Another ‘Rebel’ story
“Welcome to the other ‘Rebel’ concert!” prima ballerina and Ballet Manila artistic director Lisa Macuja Elizalde joked as she addressed the audience before the start of the invitational gala performance of “Rebel: Edsa 30.”
She was referring obviously to the “Rebel Heart” concert taking place a few kilometers away at the Mall of Asia Arena, drawing thousands who had shelled out astronomical sums for tickets to the first-ever performance of Madonna in Manila.
But those who could not afford to see Madonna in the flesh, or who chose to celebrate otherwise, had little reason to regret being inside the Aliw Theater on Thursday evening. For taking place onstage was an artistic interpretation of the events and personalities that dominated the country’s—nay, the world’s—attention 30 years ago.
Who would have thought the historic confrontation between the Marcoses and the Filipino people—embodied by Ferdinand and Imelda on one hand and Ninoy and Cory on the other—would someday lend the artistic seed to a ballet based on the tale of Spartacus?
But come to think of it, the parallels between the two stories are easy to glean. The story of a gladiator-turned-leader in a slave uprising against the Roman Empire lends itself easily to adaptation to tell the story of a people rebelling against a conjugal dictatorship and willing to sacrifice life, if need be, to win their freedom.
As the creators proclaim: “There is a rebel within us all.” And it is a realization we need to ponder and decide how to bring to fruition in this time when we are at a crossroads, when we must decide, through the ballot, what road we “rebels” will take toward the future.
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“Rebel” opens with a scene within and without the Palace, with Imelda and Ferdinand partying with their guests even as angry protesters, with Ninoy and Cory in the lead, mass outside the gates, raring for a confrontation.
The set is itself a symbol of social stratification. A huge monolith sits in the center, with steps leading up to a ledge on top where an elaborate “throne” sits. I thought it reminded one of the facade of the Edsa Shrine, while at times it also bore a resemblance to the CCP Main Theater and its huge gray slab of frontage.
Both Cory and Ninoy, Imelda and Ferdinand are studies in contrast. Toward the middle of the ballet, Ferdinand is seen weakening, while Imelda assumes increasing control over the state apparatus. Cory is seen yearning for a life of quiet and privacy, while Ninoy is shown unwilling or unable to resist the call of engagement with the struggle against the couple in the Palace. The protesters are embodied by Juan de la Cruz and Jose, an archetype and an historical figure who are meant to stand in for all Filipinos struggling to break free.
Observing and by turns lamenting and spurring the action is Inang Bayan, a figure whose presence inspires and enlivens the flagging spirits of the rebels and rebels-to-be.
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Macuja essays the role of Inang Bayan, while Joanna Ampil, a stage performer of international caliber (“Miss Saigon,” among other roles), lends Inang Bayan her voice, punctuating the original “Spartacus” score by Aram Khachaturian with more familiar, and beloved, Edsa anthems like “Magkaisa,” “Bayan Ko” and “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.”
I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of the Ballet Manila company. As Macuja puts it in her notes, the company is at present predominantly made up of young men, and she had always been searching for material that would do justice and provide enough dance roles for her danseurs. “Rebel” was thus partly motivated by this desire for stronger material for a largely male company, and it indeed provides strong, vigorous dancing in the many mano-a-mano confrontations.
The leads do not disappoint. Essaying Imelda are Tiffany Chiang and Abigail Oliveiro, while Cory is portrayed by Katherine Barkman and Dawna Mangahas. Dancing Ferdinand are Gerardo Francisco and Brian Williamson, with Francisco earning spontaneous applause with his prowess. Ninoy is strongly personified by Rudy de Dios and Mark Sumaylo.
Mention must also be made of the support provided by the artistic staff, most notably costume designer Jeffrey Rogador, who hews close to “street style” even as he provides artistic flourishes like the Philippine flag theme in the costumes of the two Inang Bayan figures. Likewise commendable are production designer Mio Infante, lighting designer Joaquin Jose Aranda, and projection designer Ga Fallarme, who provides historical context with footage of important events in recent history.
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Likewise worthy of note is the ABS-CBN Philharmonic under the baton of Gerard Salonga. They confidently lend musical support to the dancers, while imbuing the “Edsa anthems” with new relevance and meaning in new and reimagined arrangements. What a satisfying experience it is to embark on a ballet voyage with live orchestral music in the background!
In his notes, choreographer Martin Lawrance says he chose “not to create a ballet that is a dance/history lesson, but rather make parallels between the two events and the main characters.”
Indeed, the ballet recalls all the passion and fervor of those four days of Edsa I, while putting those events in the context of older stories of struggle and strife.
At the end of the ballet, the audience stood up not just to pay tribute to the heartwarming performance but also to give release to the pent-up emotions that had built up during this 30th year commemoration. Kudos, Ballet Manila! Indeed, let us not forget!
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