Ballet Manila stages beloved classics and Filipino stories for 26th season

LE CORSAIRE will star Ballet Manila principal dancers Abigail Oliveiro as Medora, Mark Sumaylo as Conrad, and Joshua Enciso as Ali. — BRONTË H. LACSAMANA

THINGS have been difficult these past few years for Ballet Manila. It has had to deal with rebuilding its theater after it burned down, the pandemic lockdowns, and, most recently, the loss of a dear collaborator and friend. Yet the urge to move forward past the difficulties is strong. Thus, to showcase “technical and virtuosic feats,” the company will be staging a mix of renowned classics and innovative Filipino productions for the opening salvo of its 26th performance season, billed as “Ballet Masterpieces.”

“The company has grown by leaps and bounds since we reopened after the pandemic. I honestly didn’t expect things to move this fast, this soon, and this strongly,” Ballet Manila chief executive officer and artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde said during a press conference on Jan. 31 at the rebuilt Aliw Theater.

After the theater fire in 2019 and the pandemic which forced a pause in activities in 2020 and cast its shadow over the next two years, 2023 saw the theater’s triumphant return to a full season.

Ms. Macuja-Elizalde also said a few words for co-artistic director, master choreographer, and beloved mentor Osias Barroso who passed away in December.

While losing him was a huge blow, she said that he would surely be “looking on right now and cheering us all forward.”

LE CORSAIREBallet Manila steps into its 26th season with a production of Le Corsaire (The Pirate) as re-choreographed by Ms. Macuja-Elizalde.

The classic ballet, loosely based on Lord Byron’s 1814 poem “The Corsair,” is a romantic adventure revolving around the heroic pirate Conrad and his crew who set out to rescue his beautiful love, Medora, from the slave trader Lankendem.

“I have always wanted to re-work Le Corsaire. When I was dancing the role of Medora, I found her character to be a damsel in distress waiting for Conrad to save her,” Ms. Macuja-Elizalde said of the changes she made in her version.

“I also wanted to change the order of the scenes because I always felt that there should be a build-up to the main dances,” she added.

Le Corsaire will have performances on Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 25 at 5 p.m., at the Aliw Theater at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex in Pasay City.

TATLONG KWENTO NI LOLA BASYANGThe season will continue with beloved old Filipino tales brought to life in Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang.

“The idea to create a ballet from Anvil Publishing’s books of Mga Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang came about during my children’s book fair,” Ms. Macuja-Elizalde said. “I saw the collection displayed in their school library, and I bought all 12. Then I called a meeting with my artistic team. I put the books on the table and told them to choose one to make into a ballet.”

Anvil Publishing is a special partner for this production, as they are eager to “keep the legacy of renowned Filipino writer Severino Reyes alive.”

The three stories selected for the production have themes of romance, adventure, and comedy. Adding more buzz to the show is celebrated singer, actress, and comedienne Mitch Valdez, who will be taking on the narrator role of Lola Basyang with her signature wit and humor.

“We’re familiar with all the international classics, but this one is a rare chance to see one of our beloved folklores come to life in classical ballet. It will be beautiful because the story is one of our own,” said Ms. Valdez.

Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang goes onstage on May 11 at 8 p.m. and May 12 and 18 at 5 p.m., at the Aliw Theater.

GISELLEThe performance season will close with Giselle, an ethereal, romantic ballet that tackles love, tragedy, and loss.

Though it is a full-length classical ballet, it isn’t a big production, according to Ms. Macuja-Elizalde.

“We decided on the lineup based on the company’s capability, because we can’t really do big dances like Swan Lake just yet. We still haven’t built up the strength of the company to be able to do that,” she explained.

For Ballet Manila principal dancer Abigail Oliveiro, who will play the titular Giselle (as well as Medora in Le Corsaire), the challenges and the pressure of putting on the best show possible are part of the job.

“When we come to the studio every day, we look forward to practicing and honing our craft. We love what we do. That’s what’s important,” she said.

Giselle goes on stage on Aug. 31 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 1 at 5 p.m. At the Aliw Theater.

OTHER PERFORMANCESOutside of its regular season, Ballet Manila will present the world premiere of a new ballet, collaborate with a museum, and celebrate Christmas.

First up is the world premiere of a ballet based on another Filipino tale, Balagtas’ epic poem “Florante at Laura.” This collaboration between choreographers Gerardo Francisco and Martin Lawrence will be performed on Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 13 and 19 at 5 p.m. at the Aliw Theater.

Then, in partnership with Aréte Ateneo, Ballet Manila audiences will get a chance to revisit Gerardo Francisco’s ballet on yet another Filipino classic story, Ang Ibong Adarna, which was staged last year. This time it will be performed at Ateneo de Manila’s Areté Theater in November.

Lastly, the ballet company will continue its Holiday Cheer Series, which presented Cinderella last year. For 2024, Ms. Macuja-Elizalde is staging her take on Snow White from Dec. 25 to 30.

“We hope that by the end of our 26th performance season, the Filipino audience will rediscover and have a newfound appreciation for classical ballet as well as our vibrant Filipino culture,” she said.

For tickets, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 8891-9999. To know more about Ballet Manila and its shows, visit www.balletmanila.com.ph. — Brontë H. Lacsamana