Ballet Manila breaks the fourth wall

The Philippines’ premier classical ballet company Ballet Manila opened its 20th season of storytelling though dance with Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang. The material, the cast, the treatment is easily relatable and highly entertaining. First you have a lola (grandmother) who indulges her grandchildren with tales from lands not so far away and then you have comic characters who do the Nae Nae. Family and novelty are two things you can’t go wrong with and these were creatively woven into the company’s first offering.

Promotion of Filipino Classics

 The featured ballets were based on Severino Reyes’ stories. Reyes used Lola Basyang as a pen name and came to be known as a staunch purveyor of Filipino fairytales and folklore. These stories were once communicated to the public through the radio. They have also served as inspiration for many movies and television shows and were included into the basic education curriculum. Perhaps it can be made available as podcasts so today’s children can enjoy them and learn from them as they are means though which cultural values were effectively socialized.

Set on solid libretto and accompanied by carefully curated music by the country’s best arrangers and composers, Ballet Manila’s artists turned literary fantasy into a visual feast. Words flowed as gestures and mime and the storytellers’ visions were realized with technological aid and imaginative choreographic devices.

The Saturday matinee show had an additional treat for the audience. Company directors Lisa Macuja Elizalde (Artistic Director and CEO), Osias Barroso (Co-Artistic Director and Ballet Master) and Christopher Mohnani (Managing Director) opened the show with what they called Ballet Mime 101. They taught the audience classical ballet gestures that were to be used in mimetic scenes so that we could follow the story with ease. It was delightful to watch the audience mime along with Macuja Elizalde and her team. It was an invitation to the dance that the afternoon crowd gamefully accepted. The performance had not yet started but people were already engaged.


Old Material, New Revelations

Ballet Manila’s Tatlong Kwento ni Lola Basyang first premiered in 2008. This year’s restaging is made special by new faces and new realizations.


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Katherine Barkman as Prinsesa Singsing with Elpidio Magat who played the title role of Prinsipe ng mga ibon. Photo by Jaypee Maristaza courtesy of Ballet Manila.

BM’s newest dancer Katherine Barkman is every inch the people’s princess. Her audience was enraged when her father broke his promise. They grieved as she nursed a broken heart and they celebrated when she finally married the love of her life. As Prinsesa Singsing, Barkman was delicate but decisive. She showed her beautiful attitude, literally and figuratively (an attitude is a leg extension to the back with a bent knee). Unlike the usual foreign air that we are all too familiar with– boisterous and imposing, hers is a quiet elegance that very much agrees with our Filipino sensibilities.

Osias Barroso’s movement design for Ang Prinispe ng mga Ibon showed his deep understanding of ballet as an art form. The symmetry of shapes (individual body positions and group formations), the plot build-up through movement, and the pas de deux (partner dance) between the leads all convey familiarity with the genre and utmost regard for tradition. His corps de ballet (group dancers) was impressive in their synchronization and management of space. Hopefully, he takes on more choreographic assignments in the future.


The magical tree in Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya with Anindya Febrina who danced the role of the snake. Photo by Jaypee Maristaza courtesy of Ballet Manila.

Ang Kapatid ng Tatlong Marya began with the most beautiful looking stage tree. The audience broke into applause when the snake came out of the tree and circled the stage and the house in the manner of Chinese dragon dance manipulatives. This segment featured dancers Alvin Santos, Joan Emery Sia and Abigail Oliveiro who showed strength and confidence in their performances. Alvin Santos flew across the stage with powerful jumps and high extensions. Good thing he holds the title role because his dancing can (and did) upstage his stage sisters.

Gerardo Francisco as Rodrigo in Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin is truly remarkable. His energized performance and funny facial expressions drew laughter from the crowd. It helped, too, that the character that he portrayed was one that many could associate with. Rodrigo is a laborer who is not appropriately compensated by his employer.

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Gerardo Francisco as Rodrigo and Micheal Divinagracia as Ahab in a scene from Ang Mahiwagang Biyulin. Photo by Jaypee Maristaza courtesy of Ballet Manila.

Tony Fabella’s choreography accentuated Ryan Cayabyab’s dynamic musical composition. Movement ideas were simple and were repeated throughout but the spirited and intelligent dancing of the cast made all the difference. Francisco has been with the company for over a decade and his stint as Rodrigo further solidifies his stature as one of the country’s most reliable danseurs.

Missy Elizalde’s role tied the narratives together and the corps de ballet was effective in providing the necessary support and additional landscape for the tales. The curtain call made it even more obvious how deep Ballet Manila’s ballet bench really is. The company’s wealth of terpsichorean talents prepping for the spotlight makes one hopeful for the future of Philippine dance.

Ballet for the People

Dance artistry is not limited to choreography and performance. Macuja Elizade’s strength may not be putting steps together into a dance but audience aptitude is a great and important talent. She knows her audience and values them enough to give them what they want. The use of flying mechanisms, less sophisticated musical choices and transitions, and other production devices, choreographic and otherwise, made the show exciting and palatable.

