“There will come a time when you would have had enough of Swan Lake.”
– said no ballerina ever
I just came home from Ballet Manila’s production of Swan Lake from ballet directress – no other than – Liza Macuja-Elizalde. To say it was phenomenal is an understatement. I have been dancing ballet since I was eight years old until I turned twelve when I was diagnosed with scoliosis and then resigned to being a “full time ballet audience”. I have seen countless Swan Lake adaptations in the Philippines and while I have not gotten sick of it, I have to admit it gets repetitive.
But as with all dance productions, whether it be ballet or hip hop, amidst the standard steps and tried and tested choreography, what sets each apart is the synchronization (especially in Swan Lake’s infamous pas de trois), precision, lines, and of course, character. And Ballet Manila’s rendition of Swan Lake had all these – and more.
Swan Lake is one among many productions included in Ballet Manila’s 22nd Performance Season entitled “Flights of Fantasy”. Hence the introduction to this post. Every ballerina or aspiring ballerina has seen Swan Lake, Don Quixote, or The Nutcracker at least once in their lives. (My personal favorite is The Nutcracker because, hello, he pirouettes en dehors passes not only seven times!)
Swan Lake is the most renowned of classics and is a testament of what her former teacher Tatiana Udalenkova once told her: Lisa, you need to program a classical ballet at least once every season – because it is in dancing the classics that your dancers will grow stronger. Indeed, the success of Ballet Manila has remained unparalleled since its conception in 1995 and it has certainly lived up to Liza Macuja-Elizalde’s vision of “bringing ballet to the people and people to the ballet”.
What particularly stood out for me in Ballet Manila’s rendition of Swan Lake is the fact that they used the same dancer for both the Black and White swan. Most Swan Lake productions make use of two individual dancers to act as the White and Black swan and if you have watched Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, the film released in 2008, you will understand why. The Black and White swans are polar opposites in every way, as if an exact alter ego of the other. The White swan’s movements are soft, graceful, and her character can best be summed up as “painfully fragile”, while the Black swan’s movements are sharp, aggressive, and “intensely fierce”.
The show I just watched had Katherine Barkman dancing as both Odette, the White swan, and Odile, the Black swan, and she played both roles so well that if I hadn’t read the primer, I would have thought they were two individual dancers! And her prince does not disappoint! Joseph Philipps, the globally recognized “golden boy of ballet” was the guest dancer for Swan Lake and he stands out as much as Katherine Barkman with strength, agility, and technique worthy of the spotlight. But that was just a part of the many reasons why this rendition impressed me.
The set and costume design were pure perfection! Miguel Faustmann carefully curated each and every act to set the tone for the audience and the dancers, as well. More than sticking to the plot line, he let the stage speak for itself. From the interpretation of the lake scene with the suspended swans hovering above the group of swan-like ballerinas to the scene of the ball with a set of authentic-looking colored Swarovski chandeliers and a theme of joviality, it is as if the stage moved with the dancers and vice versa.
And the costumes are every ballerina’s dream. Michael Miguel exhibited nothing but excellence and save for the swans, no two costumes were alike. It really made me consider dancing again just so that I can wear one of those tutus! And of course, Swan Lake would not be the well-loved classic it is today if not for Peter Tchaikovsky’s hauntingly beautiful composition tailor fit for a romantic tragedy. The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by no less than maestro Alexander Virkulov, stayed true to how Tchaikovsky envisioned his masterpiece to be.
And while I have watched Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Don Quixote, and more a lot of times, I have never gotten center aisle seating!!! (Ballet tickets are not cheap, guys.) A big part of the pleasure I experienced is due in large to The Little Binger. I joined a contest of theirs on a late night as I was trying to sleep while going through the WIM Squad Facebook group. I never expected to win, so you can pretty much bet that I screamed when I saw mine and my mom’s name. Shoutout to The Little Binger, specifically Sir Dale, for this memorable opportunity!
This is not the first time Ballet Manila has staged their take on the classic Swan Lake. But with each year, their show is one sought after by so many from all walks of life. Flights of Fantasy hopes to bring the same magic of Swan Lake, and their previous show Ibong Adarna, to their own renditions of Snow White and Ballet and Ballads to further captivate audiences to the romantic, tragic, but nonetheless captivating world of classical ballet.