4.8 Hot AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO is a Jukebox Ballet/Musical to behold. And did I mention that it offers an experience that is rare on a ballet stage? Though it comes with a formulaic story, it engages its audiences with its overflowing talents, timeless Filipino hits and sensational creativity through the magic of dance.
NOTE: This post was updated on December 10, 2016 at 10:47pm, after seeing the second cast of Ballet PH’s AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO. Additional notes were added to consider the alternating cast members.
Just by looking at its title, Ballet Philippines’ AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO offers a great example of collaboration in arts. And while it may sound like a mini song-and-dance revue, it is actually more than that. It comes with a promise of nostalgia through songs and moves that we might know. As the orchestra plays, and as its singers render — Ballet Philippines dancers complete the package with graceful narrative and soulful groove.
To see it is to see the colorful hype of a generation at a time of oppression and tyranny. To experience it is to feel how passion transcends even life and freedom.
The show opens with Victor in his 60s, ailing and crippled. In another place, and perhaps also in another time, a dying Teresa lies in bed. Together they recall the good old days, back when years were young and dreams were endless.
Flashback to Manila, 1971. Victor, a construction worker, fell in love with Teresa, a rich kolehiyala. Unknown to him, Gabby – a son of a politician and gorgeous young man, at that, also vied for Teresa’s attention. As Teresa reciprocated Victor’s affections, she got introduced to the latter’s world where we meet Ester, an aging woman of the night,” and Victor’s younger brother, Lito. As their story evolves, we soon learn that Arturo (Victor’s bestfriend) has his eyes on Ester, while Ester is in love with Victor.
Though it looks a bit complicated, AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO is still is as staple as most tele-novelas you’ve come across. Librettist Bibeth Orteza presents a templated love story that feels very Filipino. Orteza tries to work on being “korni,” and it works magically. She initially spins her narratives around familiar themes of star-crossed romances and the ever growing gap between the rich and the poor. Victor pursues Teresa with blind yearning and with a hope that their love for each other will see them through hard times. The rich and dashing Gabby is our familiar villain — adorable, yet cruelly egomaniacal.
But Orteza doesn’t stop there. She allows her characters to face deeper consequences for their choices. As the plot develops, she wheels Victor and Teresa’s story to more rational resolutions. After the two eloped, one realizes that love isn’t really enough and that living in poverty and want is not the life she wished for herself. When Teresa’s family found out that she’s an anti-Marcos activist, she gets chased by the authorities, ultimately killing someone close to Victor.
BP’s Artistic Director, Paul Alexander Morales seems to know the 70s so well, and it is evident in AWITIN MO. He sprinkled Orteza’s narratives with a hooking nostalgia of an era of groove and young rebellion.
G.A. Fallarme’s scenic projections blends gorgeously with Ohm David’s stage design. Worthy to mention too, is how Fallarme’s scenic designs tell another layer to the narrative. As the years go by, we see how the world of Victor and Teresa develop a certain level of disgust against Marcos. Here, Fallarme strategically positions his varying backdrops to tell how we, Filipinos, strive to make things better for our land and its future.
Maestro Gerald Salonga orchestrates with sumptuous gusto for a jukebox ballet that celebrates VST & Co.’s classic hits like IPAGPATAWAD MO, PWEDE BA?, MAGSAYAWAN, IKAW ANG AKING MAHAL and HINDI KO AKALAIN. Each song is effectively placed in each scene without the uncomfortable feeling of being too contrived. It enhances than just informs, making every song number seemingly fluid, connected and relevant.
James Laforteza, PJ Rebullida and Carissa Adea choreograph with muted enthusiasm. It is occasionally robust, mostly connecting and ultimately exhilarating. Their choreography offers the needed soul to depict an era of groovy young men and women. There are moments that feel like A CHORUS LINE’s audition scenes, or WEST SIDE STORY’s more prolific dance sequences.
