Israel-bound ‘Ibong Adarna’ sweeps Gawad Buhay awards

Israel-bound ‘Ibong Adarna’ sweeps Gawad Buhay awards

Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde, with Gerardo Francisco beside her, receives one of Ibong Adarna’s six awards. Photo by Jimmy Villanueva.

Ballet Manila’s epic retelling of the Filipino legend about a mythical bird with an enchanting voice – to be brought to Israel in July – has cast its spell anew, bagging six trophies in the recent 10th Gawad Buhay awards.

Ibong Adarna, BM’s spectacular 22nd season-opener in August 2017, won Outstanding Modern Dance Production, Outstanding Choreography For Modern Dance for resident choreographer and principal dancer Gerardo Francisco, Outstanding Ensemble for Modern Dance, Outstanding Music Composition for Diwa De Leon, Outstanding Male Lead for Modern Dance for principal dancer Rudy De Dios and Outstanding Featured Male for Modern Dance for newly promoted principal dancer Romeo Peralta.

In addition, a seventh trophy went to soloist Abigail Oliveiro for Outstanding Featured Female for Classical Dance for her role as Mercedes in BM’s Don Quixote.

It was a big night for Gerardo Francisco who, aside from winning as Outstanding Choreographer for Ibong Adarna, also received the award for Outstanding Ensemble for Modern Dance for the same production on behalf of Ballet Manila. Photo by Jed Prudente Francisco

Artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde was effusive in thanking the company in successfully giving life to a popular tale through dance – a production that featured pulsating choreography, memorable music, and ethnic-flavored design.

Days after the awards ceremony, Macuja-Elizalde reflected on what the honors meant to her and to the company that she and co-artistic director Osias Barroso have led for over two decades.

“Ballet Manila has primarily been known for our classical ballet repertoire and Vaganova style and training for the classics. But to be given awards for original modern ballet in both choreography and production and dancing just means that we are growing into a company that is versatile and capable. We hope to continue to be able to do this in the many years to come,” she enthused.

The multiple victory couldn’t have come at a more auspicious time as Ibong Adarna is being brought on a multi-city tour in Israel as part of the Karmiel Dance Festival in July. It will also have a performance in Negros in May.

According to Macuja-Elizalde, the festival organizers had originally wanted to bring over another Gerardo Francisco ballet, Pista, a colorful celebration of Philippine culture.

Celebrating after the awards program: Abigail Oliveiro, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Gerardo Francisco. Photo by Mark Sumaylo

“But after they watched the video of Ibong Adarna after its world premiere, they whole-heartedly decided to support bringing it to the festival because they wanted a Filipino story and Filipino-inspired ballet with a national/ folk theme with characters and a plot that the Israel audience could easily relate to and understand. The values of respect for elders, love and loyalty to family and the golden standard of being good and kind to others and being rewarded for this are aspects that appeal to all audiences,” she noted.

Last week’s Gawad Buhay was a big night for Francisco who has been reaping acclaim and honors from various organizations for his choreographic pieces.

In his brief speech and a later post on Facebook, he thanked Philstage (the organizers of Gaward Buhay), Ballet Manila and the Ibong Adarna creative team, and the audience that embraced the show.

Taos puso po akong nagpapasalamat sa tumangkilik at sumuporta sa Ibong Adarna at sa Ballet Manila. Wala pong katumbas ang saya na nararamdaman ko ngayon dahil minahal n’yo ng lubos ang produksiyon na ito,” he said. (I wholeheartedly thank those who watched and supported Ibong Adarna and Ballet Manila. Nothing compares to the joy I feel now because you gave this show so much love.)

Ballet Manila's epic retelling of Ibong Adarna in dance showcases pulsating choreography, memorable music, and ethnic-flavored design.

In addition to artistic directors Macuja-Elizalde and Barroso and the BM dancers, Francisco thanked the following: Diwa de Leon for the Music, Otto Hernandez and Make it Happen Workshop for the costume and set design, Joaquin Jose Aranda for the lighting design, Sunshine R. Domine as stage manager, Angela Ureta for the script, Bodjie Pascua who acted as Ermitanyo and Gia Macuja-Atchison as the singing Adarna.

He made special mention of the production staff whom he described as, “Ni minsan hindi nagpakita ng pagod at hirap, mabigyan lamang ng napakagandang show ang audience.” (Who never showed exhaustion, just to ensure that the audience is treated to a very beautiful show.)

Three of the special-edition 10th Gawad Buhay trophies won by Ballet Manila. Photo by Jed Prudente Francisco

Francisco dedicated this latest honor to his children Jeree, Jed Matthew and Jesee Denise from whom he got the inspiration to make a ballet on Ibong Adarna as they were studying it in school. He also thanked wife Jed for her unfailing support for all his projects and whose abiding presence was a boost particularly during the conceptualization stage.

