Perfectly imperfect

By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

Ballet ReviewThe NutcrackerBy Ballet Philippines

FOR the last Ballet Philippines gala performance at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) — we really mean last, as the CCP shuts down this year for renovations — the ballet company went ahead with the usual holiday favorite, The Nutcracker.

“Tonight, we are bittersweet. It’s a time for us to be not-so-happy and not-so-sad,” said Ballet Philippines (BP) president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein in a speech during the Dec. 17 gala. “The Nutcracker is the last ballet performance before the CCP closes its doors for a three-year renovation.”

“CCP’s sacred stage and its storied corridors have been our beloved home for the last 53 years,” said Ms. Lior-Liechtenstein. “It continues to be in the seasons to come, and we look forward to an unforgettable homecoming to a grander CCP in 2025.”

That’s all right, because she also announced the 53rd season’s ending show, Carlo Calma’s Diyosa, which will be performed in April at the Theatre at Solaire.

With music composed in the 1890s by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is set during Christmas Eve and consists of Christmas presents coming to life in a child’s mind. The ballet is immensely popular around the world during the holiday season, and has become a sort of tradition — on many American TV sets, George Balanchine’s interpretation of The Nutcracker can be regularly seen on Christmas Eve. On another note, the music used in one of the ballet’s more famous pas de deux, The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, is used in several movies and is one of pop culture’s more familiar classical tunes.

This reporter was particularly invested in the ballet for Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, the last dance for the corps de ballet. We love the music, but we’ve only seen it performed on video: the 2012 performance of the Mariinsky Ballet, the American TV performance from the Balanchine interpretation. Never having seen it live made the hoping and excitement for Dec. 17 more acutely felt.

For the overture, snowflakes were projected on the curtain, and spirited young dancers appeared onstage for the Christmas Eve feast. It was a pretty spare set, with just projections and candelabra on either end of the stage. The set did get progressively grander with each scene, showing elaborate gift boxes and other dainty touches, especially in the scenes set in the Land of Sweets.

We’ll commend the cast, especially the lead girl played by Jemima Reyes (called Clara in the original production, but named Marie in our program). She seems technically perfect, practically floating, even, and holds her own against Ballet Philippines’ Artistic Director Mikhail Martynyuk’s Drosselmeier (who plays her godfather). Keep in mind that Mr. Martynyuk has the following distinctions: Star Dancer of The Kremlin Ballet Theatre, Premier Dancer of the Russian Ballet Theatre, and he holds the title of Honored Artist of the Russian Federation (according to the Ballet Philippines’ website).

The Rat King played by Alexis Piel is chaos come to life, and it felt like a fun role to play. During the scene in Act 2 where dolls from China, Russia, Spain, and the Arabian Peninsula come to life (in the original, they’re personifications of drinks and snacks matched to their place of origin; namely tea, candy canes, chocolate, and coffee), we almost gave a standing ovation for the Arabian Dolls, played by Mikaela Samson and Julafer Fegarido. Those two gave a very sensual and almost gymnastic performance, with their bodies just as taut and refined as the music.

Finally, after sitting through scenes (with little complaint) of holiday nostalgia that I did not myself experience (we did not have dancing rats at our feasts, unfortunately), we finally got our prize, The Waltz of the Flowers. A couple danced themselves too far to the right side of the stage. Perhaps it was the perfect music (performed by the Manila Symphony Orchestra), or the dancers’ bright shining young faces filled with such wholesome holiday cheer — but we realized something. It is completely possible to wait and wait for something and for it not to be perfect — and still fall in love with it completely. It made it easy to take to heart the last words of Ms. Lior-Liechtenstein’s speech: “May your hearts be filled with hope, love, inner peace, and above all: dance.”

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