Mar 26, 2019

[Ballet] Tales of the Manuvu (2019) Review (Ballet Philippines)

When Tobie and I sat down to watch Tales of the Manuvu last weekend, we weren't sure what to expect from the experience. While we had watched many theatrical productions in terms of plays and musicals, we had never tried to watch a ballet performance. So this was a major first but important friends had recommended that we go see the show and thus we shifted things around in our schedule in order to make it happen.

And while it took us a bit of time to fully acclimate to the experience, by the end of the show we were really happy that we had made the time to go and had so many moments that we just had to talk about and celebrate further. This is a great show.

Synopsis: Tales of the Manuvu is a rock-opera ballet originally staged in 1977 and choreographed and directed by now National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes. The libretto was written by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbero was based on an article published in the Philippine Heritage written by E. Arsenio Manuel. The production was staged at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines from 22-31 March 2019.

The show begins with four pieces by new choreographers - Sundown choreographed by Gia Gequinto, The Weight On Our Toes choreographed by Eri Sorills, Mama choreographed by Ronelson Yadao, and finally, Chichester Psalms choreographed by Alice Reyes. Of the four, we especially loved both The Weight On Our Toes and Mama. The former because of the diverse styles incorporated into a cohesive and striking whole. The latter because of its visual storytelling and brilliant choreography that made great use of synchronized movement and a lot of close-up action.

After the intermission, we get to the meat and potatoes of the production - the actual Tales of the Manuvu. The story is divided into three parts and is told not only through dance but with the help of musical accompaniment and even some supporting text flashed on a narrow black screen above the stage. The singers are different based on the night you watch the production. The story of the good god Manama and that of the First Man was sung by Reuben Laurente, Boy Camara, and Lorenz Martinez. The trickster "evil" god Ogassi's story sung by Nar Cabico, Ding Mercado, and Poppert Bernadas. And finally, the parts of the story tied to the First Woman were sung by Lara Maigue, Celeste Legaspi, Aicelle Santos, and Shiela Valderrama.

For the main show, you can definitely feel the 70's vibe that ties back to when this show was first conceived. There are moments in the soundtrack that feel like something right out of the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar as the different singers rock out to tell this unique creation story of the Manobo Tribe. The duality of this origin as tied to a good god and an evil god is an interesting one and they reinforced the differences between the two through the tone of their songs, their costumes and of course the way they'd move about and perform their numbers. And how those diverse elements came together made for a great experience that played on many different senses.

It's hard to take time to cite individual performances or even moments because the entire company performed so well together. Every dancer had a little moment to shine if you pay attention throughout the performance. Everyone worked well in their respective performance sequences and did their best to really use the choreography to help tell the story. It's such a unique live performance to watch and I think I better appreciate what Ballet Philippines does in the country.

On a side note, fellow O Bar patrons may recognize some of the performances or dance moves from performances during special event nights at the bar. And that's because a number of Ballet Philippines performances have actually danced on-stage at O Bar and that sort of choreography has worked its way into different numbers. It's an interesting connection and one that provides a bit more insight.

Tales of the Manuvu is probably an easier ballet performance to get into given it feels more like a stage musical given how the story is sun through. But in the end, it's the dancing that will really take you away and we are all made better with the opportunity to see such artistry in action. Thus the show gets a full 5 expertly executed dance moves out of a possible 5.

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