Macuja-Elizalde said Francisco will definitely continue creating for Ballet Manila, specially since the company is mapping out a three-year plan leading up to its 25th anniversary in 2020.

Dahil tinangkilik ng mga tao ang aking proyekto, ito ay nagsisilbing hudyat sa akin na ipagpatuloy ko ang aking sinimulan. Aside from restoring our culture and history, we will continue to bring ballet to the masses,” Francisco vowed, echoing BM’s motto of reaching out to a wider audience. (Because the people patronized my project, this award serves as a signal for me to continue what I have started.)

For Romeo Peralta, even just being nominated for Ibong Adarna was enough. His co-nominees in the category were all fellow BM dancers – Mark Sumaylo, Rudolph Capongcol and Elpidio Magat. The four alternated in the roles of the two princes, Don Pedro and Don Diego.

“I felt deeply honored, even just to be part of the nominees. It could have been given to any of the nominees and still I would be content. It just so happened that my name was called as a winner that made the evening really special,” said Peralta who claimed that the nomination turned out to be the sign he had prayed for when he was considering if he should continue dancing or retire already.

Romeo Peralta with his trophy. Photo courtesy of Romeo Peralta

When Philstage announced the nominees for Gawad Buhay, he could only say a silent “Wow”. “I realized I should keep my faith strong and just follow the will of our Lord. I didn’t wish to win, kahit nga lang ma-nominate. Na-promote pa ko. Sobra-sobra na ‘yung sign. Kaya ‘yung speech ko, ang start ko, "WOW".

Don Diego proved to be one of his most challenging assignments as he ended up dancing the physically taxing role three times in one weekend when his alternate got injured. To this day, Peralta can’t believe how he was managed to do it.

“I guess because of the training that we have in the company – all the classes, rehearsals and even the performances train us to really have that stamina to dance for longer hours. Learning a role in a quick manner or even replacing an injured dancer for a show is something that happens not just with Ballet Manila, but also in other professional companies,” said Peralta.

For him, the award is a reminder that hard work pays off and hard work is what he said he will continue to do in BM’s next season.

Similarly, Abigail Oliveiro felt that being nominated in both Classical Dance and Modern Dance (for Ibong Adarna) was good enough. She had also been nominated by Gawad Buhay in previous years.

“You know I've come a long way from home,” said Oliveiro, an Australian who has been dancing with BM since 2013. “To be acknowledged by a jury for the arts as a nominee in my surrogate home was already an honor. I can’t even believe that I have the award at home. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

When her name was called as the winner, Oliveiro’s reaction was one of shock and disbelief. “I was like, ‘Really? Me? Are you sure?’ I mean, I seriously didn’t have a speech prepared! Walking up, I’m like…’Ahhhhh, what is happening!’ Not to be cliché but it was unexpected! This is my first win!”

As Mercedes in Don Quixote, Abigail Oliveiro does one of her astounding back bends. Photo by Ocs Alvarez

Dancing as the sultry Mercedes in Don Quixote was a reward in itself, she insisted. “I wake up every day, ready to immerse myself in dance, giving what I can and searching for more. Mercedes was someone I'm not. But I remember dancing with this level of confidence and just living vicariously through her. It was awesome! And it changed me.”

The bonus for her was getting to dance opposite her real-life partner Mark Sumaylo as Espada to her Mercedes. “Don Quixote was nothing but fireworks with Mark,” enthused Oliveiro whose incredible back bends and spirited dancing sent audiences cheering and applauding wildly.

Like Peralta, Oliveiro said the award serves a reminder. “That honest hard work – the hard work that you owe yourself, to better yourself, for yourself – really does go a long way. The rewards may not come quickly or easily, and no one may notice at first or at all sometimes! But when it does happen, it will stay with you for a long time and it will be so fulfilling. It all starts from you. People can motivate and encourage, but if you don't want to put the effort for your own good, your drive and the things you produce won't last.”

Ballet Manila performed two numbers at the Gawad Buhay program. One was an excerpt from Ibong Adarna, with Elpidio Magat, Rudolph Capongcol and Anselmo Dictado  performing the fight scene of the three princes.

The other number was a shortened version of Arachnida performed by Romeo Peralta and Joan Emery Sia as part of a tribute to Natatanging Gawad Buhay honoree Agnes Locsin who choreographed the piece for Ballet Manila.

After dancing Arachnida, Joan Emery Sia and Romeo Peralta pose with its choreographer Agnes Locsin who was honored with a lifetime achievement award. Photo courtesy of Romeo Peralta

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