December 12, 2017, 9:02 am
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The Nutcracker at CCP

THE Nutcracker is perhaps the most beloved Christmas ballet in the world. Year after year, The Nutcracker classic ballet created for the Christmas season, brings a world filled with magic and wonder for people of all ages.

This children’s ballet, based on the exquisite movements and enchanting music of Pyotr Ilytch Tchaikovsky, carried a Filipino twist to it, making this Ballet Philippines production more delightful than I and my friend visiting from Las Vegas had previously seen. The ABS-CBN Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of music director Gerard Salonga interpreted the music of this chaikovsky ballet.

Included were settings of local color deviating from the original Eurocentric scenario: the Filipino world of farols, Chinese dragon dance, aguinaldos, Christmas tree, Media Noche with lechon de leche, Rigodon de Honor with dancers wearing ternos with panuelo, fireflies, bougainvilleas, to further enliven our children’s imagination to conjure up images of the familiar and heartwarming Paskong Pinoy.

Most have seen this ballet more than once; so have I--a couple of times in Las Vegas which is my official residence in the U.S.; in Manila a few times here since my balikbayan; in New York too, and San Francisco. At intermission, all delighfully commented on how perfect the production was for the addition of the local color.

The curtain rises to the very Filipino 1920 home of a wealthy family, Don Rafael de Asis, his wife Dona Aurora, their three young children, and their servants.

Everyone knows The Nutcracker story of the little girl who saves a cursed prince from the evil Mouse King, and in turn is treated to an adventure of the Kingdom of the Sweets. She becomes the honored guest of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince. There was the grandeur of the party scene, the magic of the growing Christmas tree, the splendid costumes, the dancers.

None was overlooked of the challenges every choreographer face on how to make a classical ballet new and exciting.

This year’s season’s production of Ballet Philippines’ The Nutcracker brought the audience to more enticing magical places, and the talented very young dancers and costumes completely elevated the experience. 

The excellence by which Ballet Philippines had this production, choice of well trained performers, and the great attention to details made the ballet so immersive and entrancing. Everyone--performers and audience alike had a fabulous evening Friday, December 1 first night at this season’s opening of The Nutracker.

Producers Edna Vida and National Artist Alice Reyes harkens the story back to the American Period when Christmas trees were already introduced to Filipino homes. Leading arts academic and critic Nicanor Tiongson wrote about the late National Artist Salvador Bernal’s sets in his book, Salvador F. Bernal: Designing the Stage, He describes Bernal’s design for The Nutcracker. I quote: 

Invariably eliciting oh!s and ah!s from the audience, Bernal’s grand ballroom was framed by an impressive series of leg-and-border art nouveau arches, which featured huge anahaw leaves carved out of styrofoam in the style made famous by Isabelo Tampingco at the turn of the century, set against a background of framed translucent capiz shells. Two glorious chandeliers were lowered by the light battens to complement the twin balustered staircases that met on a upstage platform which in turn allowed grand entrances and exits on the stage left and right.

The curtain goes up on the second scene and the magical journey begins. From the grand ballroom, audience is transported to the Kingdom of the Fireflies.

The set for the Kingdom of the Fireflies begins the transition to the Kingdom of the Dolls. The ballroom is replaced with beautiful intricate cut-out patterns that delicately adorn the stage. The second act is accompanied by the elaborately designed place, signifying our arrival at the Kingdom of the Dolls.

This unique localized version of the ballet classic The Nutcracker was added joy to the audience-- the magic of wonder and happiness; a timeless story about a young girl’s journey into a fantastic world filled with princes, toy soldiers, snowflakes, and all things Christmas. A great way for all to begin the Christmas holidays. 

Lead dancers at the opening night were Denise Parungao as the Sugar Plum Fairy and guest dancer Nobuo Fujino as the Nutcracker Prince, Zabrinna Santiago as Clara, and Butch Esperanza as Don Alfonso. 

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