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Ballet Manila’s ‘Sinderela’ is a winner

IT would have been a new role for prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde. However, a few weeks before the opening of Ballet Manila’s production of Sinderela, she was advised by her doctor to rest her feet. That’s why theatergoers who were expecting to see her on stage instead saw her watching the show with the rest of the audience.

The situation offered the ballet company an opportunity to see whether its shows would continue to be viable productions even without Macuja onboard. On the basis of the crowd turnout on opening night and the public’s reaction to the show, Ballet Manila is assured of an audience who will continue to go to their shows even without its star. The formula to its success, it seems, is its winning productions that give the audience reason to come back. And Sinderela, just like most of its Christmas extravaganzas, did not disappoint.

Who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella? Since childhood, we have been read this story to bed, told about it countless times, and have seen it in a variety of adaptations on television and in film.

Hazel Sabas-Gower’s adaptation wasn’t so radical that the audience could still easily follow the story despite the changes in the plot. Rather than going to a ball at the palace, Sinderela (Jennifer Rose Olayvar) goes to a talent audition where matinee idol Al Principe (Nazer Salgado) is in search of a new leading lady. Other than that, this Sinderela follows the Cinderella story. The wicked stepmother and stepsisters, all played by male dancers (Jonathan Janolo, Gerardo Francisco and Michael Divinagracia), literally bring the house down with their slapstick antics. The fairy godmother (Hana Oh) gets Sinderela ready for the audition with the help of four mysterious spirits (Tiffany Chiang, Jan Erika Basilio/Joan Emery Sia, Seihee Hong/Naomi Jaena, and Dawna Mangahas) who provide her with the clothes and accessories she is to wear. Time is given “human” dimension in the form of dancers who represent the strokes to midnight.

What distinguishes this production is Sabas-Gower’s choreography. Prokofiev’s music to the ballet is heavy, especially with its bold scoring in the first act. She instead directs the entire opening act with a light hand. Sinderela’s past is presented in a series of tableaux that recount her mother’s death, her father’s marriage to Traviesa, and his death, accomplishing in just a few minutes what would normally take so much more time. Sabas-Gower then works her magic by keeping things moving quickly.

The entire comedy between Traviesa and her daughters zips along keeping the audience preoccupied while Sinderela acts out her chores and helps the beggar woman (Mylene Aggabao) to fruits from the garden. When the action moves inside, with the stepsisters learning a few new steps from the dance instructor (Marcus Tolentino), the pace never flags. The ballet turns serious when Sinderela’s fairy godmother appears: no more slapstick, just pure dancing, although the mysterious spirits do look like drag queens in their outfits.

The break between acts introduces video footage that has Al Principe and his producer (Rudy de Dios) talking in a video about his search for a new leading lady. As the action goes to the audition, and Prokofiev’s music turns scintillating to reflect the change, the choreography turns graceful and elegant. The entire audition is presented as a ballroom dancing extravaganza, and Ballet Manila’s dancers have no difficulty shifting from ballet to swing and rumba. Sinderela’s appearance at the audition has her dancing with all the male dancers and later with Al Principe himself. Sabas-Gower’s skillful use of a stool as a prop in these dances is imaginative and inventive. When the clock strikes 12 and the Spirits of Time appear to take Sinderela home, she is literally put through the wringer that has her being carried in the air, diving and rolling through the bodies of Time before she is sent on her way home. Everything ends nicely at the close of the ballet, as it should in the Cinderella story, with the audience having had a fabulous time.

The challenge for any Sinderela is to steal the scene away from her scene-stealing stepmother and stepsisters, and somehow Olayvar had difficulty doing this. The dancer taking on this role must have enough personality to overpower them. Olayvar is charming and pretty, and her dancing didn’t disappoint, but the trio of Janolo, Francisco and Divinagracia made it hard for her to really stand out in the first act. By the second act, she managed to come into her own, and she proved to be a perfect partner with Salgado.

Ballet Manila had three casts for this production, and we hope to see their performances in the future. A show as entertaining as this one will surely receive another staging soon.

Serving as front act for Sinderela was Osias Barroso’s Sonata. As in its premiere in 2007, the ballet is performed to live music. In this series of shows, violinist Robert Atchison and pianist Olga Dudnik of the London Piano Trio accompanied the performers.

Originally choreographed for Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Rudy de Dios, Sonata proved to be as engaging a performance as when it was staged years ago. A man and woman, after so many partners in life, meet and find true love. Dance requires the barest of plots to make it work, and Barroso’s intention is not lost on the audience by the end of the ballet.

On opening night, Dawna Mangahas and Elpidio Magat took the role of the lovers. They make a handsome couple onstage, the demands of the dance confidently within their grasp. The music of Elgar’s Violin Sonata seems not to jive with Prokofiev’s music for Sinderela, but in any ballet performance, it is the dancing that takes precedence.

In Photo: Jenifer Rose Olayvar as Sinderela







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