It is uplifting to be in a theater where people would clap and feel with the performers. It is uplifting to be in a theater where there would be people who are not performing. Others would consider this to be hard sell but maybe it is time that we consider it as community and community-building.

Reconfiguring Dance

2015 is all about making things happen. For me it also means dancing again.

Prior to getting married in 2013, I was dancing professionally. I was then teaching dance, teaching Sociology and Anthropology, doing admin work for Ateneo, and dancing on top of planning my own wedding. The difficulties of flitting from one role to another eventually caught up with me and I got burnt out. I chose to let go of dance because it required so much time for training and rehearsals. I used this time instead to make a home— I tried cooking, learned home cleaning hacks, and DIY-ed home decor.

I turned to Zumba, barre classes, and yoga to keep fit. I take dance classes every now and then but have not fully committed to dancing again apart from my ballet teaching engagements. Noticing that I was no longer asking him to bring me to the dance studio, KC suggested that I go back to dancing. Today, I am doing just that.

DIY Wall Decor for the bedroom by Issa M. Ramos

DIY Wall Decor for the bedroom by Issa M. Ramos

I am doing a full dance class today (and am mighty scared for tomorrow’s body pains). I am excited, too, because I will be dancing with very good friends Ea Torrado and PJ Rebullida of Daloy Dance Company.

Daloy Dance Company is the newest dance commune in the metro composed of artists from various practices of music, theatre, and dance. They offer a fresh take on dance and theatre through performances that “re-shape contemporary dance by debunking existing stigma and offering new perspectives and possibilities”.


Ea Torrado, Artistic Director of Daloy Dance Company Photo by Tuchi Imperial


With the guidance and leadership of Artistic Director Ea Torrado, Daloy Dance Company has been enjoying performance and collaborative opportunities locally and abroad. They are putting together RECONFIGURE this February in partnership with FRINGE Manila and De La Salle- College of St. Benilde.


Reconfigure by Daloy Dance Company Feb 19 3PM and 8PM and Feb 22 3PM and 8PM College of Saint Benilde – SDA Theatre


According to Daloy Dance Company“Reconfigure is a twinbill production featuring Ea Torrado’s Dysmorphilia, which premiered at Imaginarium: A Multi-arts festival of the Absurd, and PJ Rebullida’s The Sky Changed, showcased at the WIFI Body Contemporary Dance Festival. Compounded to evoke transformation, manipulation and conscious change, Both works continue to unravel the forces at work on how the body is presented and consumed in relation to ideas of self-perception and symbolic rebirth.

Dysmorphilia Costumes by award-winning Multimedia artist-designer, Leeroy New”

Where: College of Saint Benilde – SDA Theatre
When: Feb 19 3PM and 8PM and Feb 22 3PM and 8PM Php 300 -ticket price

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Jomelle Era, company member of Daloy Dance Photo by Tuchi Imperial


If you’re like me looking to rekindle an old flame with dance or if it is part of your new year’s resolution to try something new, please consider Daloy Dance School. Daloy Dance School offers an array of movement-oriented classes. Most classes do not require previous dance experience so adult beginners need not worry. Check out Daloy Dance Company’s website for information on class schedules.

I am blessed to have this opportunity to re-visit a previous purpose and passion. I will write about my first day back on the dance floor next time. For now, wish me, my lola bones and sleeping muscles, luck to get through class! Toi, toi, toi!


Photos by Tuchi Imperial for Daloy Dance Company

Party DIY: The Promise of Metamorphosis

What excites me most about crafting for parties and events is the challenge of coming up with something fresh —something that’s not completely ripped off from Pinterest and Tumblr but come up with end products that are totally social-media-post-worthy. I think about themes and motifs for days and choreograph the dance of found objects and art materials in my head and later on with my hands.

For Elijah’s first birthday, Lala had the brilliant idea of having “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” as the party theme. I was familiar with the story and had done movement exercises for it for my beginners’ ballet classes. Transposing the famous story into visual and tactile magic was something I could not pass up.

Lala and I met several times to discuss the most feasible and economical way of DIY-ing the décor for Elijah’s party. Hiring a party stylist can cost an arm and a leg these days. Using good old art materials and basic skills can save you a LOT of money.


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We used materials that are readily available in the market such as Japanese paper, crepe paper, straw string, barbecue sticks, Styrofoam, and yarn. We made tissue paper pompoms, crepe paper table skirts, and yarn pompom caterpillars. The caterpillars were such a hit that guests took home all those that were on display.

We livened up the desserts station with balloons, colored art paper, fuzzy wire, real plants and fake foliage that I had lying around the house. It’s also wise to buy sweet snacks from the grocery and set them up instead of hiring a supplier for desserts buffet. This way you’re sure of what you’re serving your guests and also have better control of your budget.

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Thank you, Lala, for allowing me to do happy craft projects for Elijah’s first birthday party. To see/make things shift in shape and in purpose and become another kind of beautiful gives me an ultimate high. I am excited for you and your own very hungry caterpillar ELIJAH and am observing in joy as you both morph into your best selves yet.

Photos by Deneb Villanueva

Behind the scene photos by Issa and Lala