted in a newspaper article before the show went onstage, she said, “I am specifically challenged more by the non-dancing parts – the speaking, acting, intensity of portrayal of telling the story not just by using my body but by using words, tone of voice, modulation. This is particularly difficult because I will be out of breath from the dancing parts… We shall see how it goes, but I am sure that the narrating part will need more of my concentration than the dancing part as I am more used to the dancing.”
It was not the first time that Macuja-Elizalde had danced to Tita King’s music, having done so in the United States, Russia and the Philippines. She admitted that her earlier exposure to the national artist’s music was a challenge as the irregular and unpredictable tempos and melodies was different from what she was used to in ballet which uses classical music.
What made Why Flowers Bloom in May even more challenging for her was having to dance with a larger group of performers – not just dancers, but singers, chorus members and other artists. She underscored the need to be alert and in shape and for intense rehearsals so that everyone would be attuned to the beats.
Despite the foreseen difficulties, Macuja-Elizalde welcomed this assignment as an opportunity for growth and change. “We are all challenged by new ideas, forms of expression – breaking the rules now and again makes life exciting and rekindles the creative juices inside very artist. I think that Why Flowers Bloom in May will do just that – not just for me – but for Ballet Manila. We will be breaking the rules here – but hopefully rekindling the fires of our creative spirits – and bringing life to Tita King’s music.”