by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Violins set the scene. As the oboe begins to play, one is instantly transported to a fictional forest somewhere in Germany, beside a still and clear lake reflecting the white shining moon—one can even feel the water begin to ripple as the harp’s notes dance around. Suddenly the French horns bellow, and one isn’t just by the lake but flying over it, seeing the water glisten in all its glory, with no company in the sky but a whisper of clouds and the bright moon.
Such is the magic brought about by Swan Lake, the selected opening performance for Ballet Philippines’ 50th year. This golden milestone is a testament to the many years the ballet company has delivered generations of dancers coming in and out, each leaving a bit of themselves on the stage. And what better way to celebrate 50 years than with one of the grandest ballets of all?
The beautiful music of Swan Lake was created by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, famous for also writing the ballets The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Ballet Philippines made sure that their 50th season would open with splendor by inviting for their gala performances principal dancer Evgeny Ivanchenko and first soloist Elena Evseeva of the Mariinsky Ballet (formerly the Kirov Ballet), which staged the revival and commonly known version of Swan Lake in 1895, two years after Tchaikovsky’s death.
Evgeny was such a delight to see as the dashing Prince Siegfried. With every leap he proves that men can indeed master a difficult dance such as ballet, each move expressing with emotion his promises of love. Shining just as bright was Elena, whose elegance as Odette/White Swan was just breathtaking—her pirouettes almost made it appear as if she was about to take flight. And as Odile/Black Swan, Elena seemed a different person when she performed the “Black Swan Pas de deux” with fiery flair.
Partnering with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the resident company of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Ballet Philippines must thank associate conductor Herminigildo Ranera with how he handled Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. Particularly worthy of note is the “White Swan Pas de deux,” and the famous “Dance of the Little Swans,” paired excellently to the direction of associate artistic director and ballet master Adam Sage.
Contributing to the magnificence of Swan Lake are the sets by returning designer Eduardo “Toto” Sicangco, trained by the likes of National Artists Salvador Bernal and Alice Reyes, the latter the artistic director of Ballet Philippines. The simple beauty of Toto’s sets allowed Elena, Evgeny, and the other dancers (a special mention to Victor Maguad’s Jester) to fill the stage with elevated emotions, roaring through each leap and turn. And former Miss Universe and current CCP chair Margie Moran Floriendo guesting as the Queen Mother? Her appearance just screamed regality.
Also making the performance stellar was lighting designer Jennifer Tipton, quite a steal for Ballet Philippines to help collaborate for their 50th year opener. Her contributions cannot be understated in Swan Lake, given how her lighting emphasized the notes in Tchaikovsky’s work. Worthy of note are Acts II and IV, where both Toto and Jennifer’s expertise banded together to make the twilight lakeside performances much more heartfelt.
Swan Lake has gained a reputation for being one of the difficult but passionate ballets ever made, so it’s plain to see why Ballet Philippines chose to mark their golden anniversary with it. Elena and Evgeny (and their local counterparts Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes, and Eugene Obille and Victor Maguad) have blessed the CCP stage with performances to remember, hopefully a sign of another blessed 50 years to come.