by KRISTOFER PURNELL
Christmas is a time for families to be together, to revel in the company of each other’s love and be inspired by the gift of giving (and receiving, for a select few). It is a time for kindness.
Being your true self is the kindest thing you can do for others, and it evokes a particular fairytale character that exudes kindness like no other—with mice and birds for friends, a pumpkin for a carriage, and perfectly-fitting glass shoes.
This rags-to-riches story of Cinderella from the beloved tale by the Grimm Brothers will be the latest production in the golden season of Ballet Philippines. And it seems fitting the company will perform it in December, just before Christmas. “For a happy merry Christmas, Ballet Philippines is giving the best we have,” says the company’s president Kathleen Lior-Liechtenstein.
The ballet production of Cinderella is accompanied by the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Ballet Philippines started its 50th season with the composer’s Swan Lake earlier this year), which has been specially arranged by the late National Artist for Music Francisco Feliciano. It will feature the set and costume design by another National Artist, the late Salvador Bernal. To cap it all off, National Artist and Ballet Philippines’ very own artistic director Alice Reyes will take the reins as director and choreographer, nearly 40 years after she directed the company’s first Cinderella performance in 1981.
Mounting this show is Nonoy Froilan, who was Ballet Philippines’ premier danseur for around 30 years. He was also a part of the 1981 Cinderella performance that Alice directed, along with fellow company members Maricar Drilon, Gina Mariano, Cecile Sicangco, Robert Medina, and Brando Miranda.
“During my younger days, it was so fast, we only had a month of preparation,” recalls Nonoy during an intimate lunch for Cinderella. At that time, Manila was troubled by a typhoon, so the company was battling against brownouts and flooding. “Alice called us to rehearse—we hired a truck (to take us to rehearsals)!” He even remembers how brownouts disturbed their rehearsals. But the dancers resorted to using flashlights and cassette tapes because Alice said, “I have to finish this.”
Such is the dedication of the company’s artistic director, which makes this 2019 run all the more exciting now with Nonoy banking on experience to help him. He points out though that it will all be up to how the dancers. “The technique of Ballet Philippines has improved over the years,” he says. “The story is there, it is up to the artists to interpret.”
Meet the cast
Alternating for the titular role in Cinderella are Monica Gana and Katrene San Miguel. “Cinderella is the epitome of kindness. Her story is the perfect ballet for Christmas, something to symbolize hope,” says Monica. Katrene agrees, saying, “We grew up with these characters, it’s not hard to live them.”
Principal dancers Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes will take on the roles of the ugly stepsisters Grizella and Prunella, a step away from their usual grand roles earlier this season, having been Odile and Odette for Swan Lake, and Titania and Hermia, respectively, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “It’s a different challenge. We try to go ‘ugly,’” says Jemima. Denise, who portrayed Cinderella when the company last staged the ballet in 2014, hints at the sisters’ comic nature “as opposed to Cinderella who is regal.”
As back up to Denise and Jemima, Victor Maguad and Eugene Obile will also play the roles of the ugly stepsisters. Alice attribute this decision to cast men into female roles to Frederick Ashton who attempted to have men in similar roles for the Sadler Well Ballet. Ballet Philippines has more male dancers today and Alice wants to give them more opportunities by taking on challenging roles.
Guest artist Liza de la Fuente, a founding member of the Association of Ballet Academies in the Philippines, will portray Cinderella’s stepmother Brunhilda. Liza has been doing matriarch roles for Ballet Philippines since its 47th season, and Brunhilda is one role she looks forward to as she and her on-stage daughters attempt to trample on Cinderella’s kindness. Acting as the stepmother to the duo of Victor and Eugene in the second cast is leading choreographer Novy Bereber, who will add to the comical side of Cinderella’s step family.
Of course what is a Cinderella story without a Prince Charming? The two men tasked with matching the missing glass slipper to Cinderella are Ronelson Yadao and EJ Arisola, both of whom have some experience with the ballet. EJ was part of the 2014 Cinderella run, and is thinking about how he can improve his new performance. Nelson’s older brother Richardson played Prince Charming in that same 2014 run. He considers it “a challenge to do ‘prince’ roles,” but too always looks to improve himself as an artist. Nelson played Oberon opposite Denise’s Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also worth seeing is guest artist Mario Esperanza as the Prime Minister. Liliane “Tats” Rejante Manahan is doing the narrations for two matinee shows.
Though the tale of Cinderella is one we have all seen before, Ballet Philippines promises this new take with Alice’s guidance will be special—more glamorous even—to ensure that everyone will enjoy the company’s Christmas show. After all, who wouldn’t want to see the shoe fit?