July 31`, 2004  (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Was the recent production of Le Corsaire by Ballet Manila Lisa Macuja-Elizalde’s last foray into the role of the slave girl Medora? That was the question on everybody’s mind when she stepped onstage the Star Theater at the Star City a few weeks ago, the opening night of this all-Filipino production.

Macuja-Elizalde, BM’s artistic director and principal ballerina, has not denied that she will be gradually shedding some of her more demanding dance roles, bequeathing them to the emerging ballerinas of her ballet company. Early this year, she bid goodbye to the role of Kitri in Don Quixote, one of the most challenging dance roles in the ballet repertoire. If this production of Le Corsaire were to be an indication of BM’s future as one of the country’s more popular ballet groups, then it is definitely bright.

Le Corsaire is a demanding ballet to mount because it requires four male danseurs for any production to get off the ground. The roles of Conrad, Ali, Birbanto and Lankadem are not just character roles but also require virtuoso dancing. It is after all a pirate ballet. Of course, the ballerinas also share equal time on stage. The slave girls Medora and Gulnara are not only abducted and sold at the slave market, but they also share the limelight, not only in the pas de deux and pas de trois, but also in the so-called Rose Waltz divertissement.

The moment Macuja-Elizalde appeared onstage, the fully-packed Star Theater erupted into applause. This same enthusiastic response marked the evening, as Ballet Manila’s regular crowd, composed mostly of students, would cheer the dancers to their best.

Macuja-Elizalde was challenged by the audiences’ applause to some of her fiercest dancing. Even if she has declared that age is a dancer’s biggest obstacle, none of that was evident during Le Corsaire’s opening night. Her twirls were just as fast and her leaps were full of energy. She didn’t even fail in working a little bit of comedy in Conrad and Medora’s romantic pantomime in Act 2.

If there was anything Macuja-Elizalde proved that night, it was that the role of Medora is still very much in her system. It is hard to believe that she is ready to bid this role goodbye given her good showing. Surely, Ballet Manila’s regulars would protest at this turn in her career.

Macuja-Elizalde’s dancing partner Osias Barroso bestowed the demanding role of Conrad to Jonathan Janolo, one of his students, that night. Janolo might have been a little cautious when partnering Macuja-Elizalde, but he gradually came into his own as the night progressed. He had the energy to survive Conrad’s variations in the flamboyant grand pas de trois in Act 2. It might have been a little bit exuberant, but he will surely refine his dancing in forthcoming performances.

Complementing Macuja-Elizalde and Janolo in the grand pas de trois was Gerardo Francisco as Ali. His dancing was brilliant, providing a dizzying counterpoint to Janolo’s performance. With leaps that are exceptionally secure and graceful, it was a thrilling achievement.

Marian Faustino confidently took on the role of Gulnara, the other slave girl, providing a refreshing contrast to Macuja-Elizalde. While she had the strength for the dizzying spins in the Rose Waltz divertissement, she tempered her dancing, giving way to her senior. As the slave trader Lankadem, Jerome Espejo relished the opportunity for characterization. In the pas de deux between Lankadem and Gulnara in Act 1, Scene 2, Espejo and Faustino made a wonderful team. Marcus Tolentino as Birbanto rounded up this production’s young and exciting team.

Ballet Manila bills this production of Le Corsaire as its second all-Filipino production. The company has presented this ballet previously with guest Russian artists taking on some of the lead male roles.

What this particular production has proven is that Ballet Manila has enough talent to mount more than just a competent performance of this challenging ballet. With three different casts taking on the ballet’s different roles, Ballet Manila has shown that it has enough dancers to put up a gripping show. Lisa Macuja-Elizalde now has assurance that her ballet company will continue to shine with its emerging young dancers.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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