by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Nothing was going to stop Ballet Manila from putting on a magnificent comeback after suffering a string of bad luck leading to their first performance in months. From losing its home, the Aliw Theater, to the fire that razed Star City to the Taal Volcano eruption that occurred during production week, the company’s artistic director Lisa Macuja-Elizalde admits it was challenging, which made the world premiere of her Sleeping Beauty at the Newport Performing Arts Theater even more special.
It seems poetic that the tale of the princess who awakens from a long slumber played to the music of the legendary composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky is the performance that carries Ballet Manila back onto the big stage. Sleeping Beauty also serves as the finale to Lisa’s “Princess Trilogy,” which began with her staging of Cinderella in December 2016 followed by Snow White a year later. After two years of contemplation and a rough patch of misfortunes, Lisa decided to go through with Sleeping Beauty not only to end her trilogy and the tragedies but to make sure that the company’s 25th year—it celebrates its silver anniversary this 2020—would begin on a positive note.
Ballet Manila had to make necessary adjustments for Sleeping Beauty because of the lack of a regular stage and major props. Lisa instead directed to utilize recycled costumes and props, the LED screen provided by Newport, and do away with sets in order to give way to beautiful dancing.
That gamble paid off.
Lisa’s decision to use the screen and minimal props allowed the company’s dancers to demonstrate how graceful and talented they were, particularly during Aurora’s Christening where the seven fairies and young princes turn the stage into a grand ballroom. All is suddenly disrupted by the arrival of Emma Harris’ Maleficent, whose appearance and stature seem to be inspired by Disney’s live-action reenactment of the character—while Harris doesn’t have the fierceness that Angeline Jolie has, she carries it commandingly in a cunning sort of way.
But that was just the prologue, for when the titular character grows is when the magic of Sleeping Beauty truly begins. As soon as Jasmine Pia Dames enters as the 16-year-old Aurora, the entire theater seems to belong to her, staring at her beauty with awe. The only thing possibly more entertaining that Jasmine performing the Rose Adagio, which her partner Romeo Peralta’s Prince Philip begins to match her as they perform Aurora’s Variation, was the comedic banter between Gerardo Francisco and Alvin Dictado as the Master-of-Ceremonies and Keeper of the Golden Plates that went on for the rest of the show.
A technical difficulty occurred with the music suddenly dying out just as Maleficent deludes Aurora to prick her finger on a spinning wheel at the end of Act 1, which prompted Lisa to redo the popular scene as the beginning of Act 2 allowing Emma more performance time before her character’s early death.
From that moment on, it didn’t seem like an error had happened, or if a tragedy had struck their home, as Ballet Manila continued to raise the bar of the performance. Capping off a wonderful display was a beautiful duet by Jasmine and Romeo’s newly wedded characters, and an absolutely poised final solo by the former.
As it was the finale of Lisa’s “Princess Trilogy,” it was a welcome treat to see Cinderella, Snow White, their princes, and even the seven dwarves take part in the finale (yes, they were all there!). Perhaps the best sequence that encapsulates Sleeping Beauty was during The Garland Waltz, which sharp-eared Disney fans will recognize as the origin for Once Upon a Dream from the 1959 animated film and previously mentioned Maleficent. Yes a tragedy has happened, but it was quickly resolved, thus a call for celebration.
As Ballet Manila ends its On Pointe 24th season with two more performances, the happy journey back home begins, as Aliw Theater is expected to reopen later this October, and its silver anniversary could not be more delightful.