PH-set 'Romeo and Juliet' opens Ballet Manila's 2023 season

Totel V. de Jesus

Posted at Feb 16 2023 03:41 PM

Joshua Enciso and Pearl Dames will perform the titular roles in 'Romeo & Juliet' in Ballet Manila’s world premiere of this updated classic. Handout
Joshua Enciso and Pearl Dames will perform the titular roles in 'Romeo & Juliet' in Ballet Manila’s world premiere of this updated classic. Handout

MANILA -- “We need to be inspired to inspire others,” Ballet Manila’s (BM) artistic associate and principal dancer Gerardo Francisco Jr. said during the recent media launch of BM’s 25th live performance season. 

True enough, BM is brimming with vigor and inspiration to bring excellent classical and modern dance pieces as it continues with its 25th season.

As a dance company, BM has been around for 27 years but due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the company like all other groups, migrated to online platforms for almost three years, from 2020 to mid-2022.

For 2023, BM is starting the year with a new twist to the classic “Romeo and Juliet” as reimagined by British choreographer Martin Lawrence. 

“I’m very excited to work with young, raw talents,” Lawrence said. 

Instead of the typical middle-aged European backdrop, the classic ballet piece is set in a “quaint Philippine town.”

The performance will have a limited two-day run, on February 18 at 8 p.m. and February 19 at 5 p.m. 

The two shows mark the debut of BM’s principal dancers Joshua Enciso and Pearl Dames as they will play the titular roles of the ill-fated lovers from William Shakespeare’s classic play. 

“’Romeo and Juliet’ is a story that is tinged with sadness, sorrow, and endless love. I believe that stories like these still happen to this day and can be put in any culture or time zone, and can be interpreted in many ways. But at the end of the day, it’s a story of lost love,” Lawrence said. 

He added the reimagination of the classic piece would combine notable elements from other versions as he added his own twist. The dancers will be "dressed in cool, hip costumes while performing to a mash-up of the original scores from Prokofiev and ‘West Side Story’, along with popular OPM tunes.”

“Coming to the Philippines for almost 10 years and embracing the Filipino culture gave me the freedom to create movements for the show. Ultimately, working with the beautiful dancers of Ballet Manila helped bridge the cultural gap. Through this show, audience will see that it’s possible to re-imagine the classic material into a gritty, fun ballet set in Manila,” said Lawrence.
He added ballet lovers can also look forward to the show’s music. “I’ve intersected moments of ‘West Side Story’, beautiful OPM pieces and a song from Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’. I see it as an eclectic mix of music that works for the story and my own choreography while giving the dancers, and the audience the joy and freedom of embracing a beautiful tragedy.” 

Lawrence hopes the audience will also feel the same emotions he felt throughout the whole journey of creating his adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet.” 

“I want the audience not only to enjoy an evening of beautiful dancing and entertainment but to feel the sadness and the warmth of love. It will be a story that will never die and never become old for many years to come,” he said.

Last year, BM emerged victorious like a phoenix and proved it is still the country’s leading classical dance company. It started a special full live performance titled “Rise!” at its official home, the newly renovated 1,275-seat Aliw Theater. 

“The challenges that Ballet Manila have been through these past years have only proven our grit and resilience in the face of adversity. That is why we feel that it’s only right to open our 25th season with performances that showcase Ballet Manila’s enduring artistry and excellence,” said Lisa Macuja-Elizalde in an earlier statement. 

More classic pieces

After “Romeo and Juliet,” BM will perform “Don Quixote.” It marks the homecoming of Katherine Barkman as she plays Kitri. Currently a soloist at the San Francisco Ballet, Barkman was mentored by Macuja-Elizalde from 2015 to 2018 to become a principal dancer at BM before moving back to her home country, the USA, in 2018. 

Back in the Philippines for “Don Quixote,” she will dance alongside Esteban Hernandez, a principal danseur at San Francisco Ballet, who will play Basilio. The shows will be on May 27 at 8 p.m. and May 28 at 5 p.m.

The 25th performance season will close with an original Filipino work, “Ibong Adarna” by Gerardo Francisco Jr., which had received multiple accolades including Gawad Buhay awards for Outstanding Male Lead for Modern Dance, Outstanding Modern Dance Production, and Outstanding Choreography for Modern Dance, among others. 

“Ibong Adarna” goes on stage August 19 at 8 p.m. and August 20 at 5 p.m.

“This is truly an auspicious time for us, as we begin the new year with a new performance season, in a better and more modern Aliw Theater; and working with some of the best creative minds in the industry. We hope that audiences will once again flock to Aliw Theater to watch these shows we worked so hard to mount, in the hopes that they will leave the theater feeling moved and inspired,” said Macuja-Elizalde.