Many of us grew up with the story of Ibong Adarna, an epic poem we read in school. Later, we watched the film adaptation starring Jolina Magdangal as the legendary bird. It’s a timeless story that has become part of the tapestry of Filipino culture and Ballet Manila is reintroducing the story with the world premiere of a breathtaking ballet rendition.
For those who’ve forgotten the poem, Ibong Adarna is set in the fictional land of Berbania, led by King Fernando and Queen Valeriana. One day, the king is struck with a mysterious illness and an albularyo advises that only a mythical bird called Adarna can heal him through its songs. His sons, Princes Pedro, Diego, and Juan, all volunteer to find the bird and bring it to the kingdom.
The poem was written in the 15th century, but the authorship has been disputed through the years. Some attribute it to the poet Jose de la Cruz, while others claim it was written by the Spanish navigator Miguel Lopez de Legaspi.
Ballet Manila stays true to its source material, deftly translating the story to the stage. Before the start of the show, company co-founders Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Osias Barroso explained some of the gestures we would see throughout the show, thus making it easy for us to follow the story, with a script written by Angela Blardony Ureta.
And what an enchantingly told story it was. Neil Mag-aso and Macuja-Elizalde’s strong presence as the king and queen were strongly felt, but it was the princes who stole the show. Elpidio Magat as Prince Pedro was the most intimidating, dancing through the stage with such force that you could feel the passion with every turn. Rudolph Capongcol as Prince Diego showed great technique in his movements. My favorite would have to be Anselmo Dictado as Prince Juan, who moved so gracefully that I swore he stayed on air a second longer than was humanly possible. He was a joy to watch.
Of course, Ibong Adarna delivered on all counts. Two women played the title role: Katherine Barkman played the mythical bird while Gia Macuja-Atchison provided the singing voice. Barkman, who set the stage on fire as Kitri in Don Quixote, delivered the same amount of artistry as Ibong Adarna. Macuja-Atchison (Lisa’s sister), brought the character to life, her soulful rendition of the bird’s songs literally moving me to tears. It’s not surprising as the singer has performed on the West End in The Lion King, Miss Saigon, Jesus Christ Superstar, and more.
The ballerinas and danseurs perfectly executed the choreography of Gerardo Francisco, who counts Ibong Adarna as his first full-length ballet as choreographer. It is a fitting debut for an award-winning artist who has been with Ballet Manila for 15 years. It perfectly complemented the music, which combines Filipino elements thanks to Diwa De Leon, son of National Artist Felipe de Leon Jr.
Ibong Adarna‘s production was just as spectacular. The costumes (done by the Make It Happen Workshop) and sets were majestic, taking cues from Filipino materials like bamboo, walis, and banig. Ibong Adarna, which we historically know as a bright and colorful bird, was draped in gold, making her look elegant. Everything about this show overflowed with beauty.
Ballet Manila’s Ibong Adarna is part of the company’s 22nd season, titled Flights of Fantasy. Following this production, Ballet Manila will also stage Swan Lake in October, Snow White in November, and Ballet and Ballads with Christian Bautista in February 2018.
This story is in partnership with Ballet Manila. Ibong Adarna will be staged on August 26 (6PM) and 27 (3PM), and September 2 (6PM) and 3 (3PM), 2017 at the Aliw Theater in the CCP Complex. For more information about the shows, including ticket prices and schedules, you may visit www.balletmanila.com.ph or follow Ballet Manila on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Tickets are also available through all TicketWorld outlets. Please call 891-9999 or visit www.ticketworld.com.ph for more information.