The swans in Philippine setting

Denise Parungao as Odette in a new production of Swan Lake.

When Ballet Philippines stages Swan Lake starting February 24 at the CCP main theater, balletomanes will most likely look back to the decades the ballet was first interpreted by distinguished Filipino and foreign ballerinas.

Danseur Nonoy Froilan recalled that the Filipina who first set her eyes on the role of Odette-Odile in the 70s was Tina Santos but she had to cancel because of knee injury. The production had a foreign Swan in the person of Christine Walsh of Australia.

After close to four decades, Santos is in town to coach the lead dancers.

“When Maniya Barredo did the part for the first time in Manila, I was her Siegfred. Swan Lake was one of my memorable roles as premier danseur,” Nonoy recalled

One was lucky to watch a rehearsal of Swan Lake with the icons of Philippine ballet keeping a watchful eye namely Santos, Eddie Elejar and Froilan.

Maniya Barredo as Black Swan in the 80s production.

The media was treated to snatches from Swan Lake which Froilan said started rehearsal as early as October last year.

This is the new generation of dancers one was watching and one got magical excerpts from Act 1 Pas de Trois, White Swan and Black Swan with alternating Odette-Odile of Denise Parungao and Jemima Reyes with the Siegfred of Victor Maguad.

Huffing and puffing after the excerpts, ballerinas Parungao and Reyes agree on one prerequisite of the ballet warhorse.

"This ballet needs a lot of stamina. We have to secure our technique first but we should not lose sight of the characterization. We are white swans and black swans in this ballet. For sure, nothing is easy doing these dual roles.”

Nonoy Froilan as Siegfred in the Ballet Philippines 80s production.

When he performed with Barredo, who danced Odette-Odile in the 80s, Froilan knew he was in the presence of a strong technician.

“Apart from being a very lyrical dancer, Maniya is strong technically. I don’t have to work hard to support her because she can do balance with very little help from her partner,” he said.

The late National Artist for Dance Leonor Orosa Goquingco wrote of Barredo’s first Swan Lake: “Supremely poetic as Odette the Swan Queen and imperious and subtly evil as Odile the deceiver, the petite, long-necked and nobly formed Maniya had blossomed into a superb artist, indeed, one who could favorably compare with the greatest the world had to offer.”

After Barredo, Ballet Philippines’ Swan Lake had a new Odette-Odile in the person of Japan’s prima ballerina Yoko Morishita who did it in the 80s and said farewell to the part in the early 90s.

An autographed picture of Yoko Morishita and Fernando Bujones during the curtain call for Black Swan.

Morishita is a gold medalist in the Varna Competition and one of the few performing arts celebrities who became a Rolex endorser. She was also the favorite Giselle of the late Russian premier danseur Rudolf Nureyev who danced in Manila in the 70s.

In the 80s, Morishita danced Swan Lake not just with Froilan but with Fernando Bujones, America’s superman of dance for her Siegfred.

Her luminous moments as Odette no doubt made her an instant ballet sensation in Manila. In the ballet’s introduction as far as one could recall, she was radiant until Baron Rothbart (Armin Wild) appeared to threaten her. In the Act II White Swan episode, Morishita’s dancing was sheer poetry in motion in the adagio part. Indeed, she essayed bird-like qualities that shimmered near the end of Act II where her feet, her arms and even her entire body muscles trembled and portrayed a swan in distress.

In the Black Swan episode, one saw Manila’s balletomanes counting in unison literally curious if she could complete the required 32 killer fouettes.

Ballet mentor Tina Santos with Victor Maguad and Denise Parungao at rehearsal hall.

Some 37 years after it was first seen in Manila with Filipino lead dancers, Swan Lake returns to the CCP with the Odette-Odile of Candice Adea and the Siegfred of Joseph Philips and with alternating cast of Parungao and Reyes with the Siegfred of Maguad.

Maguad told Vera Files the hard part of the ballet is not just portraying the prince but being a good and reliable partner. "Good partnering is another equally difficult requirement for a Siegfred aside from projecting his princely character. It is not enough that you can lift the ballerina without effort. Foremost of all, she should look good up in the air and down."

The young ballerinas can only sigh with the gargantuan challenge awaiting them.

“I think you should also be obsessed with going into the heart and soul of Odette if you are going to succeed in this role. We are expected to be pure and chaste in Act II and devilish as Odile in Act III,” she added.

Denise Parungao as Odette and her Siegfred.

One remembered Barredo confiding after two weekends of Swan Lake in the early 80s: “I couldn’t believe that it was actually over. Because deep down within me, I don’t want it to end. At the same time, I am glad it’s over because it went so well.”

As distinguished danseur and choreographer Balanchine once noted: “All leading dancers want to dance Swan Lake at least once in their careers and all audiences want to see them dance it. To succeed in Swan Lake, is to become overnight a ballerina. Petipa and Ivanov (the composer and choreographer) are to the dancer what Shakespeare is to the actor. If you can succeed in their choreography parts, there is a suggestion that you can succeed at anything.”

(Swan Lake runs at the CCP February 24, 25, 26 and March 3, 4, 5, 2017. Call the CCP box office (8321125 or 8323704) for tickets.)


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