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Review overview

Performances 5
Choreography 5
Direction 5
Music and Orchestration 5
Book and Libretto 5
Entertainment Value 5

Summary

5 review score Ballet Manila made the right choice of putting Gerry Francisco at the helm of their most recent production. IBONG ADARNA soars with exceptional talents, gorgeous choreography, breathtaking music, and notable performances from its leads. Seeing this production reminds me of the beauty of Philippine literature and the surprising wonder in our local ballet.

When you step out of a show, and you see people euphorically talking about what they have just seen, you feel that you’ve just been in for a treat. When even during intermission, you hear people — especially the young ones – humming an LSS from a ballet show, you know you’ve just seen something different.

You read it right: a Last Song Syndrome after a ballet.

And that’s exactly what Gerardo Francisco’s IBONG ADARNA has in store. And more.

This new, original ballet from Ballet Manila’s Principal Dancer and choreographer surprises audiences with brilliant narrative and magnificent choreography. Here, the Kingdom of Berbania comes with a fresh look and its music is worth a hum, even hours after you’ve seen it.

King Fernando of Berbania catches a deadly disease, which no one in the kingdom could heal. Desperate for a cure, the royal family seeks the advice of their great healer, who tells them of the healing power of the Ibong Adarna – a mythical bird that lives in a tree called Piedras Platas somewhere in the far-off mountains of Tabor. Each of Fernando’s sons set off to catch the Adarna to bring back to their ailing father. But catching it is no easy task. Each of the brothers will need to pass the test that will measure their bravery, character and spirit.

Ballet Manila's August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz
Ballet Manila’s August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz

What’s most exciting in this piece is how Francisco puts the usual corps de ballet to center stage, showcasing a magnificent array of gorgeous synchrony and robust athleticism. In ADARNA, we cheer at dancers who we normally see at the backdrop. Through Francisco’s combinations of classical ballet and Philippine folk dance, we see the magic in this piece pulling together a breathtaking choreography and endless energy; one that I personally haven’t seen yet on a ballet stage.

Ever.

No wonder, old and young people cheer and go wild after every scene. Like the Adarna, Francisco’s choreography takes off so wonderfully, I silently wished it wouldn’t end.

in Ballet Manila's August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA
Rudy de Dios as Prinsipe Juan in Ballet Manila’s August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz

Otto Hernandez’ stage design presents a fantastical kingdom that is truly its own. Though it slightly veers away from the stereotypical style of Filipino folklores, one cannot deny a glimpse of our own folkloric spirit in its look. Diwa de Leon’s compellingly breathtaking score accompanies the entire piece with varying themes of sorrow, struggle and hope. Worthy to mention, too, is how de Leon managed to put together a piece for the Adarna that is worth humming again and again, even hours after the show.

Theater veteran, Bodjie Pascua, takes the role of the narrator, and he makes his scene glow with his heartfelt narrations. Prima Ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde is Donya Valeriana, mother to the tale’s three central character. Here, Macuja-Elizalde maintains her endearing presence as the loving matriarch, guiding and keeping. And Neil Mag-aso’s Haring Fernando is as royal as an archetypal King should be.

Prima Ballerina Ms. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde as Donya Valeriana in Ballet Manila's August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz
Prima Ballerina Ms. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde as Donya Valeriana in Ballet Manila’s August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz

Both Elpidio Magat and Rudolph Capongcol as Prinsipe Pedro and Prinsipe Diego, respectively, flourish with strong performances as the two elderly brothers. While Magat showcases great control, Capongcol sways with remarkable presence.

Anselmo Dictado’s Prinsipe Juan is a sight to see. People familiar with this classical Filipino tale know that Juan is the real hero, and Dictado makes sure that he captures the hearts of his audiences. His light, yet sturdy stance as the youngest Berbania prince establishes a more youthful spirit with a kinder heart. Worthy to note is the part where he journeys to the mountain of Tabor. Even under the Piedras Platas, we feel his desperation and eternal exhaustion. Somewhere, I heard a young audience whispered, “I hope he gets the Ibong Adarna. He’s the kindest of them all.”

Katherine Barkman plays the Ibong Adarna, and she’s vigorously magical. Here, Barkman glides and soars as the mythical bird – brilliant, yet coy. She takes center stage every time the Adarna deals with the brothers, fairly putting each to the test. Barkman owns this new Francisco look for the magical creature: depicting a powerful golden bird to cruel hearts, but a faithful ally for the compassionate.

Gia Macuja as the Singing Ibong Adarna in Ballet Manila's August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz
Gia Macuja as the Singing Ibong Adarna in Ballet Manila’s August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz

Gia Macuja takes the role of the singing Adarna, and boy, how she put us all under her spell! Through de Leon’s compelling score, Macuja captures the show with her spellbinding arias for the Adarna. At first I was bit wary of seeing two Adarna’s on stage (with Barkman dancing, and Macuja singing), but as the show progresses, I soon found myself looking forward to seeing both on stage. Macuja and Barkman’s chemistry is undeniable, and both shine in each Piedras Platas scene.

IBONG ADARNA is packed with archetypal characters, and Francisco makes sure that their essence echoes in his piece. While watching, I can’t help but sigh in silent surrender to the timeless wonder of its tale. Even in its source material’s folkloric simplicity, IBONG ADARNA continually reminds us that kindness, compassion and sincerity can go a long way. That despite all the odds, hope remains and goodness prevails.

Abigail Oliveiro as the Ibong Adarna in Ballet Manila's August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz
Gia Macuja as the Singing Ibong Adarna and Abigail Oliveiro as the Ibong Adarna in Ballet Manila’s August 26 performance of IBONG ADARNA. Photo by Ms. Trixie Dauz

Ballet Manila made the right choice of putting Gerry Francisco at the helm of their most recent production. IBONG ADARNA soars with exceptional talents, gorgeous choreography, breathtaking music, and notable performances from its leads. Seeing this production reminds me of the beauty of Philippine literature and the surprising wonder in our local ballet.

When you leave the Aliw Theater, and you find yourself humming the Adarna song, somehow you’d know that you’ve just seen something extraordinary. Like Prinsipe Juan, you, too, shall be bringing the Ibong Adarna home with you.

And it is a very good thing.

5 Stars out of 5!!!

Photos by: MS. TRIXIE DAUZ

Tags : balletballet manilagerardo franciscoibong adarnalisa macuja-elizalde
Orly S. Agawin

The author Orly S. Agawin

Orly has been writing for The Jellicle Blog since 2008. He is a training and development consultant by day and an art enthusiast by night. He lives in Parañaque with his mom.

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