New generation of Filipino dancers shine in ‘Nutcracker’

Manila balletomanes saw a vividly localized Nutcracker ballet with colonial setting last weekend and witnessed rising stars among millennial ballerinas and danseurs.

Mounted for the 48th season of Ballet Philippines, The Nutcracker was special mainly because of the timeless production design of Salvador Bernal, a razor-sharp and highly inspired ABS CBN Philharmonic under Gerard Salonga and the Sugar Plum Fairies of Denise Parungao (with Japanese danseur Nobuo Fujino) on the first two performances and the equally riveting performances of Jemima Reyes and Victor Maguad on a Saturday matinee show.

Denise Parungao with Nobuo Fujino in The Nutcracker. Superb partnering and a dazzling coda. Photo from Ballet Philippines website.


Superbly partnered by Fujino, Parungao dazzled in the pas de deux and doubly so in the solo variations ending with cool yet dizzying turns that had audiences shouting hysterical Bravo.

Reyes with Maguad was equally arresting in the matinee show with a natural display of lyricism and a commanding bravura finale in the grand pas.

In the same breath, danseur Maguad stood out as the dancer to cheer. With a body fit for a prince, the young danseur was well in command in the solo variations and delivering well-turned out leaps and turns in the much-awaited grand pas. His characterization was truly well delineated and it never waivered even in the highly demanding finale.

It was an even, if, finely tuned production with the choreography of Alice Reyes and Edna Vida, the Clara of AJ Reburiano and Channel Rivera with the marked presence of Butch Esperanza and Jonathan Tadioan as Don Alfonso.

The kids were the performers to beat as they showed gift for choreographic alignment and musicality in the Children’s March and in the Act 1 party scene.

Denise (Parungao) said the first two nights were different but they were both magical and heartfelt. “Dancing with Nobuo (Fujino) was effortless. I had total confidence in his partnering I was able to let go and dance. He took care of me and I felt that he was there for me. It made my Sugar Plum Fairy debut trouble-free.”

Jemima Reyes and her Clara in The Nutcracker. Equally arresting as Sugar Plum Fairy in the Saturday matinee.


She admits that the |Sugar Plum Fairy variation is not her favorite but that she learned to love it as rehearsals went for a month. “Eventually you found places where you can play with the musicality, dynamics and all. On the other hand, the pas de deux is my favorite! The music is beautiful it just moved me, and I will not get tired of it. Our version is hard. It took me some time to get used to it and be able to dance it. But then yes, every role is a different experience. In the two-hour ballet, I only enter in Act 2 with its pas de deux, variation, coda and the finale. Yes, it’s exhausting yet fulfilling.”

At a young age, Denise has come to terms with her life as a dancer. “It has been years that I enjoyed going to the studio to take class and rehearse. I enjoy seeing improvements in me and that motivates me to work more. Now, I am more than happy than ever. I see things differently; I work very differently. I like to think I’m a very driven person. People who love what they do surround me. I am living a healthy life that’s why I am happy and enjoying.”

After a highly promising Odette-Odile in the last production of Swan Lake, Denise said she learned to believe in herself and work hard. “I think that’s the most important thing I learned from dancing Odette-Odile. I was very insecure when we started rehearsals for Swan Lake. It was hard technically for my capability. But hard work never goes wrong and when you’re on stage, you just have to trust your technique. It is very important that you believe that you can do it because you worked hard for it.”

Among the ballet icons, she singles out the Royal Ballet’s Marianela Nunez whom she finds her ‘spirit animal.’

She adds: “I always see the joy of dance whenever I watch her videos. On stage or studio, she moves me every time. I look at how intelligently she uses her body and how she worked her technique. I love some of her character interpretation too, plus her incredibly clean technique it is almost impossible. Ulyana Lopatkina and Tamara Rojo, are on my lengthy list too, both are very smart dancers.”

Victor Maguad as Albrecht in Swan Lake with Jemima Reyes. The danseur to watch among millennials. Photo from Ballet Philippines website.

At age 23, Denise has come to terms with herself as a dancer. “If you look at it closely, it’s very difficult to be ballet dancer. Imagine going to the studio every day to know what’s wrong with you and work on it every single day to be ‘perfect’ which is impossible. But you derive little joy and the small success that come from working hard. Adding one more turn to your pirouette or simply by just losing weight, keeps me moving forward, motivated, and happy. Dancing on stage is the joy you worked for months. It’s that moment when you’re giving your complete self, and nothing is more joyous than that.”

The Nutcracker will have its remaining performances on the following dates: Fri Dec 8, 8PM; Sat Dec 9, 2PM; Sat Dec 9, 7PM; Sun Dec 10, 2PM and Sun Dec 10, 7PM.

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