A look into the history of the performance art, the highlights of the show and the future of ballet featuring local talent
Ballet, to many, is a performance art reserved for a cultured few. It originated in the Italian Renaissance courts after all before moving to the opera stages of Paris and later Russia. But while ballet is a display of grace, technique and perfection, it is an art form that can still be appreciated today and by anyone. Because there is nothing as astonishing as the sight of a ballerina standing on her toes while performing turn sequences (chaines) or spins (pirouettes) with feet turned out to the fullest and in the dreamiest, most elaborate costumes no less.
Stella Abrera & The Rising Stars of American Ballet Theatre (ABT), rekindles every little girl’s (and boy’s) dream to become a ballerina and demands the same reverential respect and wonder. First and foremost, the show is headlined by internationally acclaimed Stella Abrera, the first Filipina principal dancer at ABT. Second, ABT is one of the greatest dance companies in the world; a living national treasure in the West since its founding in 1939. Nbd, right? So it goes without saying, expectations were set high.
The new and the the neo-classical
A contemporary “plotless” ballet was almost unheard of until George Balanchine introduced it to America. Also known as neo-classical ballet, this genre follows no exact narrative and was designed to use movements to express music, as well as human emotions.
The show began with Escapades choreographed by Amy Hall Garner featuring ABT’s Teresa D’Ortone, Seon Lee Park, Yoon Jung Seo and Aleisha Walker, Tristan Brosnan, Arthur Erlanson, Andrew Robare and Elwince Magbitang. It was an excellent display of neo-classical and contemporary, as well as young, burgeoning talent.
Magbitang, to the uninformed, is a CENTEX and STEPS Dance Studio scholar from Tondo who caught the eyes of Abrera, her husband and ABT artistic director Sascha Radetsky last year. The pair sent his audition videos (along with co-dancer Raye Vince Pelegrin’s) to Cynthia Harvey, artistic director of ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (JKO) School. Both dancers were immediately accepted for the 2018-2019 school year. To be honest, it was my first time to see him perform. But even without knowing who he was, his energy was palpable, his leaps (coupé jeté en tournant?) impressive and his twists (à la seconde turns and tours en l’air) breathtaking.
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There is beauty in mourning and in eternal love
Finally, it was Stella Abrera and James Whiteside’s turn to take the stage to perform Liam Scarlett’s Elegy. The music and their every coordinated move was poignant and evocative. Paired with Abrera’s beautiful extensions and power, and Whiteside’s impeccable strength and agility, the result was an expression of sublime mastery of the art. One that had me gently swaying my head to the melancholic and sensual display. Rousing bravos and a standing ovation were definitely in order—and it was only the beginning.
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Meanwhile, La Bayadère is the story of eternal love, mystery, fate, vengeance and justice set in Royal India. Abrera takes on the role of temple dancer Nikiya, in love with Whiteside’s noble warrior Solor who is betrothed to Chloe Misseldine’s Gamzatti, the Rajah’s daughter. Audiences were treated to an excerpt, the first act, from the original ballet, where Nikiya is commanded to dance at their engagement. Again, Abrera was a vision to watch as a heartbroken lover, but it doesn’t compare to her haunting performance of Elegy. Misseldine, an ABT apprentice, though, was a revelation. Her portrayal of Gamzatti, which showcased her flawless technique, jetés and turns (fouettés), was absolute perfection.
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Stella Abrera & The Rising Stars of American Ballet Theatre was riveting as it was refreshing. The ballet told stories that were intimate, relatable and timeless. Audiences, myself included, were dazzled by its showmanship and we felt pain when we needed to, through the dancers’ moving expressions of sorrow. But most importantly, we bore witness to the future of this performance art, and the perseverance and potential of our very own.
Stella Abrera & the Rising Stars of American Ballet Theatre Featuring James Whiteside, Principal Dancer, American Ballet Theatre was held last November 7 and 8, 2019 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC. Brought to you by the Ayala Foundation in partnership with the STEPS Scholarship Foundation for the benefit of CENTEX, the flagship education program of the Ayala. Co-presented by Patek Philippe and supported by SEDA, Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land, Inc., Globe Platinum, Noble House Enterprise Distribution, Malongo, Distinqt, Lacoste, LBC, Capezio, Sharp Travel Service, and ARC Gin by Full Circle Distillers.
Art Alexandra Lara