Ballet Philippines’ rock opera ballet ‘Tales of the Manuvu’ is back at the CCP

One of Ballet Philippines’ (BP) most celebrated original, distinctly Filipino masterpieces, the contemporary rock opera ballet, Tales of the Manuvu, is back at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Ballet Philippines President Kathleen Liechtenstein

True to BP President Kathleen Liechtenstein’s words, the company’s latest offering “not only celebrates our heritage but also highlights local flair, innovation and creative genius.”

Choreographed by National Artist for Dance and Ballet Philippines’ Artistic Director Alice Reyes in 1977, Tales of the Manuvu tells the creation story of the Manobo tribe from Mindanao.

In this 2019 presentation, Tales of the Manuvu takes a fresher look. “It has always evolved. The music, for instance, is so different 42 years ago.  Even the beat is different. It was conceived for the old generation and now it is being brought back for the young and the young-at-heart,” the BP president said.

New changes in choreography

National Artist for Dance and BP Artistic Director Alice Reyes

The libretto, written by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, was based off an article published in Philippine Heritage by E. Arsenio Manuel.

This unique adaptation of the creation story was the most monumental coup of Ballet Philippines in the 70s. Not only did it bring together rock, opera, pop and ballet on the stage, it also brought audiences from all walks of life to one main theater in a collective celebration of Philippine culture. Alice Reyes recalls, “We opened to a packed house and we never looked back. People sat on both aisles of the theater night after night with long lines outside.”

“It had a good reputation, and I wanted to make sure that it was as good if not better.  I have very strong dancers and they did a job,” Alice Reyes said.

“I choreographed a lot of changes. I wanted to tell the story of the Manuvu as clearly as I could, from the barren place to the lush place, from the creation of man and the woman, I wanted to tell that clearly,” National Artist for Dance emphasized.

Production Designer Loy Arcenas

Dero Pedero created the score, working alongside rock band The Afterbirth to compose a musical that would redefine dance and Filipino artistry. Beloved late Philippine couturier Ernest Santiago also joined this most formidable group of artists in brining flair to costumes for Tales of the Manuvu. Lighting and set designs were imagined by CCP Veteran, Monino Duque.

Very technical and beautiful

Broadway theater designer and multi awarded filmmaker Loy Arcenas is lending his genius this season to the creation of the mystical Manobo realm. Known for his ground-breaking film Ang Larawan, Arcenas has also reaped praise for the sets he created in Broadway’s Once On This Island. Arcenas’ sets will be lit by Katsch Catoy, whose light design mastery continues to add magic to the stage.

EJ Arisola as Ogassi with Busaw in Tales of the Manuvu. Photo by Jojo Mamangun.

“The sets look simple but it was very difficult to put together. Very technical and very beautiful. Working with Radioactive Sago was an experience,” Alice Reyes said.

Arcenas said that he gets inspiration from everywhere. “But there’s a lot from the original production and we took it from there.We followed the shape and the rhythm of the original but a lot of the look was our own,” Arcenas said.

Original music and score, which makes Tales of the Manuvu a masterpiece that mirrors the country’s rich pool of talent, will likewise refreshed with new arrangements by Francis de Veyra.

A powerhouse cast, then and now

When Tales of the Manuvu premiered, celebrated singers like Celeste Legaspi, Hadji Alejandro, Anthony Castelo and Boy Camara were cast. Leah Navarro also made her debut performance during Tales of the Manuvu. Joining them were Rey Paguio and the UP Concert Chorus.

Celeste Legaspi as First Woman

This year, Celeste reunited with Ballet Philippines, lending her powerful vocals to the musical.

“I love it, I love this work.  I performed it in 1977 so I wanted to have a crack on performing it again. They’re excellent, they’re just a wonderful company,” Legaspi said.

Asked on the difference between the 1977 and the 2019 performances, Legaspi quipped “well, I’m older”.  But as the audiences applauded Legaspi’s performance as she hit the high notes, she proved that her vocal caliber has remarkably transcended many generations.

“I love the way it was arranged. It was arranged in the 70s fashion so if the young people like the 70s then we’re great.  The way it was performed was really in the 70s, but arranged differently with more instruments.  Before, it was just the rock band,” Legaspi added.

Also returning to stage for this year’s revival are Boy Camara and Ding Mercado. Joining these musical legends are multi-awarded performers Shiela Valderama, Lorenz Martinez, Nar Cabico, Reuben Laurente, Poppert Bernadas and Lara Maigue. Straight from her Miss Saigon tour in Irelend, Aicelle Santos is will also be joining in this grand revival of Tales of the Manuvu by Ballet Philippines.

“It’s a great production, the music is great and it really brings you back to that era,” National Artist Ryan Cayabyab said.

National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab

50th Season

For the 50th season, the BP President said, “expect the same caliber of dancing and  repertoire.  We’re going to have even much much for you to remember. We’ll have the Kirov dancers, the Mariinsky as guest artists.”

While audiences will expect more quality shows, the level of quality will be done with consistency.  More importantly, it’s “really having people enjoy being touched by the dance.”

Tales of the Manuvu runs from March 22 – 31, 2019, at the CCP Main Theater. Show dates and schedules are as follows: March 23, 2019, 2:00 PM & 7:00 PM; March 24, 2019, 2:00 PM & 7:00 PM, March 30, 2019, 7:00 PM; and March 31, 2019, 2:00 PM.