Review: Opera. A Rebirth in Arabesque

Ballet Philippines does Barredo’s Opera | From @thejacquis’ POV

I was initially thinking of writing this ‘From a dancer’s point of view’, but changed my mind almost immediately as all my dancer friends and nonfriends who watched the final show of BP’s Opera last night came to mind. I seldom share, and more so I never want to impose.


I like the dancing

During intermission, the gruff old man seated next to me who had been asleep for most of Act 1 turned to me and asked “How do you find it so far?” “It’s a lot to take in,” I replied. “But I like the dancing. We’re dancers, see (pointing to me and Erica, who was so kind as to share her media pass with me)? So we’re looking at the dancing, too.”

I confess along the way that I’m not a fan of contemporary dance, but am not able to explain it. I’ve always had an aversion to contemporary dance in general and now I realise why. Contemporary dance has always appeared to me an antithesis of hard-earned dance technique, or a filter of sorts where one who is not able to dance well hides behind. I’ve watched local shows with choreographic vocabulary looking like moves straight out of the latest episode of The Walking Dead – aimless free walking, dragging feet, hanging head, a quick spin and drop to the floor like if you wacked a zombie in the face. I’ve been to shows that offer just vocabulary, as in just talking, maybe a bit of hand flicks and shoulder ticks here and there. Sometimes, or more often than I would want to, I find myself asking, where’s the dancing? I hear of horror stories of a nondancer who puts together well-attended shows and gets away with not being a dancer by writing a sound synopsis, hiring the best lights and tech people, renting a harness, and waving a scarf around for most of the performance. Nevermind the dancing because in its entirety it is still considered dance, because it is contemporary dance. There’s a witty concept, an outpouring of emotion, objects held (or ignored) in the dancing space, sound/s, a cool video playing in the background.

Yes the multimedia nature of this collab production between Ballet Philippines and contemporary art powerhouse Silverlens was inescapable. The two video screens placed on each far side of the stage, something new and perhaps aiming for revolutionary, made me wonder though how one was supposed to take that in as well, on top of the a-show-in-itself art installation set and the a-show-in-itself dance.

Wall eye vision challenge aside, the dancing was just good. As it should be. As expected from the top ballet company in the country. And Redha’s choreography was choreography – Death’s spotlight solo at the very beginning, the breaking away in groups, the repetition of enchainments in clever doses, the purposeful action-reaction of the pas de deuxs and sometimes pas de trois, the demand of the steps for whatever level of attack or restraint was called for. Even the standing around and posing as if modeling lingerie did not bother but somehow amused me, and the subtle walking around was far from aimless and was evidently necessary.

And amidst the plethora of mannequin torsos, mannequin legs, oversized heads, steel scaffolding, giant eyeball drop lamps, despite the consuming tendencies of contemporary art as so generously lent by artist Gabriel Barredo to this production, the dancing was not incidental. It was front and center.


Photo credit: Erica Marquez Jacinto #artaturningpoint


Addendum: Please do touch the artwork

I use front and center figuratively, as literally the dancers and the dancing happened not just in front of the installation but behind, above, below, inside and weaving through it. Dancers emerged from ribcages, crawled whilst encased in a cocoon placenta, descended from multi-tiered skeleton closets. At times the artwork was brought along across and around the stage like street lamp posts on wheels or IV racks.

My generation first learned to appreciate art from behind the rope, from outside the glass casing, within the formidable walls of a museum or gallery. But, as I observed firsthand when I spent some time working in a gallery a few years back, the visual arts has since seen a movement towards increased accessibility, form as well as functionality, and a more interactive psyche. Opera, BP’s highly charged, intense, final full length offering of the season, was accessibility, form and functionality, and interactive art manifest. -JJ