Ballet Manila presents dance retrospective in ‘Iconic’ shows

Ballet Manila presents dance retrospective in ‘Iconic’ shows

Bloom by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

How does a ballet company condense 23 performance seasons into just one show? The simple answer is – it can’t. So when Ballet Manila faced precisely that challenge, the company’s concession was to have two shows – and even then, coming up with the final repertoire proved to be tough.

But in presenting Iconic 1.0 and Iconic 2.0 – Ballet Manila’s twin offering this September, kicking off its 23rd performance season dubbed Tour De Force – artistic directors Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Osias Barroso are confident they have put together a strong representation of the company’s essence.

Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin    by Tony Fabella. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin by Tony Fabella. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

From a number that simulates mating spiders to one showcasing a formidable all-male line-up, from an epic retelling of a literary masterpiece about a mythological bird with healing powers to a choreography that captures the intensity of ballet training – these belong to the varied and distinct fare that has become synonymous to Ballet Manila.

“We chose to present ballets that have been ‘iconic’ in our young company’s history,” says Macuja-Elizalde. “In preparing for our 25th anniversary (in 2020), we are reliving the past in a very special way, because our company has seen many changes happening – most especially in our roster of dancers. It is such a fantastic learning experience to have some of our most loved and successful original ballets specifically created for our dancers through the years handed down to the new generation that is Ballet Manila today. And beginning with a ‘retrospective’ but with fresh faces and fresh takes on these ballets makes this season opening different, daring and diverse!”

Iconic thus bares 17 different ballets created by 14 choreographers over two weekends. Turning to Ballet Manila’s rich repertoire of over 200 works, Macuja-Elizalde says they tried to choose some of the best works of almost every choreographer that has created ballets for the company. “The goal was to show as much variety and versatility as possible – from the first very romantic neo-classical Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture of Sergey Vikulov that was given to us to celebrate our first anniversary in 1996, to Tony Fabella’s choreographic miniature comedy and his last choreography before passing, Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin (from Tatlong Kuwento ni Lola Basyang).”

El Adwa by Augustus “Bam” Damian III. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

Iconic also celebrates the many “firsts” for BM. “It was a no-brainer to include Ibong Adarna excerpts from Gerardo Francisco’s multi-awarded epic ballet that just had two successful performances in Israel and his Fuga that catapulted Nicole Barroso to win a Jury Encouragement Prize in Jackson IBC; Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Bloom, her first ballet to be created for an Asian company; The Distance Between of Simon Hoy that has been performed by two-time silver medalist Katherine Barkman with non-competing partner Joseph Philips in Jackson IBC and Varna IBC and yet, we have not had its Philippine premiere!” says Macuja-Elizalde.

Since dancing to OPM (Original Pilipino Music) has been such a tradition in Ballet Manila, Iconic also includes pieces that were introduced in the company’s popular Halo-Halo or Ballet & Ballads series. “Musika’t Pag-Ibig of Jonathan Janolo is an exemplary sample of this kind of populist merging that has become very recognizable for Ballet Manila as we continue to bring ballet to the people and more people to the ballet. Rudy De Dios’ Kinabuhing Mananagat is a light, unpretentious ballet that celebrates the local fishermen in an amusing and almost vaudeville like appeal. This piece has also become a staple in our repertoire over the years because it is so Filipino in its subject and humor.”

Macuja-Elizalde shares the following insights on the other works and Ballet Manila collaborators to be showcased in Iconic:

  • Augustus Bam Damian III has been such a prolific choreographer in the last 10 years. It is not a surprise that we have included not one or two but three of his ballets in our list: Sotto Voce that presents six of our women who “never” go down from pointe; Reconfigured that has presented the men of Ballet Manila – an epochal strength of our company – having more dancing men than women for the latter half of our past; and his latest work, El Adwa, transforming our Ballet & Ballads program that closed our 22nd season earlier this year with its sophistication and innovation.
  • Martin Lawrance is another choreographer that has produced such epic ballets for us. It was difficult to choose just one of his choreographies for Iconic (having choreographed the full-length Rebel, and the pieces Misfit or Maverick, Amid Shadows and Aria). Aria was of course the perfect classical combination of his distinctive contemporary style and classical arias.
  • Osias Barroso has excelled as a choreographer from the very beginning of our company. His Ecole – a creation for the school – has produced many generations of dancers over the years and has become such a banner piece as it requires the students to go through their classical ballet technique class in choreography that solidifies their Russian Vaganova training. My own personal journey as a choreographer began much later than Osias’ and my version of Fur Elise – inspired by the ballet paintings of Degas – represents our school as well. I created this piece for our summer intensive student performance to further train the Level 3 girls that I handle regularly in their Russian ports de bras.
  • Agnes Locsin’s Arachnida and Ernest Mandap’s Reve are probably two of our most performed ballets. These pas de deux (dances for two) – in the case of Locsin’s two mating spiders and in the case of Mandap’s twin brothers in search of their own identities – have certainly been performed all over the Philippines and in all our tours abroad and have been show stoppers all the way.

We always save the last ballet for our beloved Tito Eric. Our first artistic director Eric V. Cruz has a “legacy” ballet in his Carmen. Ballet Manila has performed Carmen many times before and we always remember our original mission and vision whenever we perform it because we always remember Tito Eric. He is always with us as we “Just Dance” – in every green room that ends with a hands-on cheer of “Ballet Manila, DANCE!” 

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture of Sergey Vikulov. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

The prima ballerina underscores that Iconic, aside from being a certified crowd-pleaser, is also meant to challenge the skills of its dancers. “For the first time, Iconic is ‘testing’ the abilities of our dancers in Ballet Manila as they have to be in tiptop form and be very versatile and blessed with incredible artistic and technical strength and stamina to be able to tackle 17 ballets of 14 different choreographers in a span of two weekends.”

Macuja-Elizalde believes the double season-opener will reinforce what Ballet Manila is about. “We are a growing company with a solid mission, vision, shared passion for dance and a determination to survive, develop new audiences and train our students and dancers in the Russian Vaganova method – providing our artists with the best possible repertoire to show off their acquired experience and skills. Iconic 1.0 and Iconic 2.0 will definitely show this. We are 23 years strong and 50 artists strong!”

Iconic 1.0 (September 1, 6 p.m., and September, 3 p.m.) and Iconic 2.0 (September 8, 6 p.m., and September 9, 3 p.m.) will go onstage at Aliw Theater, Pasay City. For tickets, visit or call 891-9999.

Arachnida by Agnes Locsin. Photo by Jojit Lorenzo

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