Garry Corpuz is the stereotypical Filipino Romeo, and he plays Victor with graceful strength and rhythm. However, Corpuz’ height and presence doesn’t seem to match Victor’s conventional persona. See, while Victor projects the archetypal commoner and the ordinary victim in a social war, Corpuz’ towering height and solid image contrast so evidently.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Corpuz’ villainous portrayal of Captain Hook in Edna Vida Froilan’s PETER PAN, as well as his dashing depiction of Prince Ivan in this season’s THE FIREBIRD. I just think that the central role of Victor isn’t for his built and form.
Denise Parungao dances Teresa with adorable grace and stunning characterization. For someone who has been watching ballet rehearsals in the past years, I know how challenging it could be for ballet dancers to shift to more contemporary dances; much more project a needed groove. But Parungao is a natural on stage – a stunning “kolehiyala” amidst a robust ensemble of 70s “astigs.”
And then we have BP’s Principal Dancer Jean Marc Cordero and Rita Angela Winder as alternates for Victor and Teresa. Cordero is a sight to see as Victor. He solidly captures the hackneyed Pinoy hero: vulnerable, yet enduring. He dances with considerable glee and well-tuned precision, giving the role of Victor a stronger central archetype for Orteza’s plot.
Winder is still as alluring, and a perfect match for Cordero as Teresa. She engages the audiences with a needful connection, especially during the more poignant scenes, and charms the crowds in show-stopping crossovers.
Ednah Ledesma and Butch Esperanza play Old Teresa and Old Victor in some of the shows, and their presence complete the narrative. Ledesma is quick to react and his chemistry with Esperanza is undeniably present.
And it is Edna Vida-Froilan and Nonoy Froilan, who also play the same roles in other shows, who are to watch out for. To say that Vida-Froilan overflows with brilliance and emotions, is an understatement. Since her retirement in the 90s, she graces the Main Theater’s stage once again with her brimming presence and handsome characterization for Old Teresa. Notice how her energy silently enchants the audience with just a single flick of her hand. Consider how she turns and brandishes her given space with quiet rhythm and empathic connection with the stage and her audience.
Froilan, on the other hand gives a more pained and aging Old Victor. In him, I see the surviving victim of a wounded past, ready to give up, just to appease the Fates. Froilan dances with a unparalleled energy; painting a character with an ample degree of regret and longing. To see them both on the CCP stage is a rare treat to treasure. Never miss this one.
Sandino Martin and Cooky Chua are Arturo and Ester – the two secondary characters who are still arguably central to the story. See, they are the singing counterparts to BP’s muted ensemble. Both verbalize the emotions and the songs for each of the numbers, singing VST & Co.’s hits.
Martin is dazzling as the repressed Arturo. His voice booms with echoing character. He moves and dances with faultless familiarity of the 70s. Chua also sings so beautifully; depicting a woman of fading beauty and with, still, a hopeful soul.
Jef Flores plays the dashing Gabby, and he portrays this role so wonderfully well. His natural twang even pathetically pictures the 70s “burgis.” At first, I was scared when I heard that Flores will be dancing and singing with Ballet Philippines and seasoned singers. See, Flores’ strength lies in his acting. But since Gabby is modestly screwed, his character intentionally becomes a willing outsider to an ensemble of common people.
AWITIN MO AT ISASAYAW KO is a Jukebox Ballet/Musical to behold. And did I mention that it offers an experience that is rare on a ballet stage? Though it comes with a formulaic story, it engages its audiences with its overflowing talents, timeless Filipino hits and sensational creativity through the magic of dance.
Finally, seeing a ballet piece that recalls the violence during the Martial Law in CCP’s Main Theater may seem ironic, but it is undeniably empowering. Though on the one hand, it shows the Filipino’s unending pursuit for happiness and cheer amidst violence and corruption, it mirrors our own present lives. Behind the orchestrations, it silently whispers that we need to be continually vigilant and prepared to fight for the freedom we have so long been blessed with.